After bopping around Chiang Mai for a night on my own, I zoomed 90 km up into the mountains to start my work with Warm Heart in Ban Mae Pang.
I scootered through the lush green jungle that hugged the mountains north of the city and arrived at what I now call my second home.
Situated near the village of Ban Mae Pang, the Warm Heart Foundation compound is everything that is necessary and nothing excessive. In other words, it’s perfect. The children’s homes, kitchen, play area, and Michael and Evelind’s house lie on the western side of the dirt and gravel road running through the middle. The central road dividing the area connects the two dirt roads that enclose the compound on the north and south that also serve as the exits to the road to Phrao and Chiang Mai. On the eastern side of the central road lies the offices, the general office, volunteer office and the microenterprise office, the library, restrooms and a short skip down stone path reveals the small, homey volunteer housing.
The cooks whip up the most delicious and nutritious meals for lunch and dinner everyday. Vegetables in coconut stew or simply steamed to perfection, chicken in curry or boiled so it melts in your mouth, omelets and chilis, pork and cauliflower. Served with freshly cooked rice and a side of information from whoever happens to be sitting across from me.
The latest snippets of knowledge I’ve been privy to have consisted of the details of production, efficiency, costs, marketing, microbusiness, and challenges of biochar in Warm Heart as well as farther up north in small villages. Climate Change always enters the conversation and I learn more about solutions and not just offsets than I have ever studied in the US. I’ve learned a bit about working in the Garmet industry in Bangladesh surveying factories on price points, products, retailers, and why the twenty something human rights worker was never going to be respected there because they didn’t understand how the industry functioned and asked dumb questions. I’ve learned a bit about interviewing Zamibian miners who spent more than twenty four hours imprisoned far down in the earth. The secret to talking to them? Approach them in the bar and share a drink. (It also helps to be a guy in that situation I’m sure. Not many female miners I’d reckon.) Never the less, I’ve drawn on these experiences of persons who have lived, truly lived, every moment thus far and have thought deeper and more critically than I assumed possible and they have guided and enhanced my experiences here.
The decision to accept my translators invitation for a beer at her little bar after my first interview with a woman who owns a restaurant proved to be the best decision I could have made. It opened the door to allow me to get further stuck in with the women, marvelous fucking creatures the women of Norhern Thailand are, in this community.
One evening (2/3) she, P’Da, brought me to the public health volunteers meeting. She and five other women, each from a different village, keep accounts of the 600 baht they receive monthly for public health and record deposits and expenditures on carefully drawn balance sheets. That was one of the most powerful meetings I’ve witnessed in my life. I sat and soaked up everything I could as they laughed and drank beer while arguing over the calculations for the annual balance sheet. I did not sense much awareness on their part of what an awesome thing they were doing because, I realized, only an outsider can say something so routine and necessary is awesome.
I thought I would get tired of the drive up to Warm Heart. That is laughable now. I love the drive up to Warm Heart once I get out of the city and into the mountains I breathe easier and the anticipation of knowing I will learn so much in the next few days makes me grin stupidly at times as I inhale the scent of freshly grilled chicken in tiny roadside stalls and zoom by golden temples.
Most of the classes at CMU are a struggle for me to get invested into because I am so invested in learning up here. Ha! The homework seems irrelevant and is not teaching us practical knowledge for understanding and interacting with the Northern Thai peoples. That’s what I’m learning while working at Warm Heart. I chatted with five female restaurant owners, all tough women, today before drinking beers and chewing on buffalo skin with friends of my translator at her bar. So, while sitting at a desk has its purpose and while the classroom at CMU is nice and clean like the theories and power points that are presented in it, I prefer my new classroom. The one in tiny little restaurants and bars talking with women who have created their own businesses, eating traditional northern Thai dishes, drinking beers and singing karoke, and shutting up and listening and thinking deeply about to everything and anything I’m told. It’s the most challenging and most exciting lesson I’ve ever received. It never ends! No wonder I’m not a fan of sitting at a desk right now.
I also was able to attend a hill tribe wedding and a New Years celebration in small villages in Northern Thailand. I wouldn’t have done that taking a course! I actually skipped school the first week of courses to go to the wedding because when would I ever get to go to a Hill Tribe wedding otherwise?!
More stories to come…