There is opened space here. No borders or boundaries, just freedom to live. My initial idea of Thailand was that of a developing nation. I imagined dirt roads, poverty-stricken people in dingy clothes, husbands stealing to feed their children, and little to no technology. When I told people back home that I was going to Thailand half of them scrunched up their faces and asked “why would you want to go there?” I responded by explaining how I wanted to experience something opposite of everything I knew, whether it was less than what I was used to or not. But once I arrived here and began to get a feel for Thailand I realized that here isn’t less it’s just different.
One of the first things I did when I got to Chiang Mai was attend a village home stay. It was a four night trip to a small local Thai village. There were thirty-four students and they assigned two students per household. When we first arrived to the village and hopped out the van we were greeted by all the villagers. Everyone met in the center of the town, which was at the Buddhist temple. In most traditional Thai villages the center of the village will always be the Buddhist temple. It acts as the spiritual center and the social center that allows everyone to come together. Our Thai Language ajan (professor) was our guide through the village, so when we got there he stood on a mound and everyone surrounded him as he called out the names of the students and the families that we would be staying with. When he called my name and the name of my host mother I walked up to her smiling and in return she had the biggest smile I had ever seen. She grabbed my hand and the hand of my friend Hannah who stayed in the same house and then she escorted us through the village. As we walked by the other villagers they seemed so happy to have us there. They presented us with an honest welcoming, and in all my life I had never felt so lucky to be amongst strangers. All the women in the town kept telling me how beautiful I was as I walked to my mom’s truck to put my bags in and head to my temporary home. We all ended up staying in very different homes. Some of us ended up in some of the richer village homes, which contained western style toilets and multiple bedrooms. My house wasn’t one of these houses. I stayed in a small house with a family of three. I had a host mom and dad and a thirteen year old sister. Hannah and I slept on a bed in the living room that had a mosquito net around it. They also provided us with a curtain for privacy. At first I felt so out-of-place and uncomfortable. There were chickens running around the yard, ants on the table, lizards on the ceiling, and the mosquitoes were rampant. On top of that my host family didn’t speak any English so we communicated by smiling and nodding. The worst part was going to the bathroom at night. My host mother made sure to keep me hydrated during the day by giving me bottle after bottle of water. Therefore I had to pee about three times every night. I had to use a flashlight in the bathroom because there were no lights. There were always dogs barking and there were bugs everywhere. At first I was terrified. I had to use the squat toilet without leaning on the walls and some nights I held my pee for so long that it would just spray everywhere as soon as I lowered by butt to squat, but I got used to my nighttime treks to the bathroom.
My host mother was one of the sweetest women I have ever met. She would drive into the center of town on her motor bike to get us for lunch, she washed my clothes every day, and she made sure to always scoop extra rice on my plate when it looked like I was getting low. Every night we sat on the floor as a family around an assortment of food. My host dad loved sticky rice, and I would always watch him as he dipped it in different sauces. I would eat at least three to four plates of food because my family would insist that I take more. When I couldn’t fit another thing into my stomach I would finally say “im laew” meaning full. After dinner my host dad would pull out a Thai to English dictionary and point to words to try to explain what we were going to do the next day or what he thought about Hannah and me. I remember my last night in the village because I wanted to cry. My host dad sat in the floor pointing to different words to describe us. He said that Hannah and I were beautiful, wise, smart, and kind. I pointed to the word love because although I only knew them for such a short amount of time, I felt like they were my family. It was funny because I never even learned their names. On the first day my ajan read off what my mother’s name was but it was hard for me to pronounce. My mom and dad just told me to call them mae and pao which meant mom and dad in Thai. Therefore I never continued to try to learn what their names actually were.
I couldn’t believe how joyful the villagers were to have us there, it seemed unreal. They threw us the best good-bye party I ever experienced. We let lanterns into the air, all the host moms did dances for us, and they blessed us in the temples. The monk chanted while the villagers went around tying yarn around our wrist. They believed that when we went into the forest we lost pieces of our spirits and by chanting and tying the yarn they were calling our spirits back to us. Two days before the ceremony we had helped the villagers take buckets of pebbles and sand up the mountain so they could build water tanks to irrigate the water down to the village and rice fields. It was the most exhausting yet beautiful day I had ever experienced. When lunch time came, all work stopped and our host moms brought lunch into the forest. We laid out mats in spaces between the trees and sat in the middle of the wilderness eating rice and meat. They even brought us dessert. We watched as ants carried our spilled pieces of rice off our mat and as grubs crawled amongst the leaves. All anyone could hear was the sound of nature and laughter. The villagers were so thankful for our help because we saved them a week’s worth of work. That is why they wanted to bless us with the ceremony on our last night in the village. It was truly a celebration. Men played the drums as we danced and clapped our hands. Even when it started raining we continued on smiling and moving our feet to the music. I hated to leave. There was sadness in everyone’s eyes as we packed our bags and left the house. Even my sister who barely talked to Hannah and I was sad to see us go. She made me a gift to sit on my desk that said “friend”. I wanted to cry as she handed it to me, but I just gave her a hug. When we all got into the truck to leave all of the villagers surrounded us and waved as we pulled off. It was painful to hug my mother goodbye because as I did her eyes began leaking tears.
I want to go back before my time is over here because I have never met people with such big hearts full of joy who are always ready to spread love. Not only will I miss the people, but I will also miss the freedom I felt there and the feeling of being attached to life instead of detached by cement and skyscrapers. When staying there I realized that just because it was a village didn’t mean it was undeveloped, it just meant that they survived by a different system. The people there were happy with their lives and at peace, and just because they lived amongst more nature than I did, had an out-house, and occasionally their chickens ran inside the house, didn’t mean their life style was of a lesser status then mine. I am so thankful to have lived amongst those people because they showed me a new way of life that made me understand that different isn’t bad, it’s just something new.