The end of the rainbow: A typical day in Yasothon

Yesterday was a Tuesday and quite the ordinary day in Ban Nong Faek. For the elderly women of the village and a few select relatives, the day started around 03:00. I happened to be one of those select relatives. It took awhile for Kuhn Yai (grandma) to rouse me, but she was persistent in rapping on the glass door leading to the porch and calling me. It was a special Buddhist day, and she was going to spend twenty-four hours at the temple dressed in white meditating and making merit along with the other elderly ladies of the village. She was ready to go and wanted me to wake up Paw so he could drive her to the temple.

I did so, stumbling through the dark to knock on my parent’s bedroom door. Then I promptly fell back asleep, though it only felt like I had blinked when I was pulled from the deep waters of sleep once again. I hadn’t quite broken the surface yet when Paw asked if I wanted to go to the market. It was still dark out and I muttered something incoherent to both Thai and English ears. He took that as a “no,” which I suppose it was. But after he walked out the door I came to and decided that this little piggy wanted to go to the market after all. 

Paw was already getting in the car (which I could see from my bed through the glass door leading to the porch) so I threw a scarf over my shoulders and scooted out the door. Raw do-ai! Wait for me! Some flip flops from the communal pile of shoes completed my boxer and t-shirt outfit. Off to the market we went.

Shopping lists are not a part of Thai culture. List making in general is not a common habit like it is in the west. Things get done when they get done and if something is forgotten then no big deal. So Paw and I went to market knowing who we had to buy for but what we had to buy was pretty open-ended. Sweets cooked in banana leaves to give to the monks. Bundles of cut orchids to put on the family alter. Grilled pork for Mackey’s breakfast before school. Pumpkin to put in coconut milk to make my favorite dessert. Boiled vegetables and ground meats already neatly bundled in serving-size bags to bring to Kuhn Yai at the temple. My presence attracted some attention, but foreigners are common enough and the excitement ends with a comment or two and maybe a few double-takes. Otherwise business as usual. 

Back at the house, the sun was finally coming above the horizon. Paw and Mackey had to get ready to for work and school respectively while Meh and I showered and dressed for a trip to the temple. Kuhn Yai was already there, along with all the other Kuhn Yais of the village. All were dressed in white and sitting on mats, betel leaf kits close at hand. Meh and I made our merit by putting sweets and sticky rice in the overflowing monk bowls that were lined up onstage. Usually the monks will make rounds in the village begging, offering people a chance to make merit by giving them food. However, since it was a special holiday, the monks stayed in the temple and villagers came to them instead. 

Two ladies sitting in the front row wanted to chat with the foreigner, so I obligingly sat with them. Granted, I didn’t understand much of what was said (what’s new?), but they had big smiles and I was able to understand when one of them reminded me to invite her to my wedding because she wants to come too. Such is Thai humor and line of thinking. 

Joking aside, there were rituals to be performed. The monks made their way to their places in clumps. Kuhn Boo (grandpa), the eldest monk, came last. I only remember him and the second-ranking monk; the other five are all new recruits and are much younger. It is Thai custom for all men to be a monk before they can get married, so the rotation and young demographic is not surprising. The monks chanted in Pali. Having been to a number of similar ceremonies before, the chants were familiar though I certainly am not able to join in. I kept an eye on wedding-guest grandma next to me to know when to bow during the chants. Once the ceremony was over, the monks were free to eat their main meal of the day (no food allowed after noon) and Meh and I were free to go. 

We futzed around at home for a bit and then I asked her if I could really go help with the rice planting. Paw and I talked about it the day before and I was ready to follow through. Meh laughed and got me some old clothes to wear: black sweatpants that belong to my brother and a longsleeve black police shirt that belongs to Meh. With the red star cap from Vietnam I thought I looked like Viet Kong and said so, though the association isn’t strong here.

When I moved in with Meh and Paw for the first time, it was late October and the harvest season was already underway. But now it is early August, the rainy season, and the rice has been planted and grows green and fresh across the land. My job today was to help a cousin (the same one who let me ride his water buffalo! Sadly the buffalo has since been sold. It was the nicest buffalo I have ever met and tolerated children poking its eyes and pulling its ears. It would even lick you, just like a giant, horned dog.) replant the tightly packed rice seedlings in rows. Meh took me by motorbike to his field and brought some knitting to do while she waited. Kuhn Loong (uncle) was jolly as ever and ate a hearty meal of rice, fried crickets, and grilled fish before taking me out to the field. He used a machine to churn the mud first, which used to be a job for water buffalo but has largely been replaced by machines. Then it was time to hop in the mud and get to work.

His wife came out to help too, and she showed me how the process works. Not much to it, really. Just take two or three stalks and plant them together in the mud in rows. It took awhile to get the row concept down, and even longer to figure out how to plant efficiently. She worked at least three times as fast as me, but in my defense she has a lot more experience. After a spell I got in the rhythm and sped up. Kuhn Loong brought a radio out and put it on the roots of a tree in the field that was simultaneously providing me with shade. I found this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB9EBNGYyrg) that shows both what I was doing and provides and example of Isaan music. The lyrics are about farming rice.

I was at it for a few hours and could see how a lifetime of work like that would take a toll on the body. Today my legs are a bit sore, but my back thankfully is spared. While we were working my aunt and uncle joked with me, asking if I was having fun and inviting me back to help with the harvest. I helped with the harvest for a few days when I was here before and goodness gracious does that do a number on the back! That time I also managed to cut myself a few times with the sickle. Oops. Nothing sharp this time around, just the crabs and spiders that crawled up my legs out of the water. Thankfully there are no leeches in these parts, though I took care to not look when I felt something slithering on my foot. Sometimes not knowing is better when it could be dealt with later.

Around lunch time (the temple hits the gong every hour, just like churches toll bells to let the community know what time it is) I took a water break that turned into a permanent break. Meh was getting hot and I was getting tired. We said goodbye to aunt and uncle and went back to our own house for a shower and lunch. It was just Meh and I for lunch, but she cooks extra of everything and we ate enough for the family. Ihm maak! So full! A good lunch was followed by a good nap, with some reading (I wouldn’t say a good read, though) to transition the two.

A few hours later, I woke up still feeling a little groggy but wanting to get a walk in before the sun set. Meh was at P’Pat’s watching over Nong Chip, who was already back from nursery school. I walked to the river that forms a border of our village, going up the bank and then back down to see our family’s rice fields. Other people do the harvest, but Paw owns the land. The people who work the field keep two-thirds of the harvest and we get one-third. That is pretty common practice in the countryside.

Miracle of miracles, a rainbow appeared. A full-colored, horizon-to-horizon, perfect rainbow. At the time the Stones’ song “She’s A Rainbow” came into my head and I thought of how I stretch (like a rainbow) from Thailand to the USA. I certainly wouldn’t be who I am without the influence of both places, that is certain. But personal musing aside, the rainbow was beautiful. I didn’t bring my camera on the walk, so it is one of those moments that can only be shared in words that pale behind the real thing. So there I was, walking along a river in the shade of eucalyptus trees, with a rainbow overhead and the sound of crickets and frogs, nothing more, coming from the fields. It was serene, beautiful, a perfect moment.

Back at home, Paw was warming up for his evening exercise. He showed me some Chinese yoga moves (Qi Gong? Tai Chi? Who knows.) and I showed some yoga moves that I learned from classes at UT. I didn’t do much, but my arms are sore today! Regular exercise is one thing I miss while traveling, but the rewards are well worth it. Meh watched us for awhile before leaving to to start in on making dinner. Kuhn Paw went for his walk-jog and I went to sit with Meh. When I lived here, I would make my own food (fried vegetables) most days, but this time around Meh is making me different dishes every day. I accept her hospitality and observe, though this night I was distracted by the grass seeds stuck to my skirt. I joked that I walked for just one hour and then had to pick grass seeds for two. It is not much of an exaggeration. A delicious dinner, all the fruit one could want for dessert (especially of the custard apple, dragonfruit, lum yai, and durian variety) and then a relaxing evening. My Thai family has the equivalent of each person having “their corner” as my family in America does, but here we share space even if we are doing different things. Mackey practices music. Meh knits and watches TV. Paw works on the computer. I read or do Soduko. Tonight I helped translate an official form for Paw. He wants to work abroad with the UN — power to him!

When it was time for bed, a thunderstorm came in. I sat on the porch to watch the lightning and listen to the thunder. (Fitzgerald tradition!) Paw was surprised since he said most women are afraid of thunderstorms. Not this one! I slept like a baby to the sound of the rain.

Such is a normal day living in Yasothon. And if you want to read more about my year abroad or just look at pictures, my old blog can be found here: http://http://kellyfitz.typepad.com/.

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