Making friends, feeling at home

Looking back on Friday, October 5th:

For brunch, Mel, Djun and I made Tom Yum soup, steamed flowers and tempura fried plants from the garden. Then, we went to the temple to hang with the kindergarteners and show off our new song (with dance steps included) that we prepared the night before. It was basically just us singing Chan Rak Thur (I love you) and spinning around in circles. The kids loved it! They cheered us on and started clapping to the beat. One thing that children–of all ages, ethnicities, and cultures–always appreciate is enthusiasm. In return, they give unconditional, inexhaustible love. Today, we were smothered with affection. The kids ran to greet us, hugged us, held our hands. We were swarmed by little monkeys hanging on our backs, dog piling on our laps.

At 11am we went to meet Anne, a friend of Isara’s who wanted to practice speaking English with us. Isara said everyone in the village wants to learn English, but they rarely have a chance to practice with a native speaker. Anne jumped at the opportunity. She was dedicated, humble, and comfortable to be around. For lunch, we made Laht Nah with Noi and helped her around the kitchen.

We spent the rest of the day in the temple, blowing up balloons and helping the monks prepare for Ta Ma Fai Wan’s annual Papa festival. During this celebration, villagers present the monks with new robes, gifts and money. Traditionally, the money goes to assist the local temple with maintenance and repair, but the monks of Ta Ma Fai Wan decided to donate all of the proceeds to the community radio station, 103.75 FM.

When I discovered we would be hanging out with monks all day, I half-expected we’d be sitting in silence or with minimal interactions. I assumed the monks would be stiff, reserved, high-and-mighty even. But, these boys were down-to-earth! Many of them knew English and cracked jokes, took interest in our lives, and treated us like friends. I made a new friend, Guan, and she taught Mel and I about Theravada Buddhism, Vipassana and walking meditation. Every year in December, Thais from all over the country join monks on an 8-day walking meditation called Tama yatta.

Thip, a 15-year-old girl from the village, took a liking to us and accompanied us to the market. It seems like every time we set out for a walk around the village, our numbers multiply with every street we pass. Children always want to join us on our journey, even though they don’t know where we’re going. Thip knows very little English, but is intelligent, perceptive, intuitive. She is able to help us around the market, buying food and and clothes, being our translator, teaching us things. For us, she breaks out of her shell. Isara says she is normally very shy. We instantly feel close to her. Walking arm in arm.

At the market, we see many familiar faces, our friends. We are greeted with hugs and smiles so wide they just have to be genuine. Back at Ban Sai Roong, we share a communal dinner with our neighbors, Maha and Hoh, Anat, Anne, and Isara. We drink beer and whiskey and sit around around a fire, getting to know our new friends. We have conversations in both Thai and English, each of us enthusiastic about teaching our native language and learning a foreign one. We shout Shiyo! (Cheers) and teach Isara how to chug. A night to remember.

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