Luqman's Day 17 - Life before the West had won
Today is my fourth straight day in Asia without any gastric problems (yes, that is how I am counting my days now but give me a second to find some wood), and we are planned to leave the beautiful P guesthouse and visit a village that houses the Karen people. The village is about an hour away. The Karen people were originally from Burma, but they migrated to Thailand a little over a hundred years ago. We are to see how daily life is for the Karen people. Though our guide says that even the Karen people are feeling the effects of modernization (now have satellite dishes and last year they got a cell phone tower), much of their culture is still very much in tact. They generally welcome the group traveling with Intrepid tours about once every week or so, so they are used to the extra company. We even had playtime with the children at the town Kindergarten scheduled in, so we first stopped by the market to by fruit for the kids and then we were off. Our guide told us a couple of interesting things before we got there. First off, you can tell a woman's marital status by her style of dress. Women younger than fifteen wear a one piece and only wear read when married. Women over fifteen wear a two-piece and both pieces are red if they are still single. Married women over fifteen wear various colors for their two pieces. Secondly, the Queen of Thailand (who of course is married to the wonderful King, a noble and confident leader who I am still very fond of and drawn to) visited the village ten years ago. Since the area often only got enough rain to harvest rice once a year, the Queen had people come teach the Karen people weaving. They sent their finished products to Bangkok for sale and got the proceeds. This created self-sufficiency for the Karen people (told you that royal family was the bomb). Another interesting fact is that the Karen people rarely had to leave their village because they literally had everything they needed there since all their food was homegrown and harvested.
Once we arrived at the Karen village, we were treated to a traditional welcoming dance by some of the village women. It was very nice and an extremely courteous gesture. It made me think of what kind of dances we would do back home to welcome someone to our neighborhood…the resulting images from that train of thought were quite disturbing, so I guess I better just move on. Anyway, we went to play with the children after the dance. They started by singing the alphabet song to us. Our guide explained that the alphabet had over 60 letters and even 21 ways to denote vowel sounds. This is crazy compared to our five and a half (you know, a, e, i, o, u, …and sometimes y). This confirmed our assertions about how difficult the Thai language is, especially after we saw their alphabet song take about 15 minutes (promise it had about 4 verses). They threw in a couple of other local songs, and we answered by banging out our ABC's and an embarrassing rendition of Old McDonald. After suffering through that we played a very spirited and competitive game of duck, duck, goose (don't wear socks on hardwood when you play this people, trust me), and an even more intense game with balloons. The objective was to tie a blown up balloon around one of your ankles and protect it while you stepped on other people's balloons. I was the last foreigner left matched up against the two eldest children. After a while the atmosphere got quiet and I recognized that I was in a little over my head, and victory may not create the best situation for me. This was affirmed by the fact that after my balloon was popped, the game stopped. The last two didn't even bother declaring a winner between them. The only important thing was that I was the loser. After carefully backing out of the kindergarten class, I joined our group on a tour of the town. We saw how everyday life was. The bottom line was that everyone contributed to the town's success and they were completely interdependent. Everyone had to work to make it happen. We got a wonderful tour and explanation of the countless plants that grew everywhere. Hannah said that it was like walking through a live supermarket. It was indeed something to learn about everywhere. We saw plants that they built their houses out of, the plants for their spices and what goes in their green curry, what a teak tree looks like, and even how rice was prepared. Boy, were we in for some surprises. First off, it turns out that bananas don't come from a country called Chiquita despite those stickers, and that wonderful and magical land called Dole where pineapples grow is a hoax too (I pray that you know I am joking…). But we did learn that rice is hard as hell to make. The women showed us how the grains were beat out of their shell with a scary looking contraption that reminded me of the Inquisition, and how they then had to use a basket to sift the grains before repeating. I will never take one grain for granted again!!
After learning more about the entire pre-Kroger process of food shopping, I started to understand why lazy Americans started putting their chickens on weight lifting programs and started cooking up seedless grapes in a lab. Man that real agriculture takes a lot of time and effort! However, I truly admire the work ethic and humility of the Karen people. The ability to be independent of any dependencies (I know it makes no sense) must be extremely powerful. We go stock up on water and beans when a tornado is coming, but what if the beans and water don't make it to the store? What would we do then? After this daytime nightmare, we saw a local Buddhist temple and saw how the women weave silk and cotton to sell in Bangkok. It was fascinatingly meticulous. Our guide said they weave about a centimeter of pattern a day. And we complain about homework being tedious. The entire process reminded me greatly of how kente cloth is woven in West Africa with looms, where one cloth can take more than a month to finish. The rice pounding also reminded me of how the women make fufu, which is a local West African staple where corn or some other plant is beaten to a paste and eaten with stew. It seems like every region of the world that still makes food the old fashioned way does it similarly. It just goes to show that no matter where we are, we all like to sing, dance, play games, and eat. Seems like Americans just want to do them all real fast and at the same time. I guess we have to rush in order to stay up to date on our episodes of Prison Break, Heroes, and 24 (none of which I watch I am proud to say, though I do watch Sportscenter three times a day). I don't know where these types of living will lead us, but I tend to think that the Thai people will be alright regardless. I guess only time will tell. Speaking of which, it is my time to eat and pray over my successful digestion, so until next time, its been real. Peace.