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Ending with a funeral

I started my semester in Thailand by skipping the first week of classes to bump in the bed of truck up to a tiny village nestled in the mountains for a hill tribe wedding, a beginning of many firsts for me. I ended the semester by bumping up in the bed of a truck to the same village to witness a funeral, a closing. It could not have ended on a more fitting and symbolic note, in my mind.

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The funeral pyre. We had trekked 1.5 kilometers up a mountain to arrive at the pyre. Below, the photos show people coming up and lighting the funeral. The funeral was very sad because it was a father who was very young and was sent away by the hospital and died because of the lack of care.
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It took 10 or so men to carry the coffin to the truck to be carted to the pyre. Before being burned, the coffin was in a house and everyone got on their knees at the entrance to the house and crawled on their knees to light incense in front of the coffin and say a prayer for the deceased. I did this as well. Then everyone sat around the coffin. Right before it was taken to be burned, 3 men walked around the coffin many times holding hands and murmuring prayers. There weren’t any monks at the ceremony so I learned that the ceremony was purely animist, conducted in accordance with the village’s local beliefs.
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In true thai ceremonial fashion everyone ate a huge meal before the funeral procession began. The giant wok is cooking up the pork for the stew that was served with rice and other tasty dishes as well as sickly sweet neon soda.

After five months of research, university courses, and exploring Chiang Mai city and the mountains around Phrao, I was wrapping up my semester abroad in Northern Thailand. The thing was, I was ready to move on, wrap up the research and move away from most of the people I had been surrounded with in my program in Chiang Mai. I met  few great people who I will continue to stay in touch with but for the most part,

last day of Chiang Mai University
me and four goofballs the last day of the semester in our uniforms
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Uni uniforms anyone? One of the best gangs I met. Tamara, far left, was one of the greatest women I’ve been lucky enough to meet in my travels.

I was disappointed with the lack of curiosity and intensity to explore, immerse, and learn in Thai culture in the group. Good thing I didn’t have to hang around the people who didn’t add (challenge, inspire or teach me) anything to me!

I started spending even longer in the mountains (@Warm Heart/my home) towards the end of the semester, not wanting to return to the city but rather preferring to continue to sit on hard dirt or wood floors with women from the surrounding villages as they cooked, peeled galangal, and gossiped, listening to their stories. I preferred bantering with Professor Schafer while learning about biochar production & politics in China, playing soccer in the mud with the kids, trading english for thai, driving with Nian, my translator who, out of everyone, was the most sorry to see me go. I preferred zooming on my scooter up to Phrao to chat with the vendors in the market and eat fresh banana bread and papaya and chat with Nu, the local coffee roaster, and his family who served the best cappuccino on ice in thailand and grabbing beers with the tiny grocer tucked away in a village 2 minutes from Warm Heart who loved to just sit and chat, his english being better than my thai, and chatting with Nasli and Memet, the Turkish couple/volunteers who have had every occupation under the sun and finally warmed up to me and then checked in regularly and made me a flatbread for my final night.

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My goodbye flatbread from Nazli and Memet. Afterwards, a few of us went to Da’s bar to drink and karaoke.

I, in true Warm Heart fashion, ended my time there helping launch new volunteers & projects while helping with the kids english camp, something I had been told the night before I would be helping with! Ha! I was on teaching colors my last day so I figured painting ourselves was the best way to learn.

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Damn right we learned our colors so well we became the colors!

All the kids wrote me letters saying “I love you, Olivia”. The Warm Heart community has been my family, my community, my school, my support system and once I acknowledged that, the final goodbye was the heaviest yet.

It has taken me a some time and distance to feel so appreciative of the incredible learning experience I had in Thailand. It was the actualization of goal of mine: to do research in community development in a rural (preferably mountainous) part of a developing country. I did that and so much more. Being open meant I was overwhelmed by how much more streamed in than I was expecting.  And learned so much that I will be processing it for the rest of my life. Because I believe that the lessons I’ve committed to learning, like flexibility, respect, sharing warmth (being friendly), truly listening, thinking deeper, being mindful, contextualizing, being open and willing to see things the way they are not as I thought or would like them to be, will be continue to be relevant as I go through life. There is already evidence of this because in my travels through Bali I have applied some of these lessons and the results are new adopted families in Bali, smiles shared and good energy given and received.

I will be back to Warm Heart, to Northern Thailand, but first I will go elsewhere and learn by experience like I did there. (Nepal and Tibet and Patagonia and Slovenia here I come!) New places, new questions and communities await and I cannot wait to do and learn the new and more and tweak what I didn’t like about my first fieldwork expedition.

Thanks Chiang Mai (the province and the city, of course) and a huge thank you to Warm Heart.

Final pics of Chiang Mai

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