Thursday, April 8, 2010

Life In The Slow Lane

The long dry season is moving forward with deliberate slowness, culminating with the all-out water-splashing madness of Songkran, the Thai New Year, this coming Tuesday.  I've been told that there's an ongoing drought in Kamphaeng Phet province and that farmers are doing everything they can to keep their crops healthy and watered.  Thankfully there are irrigation wells dug along most of the fields I've seen.  The hard work lies in pumping it out and transporting it where it is needed.

The dryness is inescapable.  The blistering heat has made the topsoil sandy and when the occasional gust of wind comes or a truck passes, the air fills with a light brown sandy mist.  The farmers work all day to keep the dust off their home floors. Shopkeepers spend time dusting their goods and I spend time getting it out of my sandals.  Despite these conditions, I found an upside to all of this dustiness and that is the dryness allows everyone to walk around with or without sandals.  Either way, your feet will make contact with dirt; it's just that the dirt won't harm the soles of your feet in any way and you won't be seen by the locals as being unsanitary. The only sandal etiquette here is that you are expected to leave your sandals outside one's home for fear of transferring in some dirt from the outside.

Aside from the heat and drought, which is always a topic of conversation in these parts, is the pursuit of activities that relieve these conditions.  I have a fairly unique perspective of the social activity that goes on in our village and presumably most of Thailand's countryside.  My wife's family owns a small convenience store on a main road in a small maze of farmhouses. Rush hour for farmers begins early in the morning, 5 a.m. for some but for most by 6 a.m.  This is mainly due to force of habit or because the heat is lowest in the morning.  There is a slow yet steady procession of farm vehicles, from threshers to machines used to harvest rice to simple tractors passing through to the fields.  Included in this daily convoy are pickup trucks, motorcycles and bicycles.  This procession brings steady business to my wife's family store and also to any number of businesses alongside the three or four well-traveled roads in the village.  The evening rush hour begins at around 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.

It is with great joy and satisfaction to see how after a long day's work in the fields, these workers like to unwind like any one of us living in large cities after a day at the office.  We would think nothing of going to a bar to unwind and the same is true with the farmers.  They would stop by the convenience store for a shot of Hong Thong whiskey or a few bottles of Leo Beer.  Most would surprisingly come in with huge smiles and joke around with my father and mother in-law.  Everyone knows they had a long day. My father in-law set up a huge bench with a large table in front of his store for those who just want to stop by, drink and gossip.  There is a large yellow hammock that looks like it had been there since World War II that lies swinging near the table.  Any customer is welcome to use it while they are sipping their drink.

The blessing in living in a village where everyone knows each other is that everyone knows each other, if not by name, then by face.  Everyone, I found is universally friendly, yet each person I've come across have individual personalities. Although I couldn't speak Thai, I could tell when people are joking, talking about business, being serious or just gossiping. In another aspect of daily life, I love seeing how families interact, how parents handle their children and the surprising amounts of trust they have in them because they are not afraid of the environment in which they live. From what I could see, kindness and trust goes a long way here and is always remembered. I hope I am not romanticizing my experience as there are negative aspects to life out here. What I can truly say is that Thais from the countryside want what families want the world over which is a  better home, life, future and the improvement of their family. I now understand why "It Takes a Village."

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