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November 2009 (page three)
The work was hard and the hours were long. The sun felt scorching and when the rains came on the second day, they were fierce, but we worked from dawn to dusk no matter the weather conditions. We would break around 8AM (after having left the house at 5) for breakfast, and between noon and 1 for lunch – eating deliciously fresh rice dishes (topped with fresh veggies, fresh peanut sauce, fresh chili sauce) and supplemented by fruits from the orchard behind Pakphum’s shed (pomegranates, bananas, and pomelos – the grapefruit’s larger cousin).
We’d toss the rinds and the seeds into the compost bins, knowing they’d be recycled into the rice fields. In fact, the entire time I was there, I never saw so much as a single bottle or jar or can opened for a meal. Everything was local in the truest sense of the word – it was the most delightfully waste-free week in my life to date.
When the sun was almost down, Pakphum and I would walk back to his shed, and wash our clothes and our bodies in the pond next to the orchard. We would swim and stretch our sore muscles in the cool water, and relax from the long day. Then we’d head back to the village and socialize with the other farmers before dinner. My first day, I rested and didn’t socialize. My second day, I socialized, but minimally, because I didn’t have my translator with me. But the third day, Bennett was there, and we got to talking with the other men about their lives.
Pakphum's pond was like heaven for relaxing at the end of a long workday. (See a slide show here.)
One man, named Yam, asked me how I felt not being able to speak Thai, in a room full of Thai speakers. We talked about that for awhile, and I noted that I had learned some phrases, and that it wasn’t the first time I’d been in a position of being unable to speak the language in the room. We chatted some more, and eventually I asked him if he’d ever been in a situation of being unable to speak the language the others are speaking.
“Yes,” Yam said. “When I lived in Taiwan…” And then he went on to tell me how he had left the farming village as a young man. Unable to make ends meet there, he needed to seek his fortunes elsewhere, to make enough money to come back to Denleng Tai and marry and settle down. He told me that he ended up in Taiwan, accepting a job at an electronics factory, where he was housed with all the other men in a dormitory that also housed huge drums of fuel for the factory. When he arrived, he was the only Thai. The factory bosses all spoke Mandarin Chinese, and the other workers all spoke their native languages.
One night, not long after his arrival, Taiwan experienced an earthquake. He’d never felt an earthquake before, and was confused as he leapt from his bed, and heard all the other men screaming “earthquake” in their own languages. Afraid that the drums of fuel might explode, the men all ran outside in the night, and that night he realized he’d need to learn some of the other languages to get by. He was away for a decade, Yam told me, and it was tough, returning to Denleng Tai only three times during that time. He told me how happy he was to be back, and to be farming rice again as part of the cooperative.
(continued on page 4)