Looking back on Wednesday, October 3rd:
Awoke at 5:30am to monks chanting, dogs barking, and roosters cocka-doodle-dooing. Suddenly, these noises were drowned out by a voice announcing the morning news to the village over a loud speaker. Mel and I roused, took cold showers, and prepared for our busy day. Isara came to give us a foraging lesson by walking us around his property. There are more than 90 edible species growing on his land. We picked some leaves for breakfast, added them to tuna and bread. Ferns, basil, elephant ear, mint, and other plants I can’t remember or pronounce.
Isara took us around the village Ta Ma Fai Wan. Of the nearly 3,000 people living there, we are the only farangs. Except for the occasional rich Western man who comes to steal a Thai wife away. First, we walked through the town’s Buddhist temple, which is practically in Isara’s backyard. Temporary monkhood is a traditional obligation for every Thai man before he is permitted to marry. Some monks stay in the temple for a few months, some stay their whole lives. Isara stayed for 8 years. Every monk that passes knows Isara and he has smiles and conversation to exchange with all of them. Monks in the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan do not beg for alms or have money–unlike the monks in Bangkok–in order to free themselves of attachments.
The temple grounds are made up of a large courtyard, a home for monks, a dining hall, and a kindergarten school. Outside, children are laughing, playing, pushing a wheelbarrow. Isara promises them we will be back at 9am. We pass a bamboo house, labeled “post office,” so Isara can pick up a package. It’s a box of toys. It’s always toys. And Isara, I realize, is Santa Claus. Every. single. day. He is passionate about giving to the children of Ta Ma Fai Wan, as well as a master networker. Every few days, he receives packages containing toys for the village children from unknown sources, all over the world. At his house, he has a room full of toys waiting to be delivered. He walks around with toys in his pockets, greets nearly every boy and girl by name, takes interest in their lives. Inspiring hope and instilling confidence. They come running to greet him. With a humble disposition, he does not want to be glorified or revered by the children. All he asks is that they return the favor by giving back to their community.
And for the adults of Ta Ma Fai Wan, Isara shares news, knowledge, smiles. Every house we pass is a friend of Isara’s. They welcome us onto their stoop, and he introduces us warmly. He’s so happy to show us his way of life. Always, always giving. His job is to volunteer; his hobby is to work, he says. He works 5 days a month holding workshops on how to build mud houses. All the other days, he serves his community, spends time with the people, is a bright light in everyone’s lives.
One memorable welcoming home full of ten or so people sitting around outside. Friends, children, parents, and grandparents gather for a morning meal. Eager to meet us, they invite us to eat, excitedly shoving sticky rice, raw pork fat dipped in chili sauce, and a bottle beer into our hands. Even though its 8:15am, we sit down and eat up. They are curious about us, ask us questions about where we’re from, and encourage us to eat until we’re full. A genuine sense of community and welcome and human compassion. Isara told us that if he ever runs out of money, he just goes for a walk around the village and someone will feed him. Despite the fact that Ta Ma Fai Wan is a relatively poor village, no one goes hungry. Everyone is always offering and sharing food, nothing is wasted. In such foreign territory, we are made to feel so welcome, so accepted. Here, food is an offering of friendship and, walking through town today, we received bananas, star fruit, tempoo, pork, rice, and beer. All free of cost or reason. Simply because we are here. Such overwhelming generosity reminds you of the responsibility of being human. We must take care of each other.
It’s 9am–back to the temple to teach the kindergarteners. Mel and I make clay animals, and color and try to get the kids to open up. But how? Do I speak to them in Thai or in English? They speak to me in Thai and I don’t understand. I speak to them in English and they tune it out. Most of the kids still don’t know how to react to us. They are confused about how to relate. So am I. Hopefully tomorrow will be easier.
We keep walking and pass by the village primary school (grades 1-6). We sit down and wait for the children to get out for recess. Isara says they will start forming a line in front of him, and they do. Every time he visits, he asks the children to make a promise to him. He makes them promise that they will say hello to people in the community when they are walking to school, to thank the trees and their fruit, the sun and the earth for their gifts. He makes them promise that they will give themselves a better life, a fulfilling life. They line up to tell Isara the ways they have lived out their promises. In return, Isara gives them small toys–symbols of confidence and positive reinforcement. Today, it’s animal-shaped pencil sharpeners. The kids go wild over them. Isara makes it a habit to visit the school often and stays involved in the childrens’ lives in order to stay in touch with the community and to teach them the power of positive thinking, he says. They flock to him, can feel his big heart. Isara says when children are shy or unconfident, it’s because an adult has been violent to them, either with their bodies or their words. Children can carry this fear with them for a long time, sometimes their whole lives. He wants to reverse this by teaching the kids to love themselves and to know they loved by their community. We continue our walk. A handful of Thai boys run down the street after us.
We help Isara paint a stone waterfall that was built by the village monks, then head to Noi’s restaurant for some cooking lessons. For two hours we will help Noi, a friend of Isara’s, in her restaurant, serving food and cleaning dishes. In return, we get a free meal (Pad Thai) and authentic Thai cooking lessons. Isara asks us to bring him home a package from the post office. More presents for the kids. Torrential downpour on the way. The whole town is flooding. Talk of a typhoon. Trudging through puddles, sliding through mud, we go home, clean up and then head to the open market.
The market happens around dusk every other night at different locations all over town. Tonight it’s in front of the hospital. So many foreign smells, sounds, foods and faces. The streets come alive and the community catches up with each other. Isara introduces us to every single food at every booth as we walk around together. We get to try a lot for free (fuk khao is my fav!). We buy food for dinner and have a feast at the mud house (fish, noodles, basil, chili sauce wrapped in pieces of cabbage, pork soup, lamoh, boiled fern. Mung beams and coconut milk for dessert).
Isara talks of holistic healing and balancing the elements within yourself by remaining conscious of the hot and cold foods that enter the body. He tells us about Gausa, a Chinese method of removing toxins from the body with an herbal balm and a wooden tool, which grazes the skin, awakens the blood. Mel and I practice on each other and our relaxation leads us to slumber.