Sunday, January 13, 2013

A View of the Simple Life

I have read about people living a simple existence but had never witnessed it.  Over the years I have seen homeless on the streets and on early trips to Thailand, we would go by shantytowns in the city and I wondered how people could live in such a world.  Since moving here I thought I had been living a simpler life until yesterday.  That is when I visited a group of people living on the edge between Thailand and Myanmar, doing all they can to survive.  I admire them for their strength and perseverance.
An old style home in the center with a newer version on the left.

These homes were above the village.  Perhaps for leaders.

Chicken house

Every year, on the second Saturday in January, Thailand celebrates Children's Day.  In Bangkok, public buildings are open and sometimes even military bases, to allow children to see a world outside their classroom.  My school decided to celebrate this year by going to one of the hill tribe villages near here to provide gifts for the children and entertainment for the village.  Before leaving, we met at the school to load trucks with blankets, food and presents.  We drove an hour north of here past temples, rice fields and orchards.  As we approached our destination I could see and smell smoke from burning fields.  I went with the vice principal, Suchot, and my friend, Malee, in Suchot's truck.  Others came by car, van and songtauw.  When we arrived, we crossed the quiet country road and walked down a narrow alley that opened up to this.

This is a Catholic church in the center of town.  All around me were young children, parents and old people, smiling and talking.  Students from my school were mingling some among the local kids, though generally they stayed together among themselves.  Teachers and students were arranging gifts on the stage.  There looked to be at least a hundred people there, all calm and happy to be there.

We sat and ate a breakfast of sticky rice, grilled pork and chicken, and some boiled greens and squash.  The morning then moved to our students performing some dances and singing.  All the families gathered around sitting on plastic chairs or the ground to enjoy the show.
 Children came dressed in traditional clothes while little ones were still in their pajamas.  Mothers had babies wrapped in cloth around their chest.  Old men sat and watched the action, as well.  This fellow looked so stern yet he smiled and said hello to me whenever I walked by.

The day culminated with games and giving out blankets to each of the children.  All day long, I kept my sweatshirt on, something I had never done in Thailand before.
Malee and some others try to make their balloon pop first.  
As the day progressed, I decided to walk around the village to see more for myself.  I found homes made of bamboo walls and grass roofs with floors of dirt.  Some had motorcycles parked in front and I saw a refrigerator in one.  The more "modern" homes were made of concrete though the floors were still dirt.  Reading this article in Wikipedia, I see that, until more recently, the hill tribes were nomadic.  Each year they would burn forest to make a new rice field.  Growing rice in the same field for multiple years lowered the yield, causing them to move on every few years.  Most of the hill tribes are recognized by the Government as citizens giving them no rights to government schools or health benefits.  Yet, despite these hardships, they appeared to be a happy and healthy group.

The reason the school chose this village this year was for another reason that I had not written about before because, at the time, I was so disturbed by it.  During the first semester, a young girl from this village was a student at my school.  She was swimming in the pool during a class when she drowned.  Such a thing had never happened before at the school and much was done to comfort the family.  I also instigated having them install safety equipment at the pool.  The funeral was held at this village and on the hill above the church, she is buried.  Still, the village welcomed us warmly and even shook our hands as we left.

If you are ever concerned that you might not be able to buy the latest cell phone or get to the newest restaurant in town.  There are people everywhere who are in so much more need.  My heart goes out to the Akha as it did for the little girl.

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