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By practiceyogadistrict

I leave Khon Kaen tomorrow. I cannot believe how quickly these four months have sped by.

I have been blessed with the joys of lots of adventure and new experiences along with tough growing pains as I have been away from my community in DC. I have gotten to live in villages in the north of Thailand with the Karen people, in central Thailand in a fishing village on an island, then several in the Northeast, an organic farming village and a silk weaving village most recently. Beyond those phenomenal experiences witnessing little blimps of authentic life here in Thailand, I have had a few excursions of my own. I have had quite a few bus mishaps, getting stuck on the side of the road with a few travel companions, getting stuck in multiple storms, and even getting stuck on a broken down bus. All these were in pursuit of finding remarkable hikes in the jungles of Laos or national parks in Thailand. I have also made some pretty great friends along the way, and am able to carry on a conversation in Thai! Learning the language has been really fun.

I will miss the phenomenal Thai food. I will miss discovering fun coffee shops in Khon Kaen. I will miss sharing food. I will miss the moobans (villages). I will miss night markets. I will miss the sweet Thai friends I have made along the way. And most of all I will miss the joy of discovery.

By practiceyogadistrict

Drains and Justice

This past week was quite a draining one both emotionally and physically. The study program has fully launched into final project time. Since this past Sunday I have spent 4 days in a community interviewing and filming stories for a mini documentary for hours on end (I have shot over 160 GB of footage). Late nights and early mornings. That’s the physically draining bit. The emotional drain has been the content of the stories.

We were first asked to come and tell this community’s story by a local NGO. Why? Because of the injustices and suffering they have gone through since last August. In this past August, the Thai government instituted this new policy called the ‘Master Plan.’ This plan was set in order to reclaim national forest land from investors farming on it. However, investors paid off the military that was sent to drive them from the land, and the military as a result, picked on the easiest target, these poor villagers. These villagers were charged for trespassing on the land that they have been farming for generations, and now face charges and potential prison time if found guilty for trespassing or farming the land. Not only have these villagers lost their home, their livelihood, and their land, but they also are racking up debt paying for court fees.

In my four days in the community, I heard heartbreaking stories. Stories of a family in which both the parents were put in prison, though only one was charged for ‘trespassing,’ and now the three children are left without the pillars of their family. I heard stories of wives falling into serious mental health and psychiatric problems because of the stress this experience put on the family. I heard stories of a man who not only lost his land, but also his wife and children who left and got a divorce due to fear of the instability of having to fight in court. Story after story after story. Each one equally as devastating.

What is my hope in all this? Isaiah 9:2-7.

Though their stories are hard to hear, I am privileged to get to tell their story in whatever way I am able. I pray that as I tell their story, they might experience greater grace and justice in their lives and that they might have hope.

By practiceyogadistrict

I just returned to Khon Kaen from my last homestay of the semester, and I thought this would be a good time to express the deepness of hospitality that I have experienced from Thai families over my short time here.

I have had homestays in a slum, in an organic farming village, in a Karen village, in a fishing village on an island, and then this final one in a village where the majority of the women are silk weavers. In each one I experienced the different quirks of the family, a goofy father, a blunt grandmother, two earnest younger sisters, and a prayerful mother. But this last one topped all the others in the immense generosity and love that radiated from the family that I stayed with.

We (my 14 peers and I) were gathered upon our arrival to the village at the meeting place where all of the Meh’s ‘ were coming to pick us up to take us home for our few day stay in the village. Then in walked a women with penciled in eyebrows and a vibrant purple shirt, her arms wide, “Sa-wa-dee-ka” she exclaimed in welcome. This was my Meh. Immediately hugging my friend Anne and I who would be staying with her. This was a surprise considering that Thai people rarely hug one another, let alone strangers.

Meh took us home and immediately allowed us to settle into the house. She spread before the two of us a massive dinner of at least six dishes. This was the first time in a homestay when the whole family ate with us. It is tradition in Thai families to allow children and elderly and guests eat first, then everyone else eats. It was sweet to get to enjoy food with everyone. Even though Pah consistently made comments on how I was avoiding the cold green fishy pureed seaweed soup. Later on Meh showed us to our bed. We were sleeping in the main room of the house in the only bed the family owned. Pah slept at a neighbor’s house and meh slept on a mat on the floor.

The following day we enjoyed a full day free. Meh gave us an extensive tour of the village. At every house we passed where someone was home, meh would prompt us to wai (bring your hands to a prayer position and bow slightly as a sign of respect) and say hello. She beamed, showing off her guests as we went.. Moving from house to house, we were given a tour of nearly every aspect of silk production. The silk worm larva, the large larva, the mulberry trees used to feed the larva, the larva creating the silk cocoon, the piles of bright yellow silk cocoons, the thread extraction process, the spinning process, the mudmee thread dying process, and finally the weaving process. With each villager we visited, each one allowed us to actively participate in the process, running the risk that our unskilled hands would ruin their work.

That night, our second and final night, the village threw a goodbye ceremony for us and then afterwards all of us had a potluck. However, meh had specially prepared Kai lug cuy for me, knowing it was my favorite dish, and gave me orders not to share it with anyone else.

The next morning had even more Kai lug cuy for breakfast, then meh walked us to where the vans would pick us up to drive us back to Khon Kaen. Again, she made us wai everyone we passed, and dressed us each in a silk scarf that she had woven herself, picked especially for us. This is immensely significant, because these scarves each cost around 20-30 US dollars, and are the equivalent of three weeks income if sold. Yet she adorned us with them and called us her own daughters; “Lug sowe con chan” she said. As we prepared to leave she gave us even more hugs, and as we got in the van and drove away she began crying. I was touched by how much love meh expressed for us after only two days. It made me wonder if houseguests in the US would receive the same warm familial hospitality.

By practiceyogadistrict

Being a Christian in a region of Thailand where less than .5% of the population is Christian has been a challenging thing. Thailand is a predominantly buddhist country, therefore there are buddha images everywhere you look. It's strange seeing the people around me worship a god that is not the God that I believe in. However, one of the sweetest gifts I have experienced in my time here has been finding a Christian church. The church in English is called Covenant Church, however it has another name in Thai. Something I love about Thailand is how relationally focused Thai people are. And church certainly reflects that. Before the Sunday afternoon worship service, the whole church will gather for lunch, a time to catch up with one another about the week that just passed and how we have been. It has been a joy to build relationships with Thai's who have the same faith as me during this time. Though we come from completely different backgrounds, we have the core of who we are in common. After lunch we have a time of worship. Worshiping God in Thai is a completely new experience, but also incredibly familiar. Though I don't understand the words to the songs, I can understand the heart of the people worshipping around me. It just goes to show how far-reaching and global God is. He is not just God in the US, but all around the world. An American friend recently joined me for church on Easter Sunday and was marked by how similar this small church in Khon Kaen is to her church back home in Pennsylvania. After a sermon, which is in Thai (I will normally go off with a few other westerners and listen to a sermon in English online), everyone will gather again for time in community, chatting over the delicious tropical fruit that Thailand has to offer. I have learned much about  how expansive God is with my time at this church with these Christians. Though I deeply miss my community and my Church in DC, I know when I am back home I will long for pieces of Covenant Church.

By practiceyogadistrict

Spring break has been spent as an escape from the stifling heat of Khon Kaen. First stop, Laos. Laos borders the north of Thailand. To travel there was an adventure in and of itself. The sleeper bus from Khon Kaen to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand was standard. Our next task was to hop on the 9am bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. Though we arrived two hours before this bus left, it was already full, and our next chance to get to the boarder was at 2:30pm. We (Jenna and Anne and I—traveling friends) decided this would be okay, because according to what we had read online, the boarder stays open from 6am-10pm, and according to our calculations we would get there right at 8 and have time to cross before it closed. Cabs and Tuk Tuks awaited us as we disembarked the bus, hassling for our business-- the usual drill. We asked to be taken to the boarder, and every single person we asked said ‘mai dai’ which means I can’t or I won’t because it was closed already. Being the stubborn people we are, Anne, Jenna and I concluded that we could walk there on our own. At night. Through this new city we had never been to. The reason we were so intent on crossing the boarder that night was because we had to meet our guides for a trekking and zip-lining jungle experience at 8am the next morning. We had no idea the distance, but we knew general directions to the boarder crossing. About 10 minutes into our walk we begin to feel drops of rain on our heads. ‘Only a little rain,’ we said to one another, nothing we can’t handle. Then the rain began to fall heavier and heavier- big fat drops of water drenching everything we had with us. It was around 9pm now. Up ahead we saw a bright green sign—Tesco Lotus—the Thai version of Walmart. We ran to it, a safe refuge from the tropical storm we had found ourselves in. As we called the one guesthouse that we knew of the power flickered out in Tesco. You know you are in the midst of something when a supermarket loses power. On our drive to the guesthouse (the owner took pity on us and picked us up from Tesco) we saw countless toppled signs. The next day we succumbed to taking a Tuk Tuk as early as we could to the boarder. What we discovered was that the Thai boarder was open from 8am to 8pm, but the Laos boarder’s hours were from 6am-10pm. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Needless to say, it was a good thing that the storm stopped us. It was 10km to the boarder, not the 3km that we thought. And even if we had made it all the way there, we wouldn’t even have been able to cross.

As we raced in the Song Taew through Huay Xai, a small town on our way to Bokeo Nature Reserve for our three days in the jungle, I took in the new country that surrounded me. The town looked just like Thai towns that I had driven through countless times. Leaving the town, however, I was struck by how green, lush, and untouched Laos nature seemed. Fresh air did me well. The clean sweetness of the jungle air was precisely what I needed, and the joys of hiking, zip-lining, and tree house living satisfied my need for nature.

Now back in Chiang Mai, I am preparing for three days of being relentlessly soaked. Songkran, Thailand’s New Year’s celebration begins today. Instead of the ball dropping, Thais ring in the New Year with a massive three-day water fight. Everyone, whether stranger, family, young or old participate in festivities. The water traditionally symbolizes cleansing from sin, but younger generations of Thais and tourists have turned the holiday into a massive party. It is what it is. Happy New Year, friends! May the adventure continue for another year!

Pah and the pourover
Pah and the pourover

If you know me well, you know that I am quite the coffee snob. I am religious about my coffee routines in the morning when I am at home. I grind my beans fresh, and delight in the robust smells of my French Press brewing as I get ready for classes. My coffee is always just the way I like it. You can tell by the way I am even writing about this little routine of mine now that aside from friendships, this may be the biggest thing I miss. ANYWAYS, last week I had an experience that every coffee connoisseur dreams of.

Our comparative study took us up to Chiang Mai and the into the hills north of Chiang Mai to meet and spend a few nights with the Pogonyor tribe, a subset of the Karen Hill Tribe. I knew the villagers were farmers, many of them living a simple life of subsistence farming and selling any leftovers. However, little did I know that they also grew coffee.

We drove up the winding roads for two hours to get to the village, and arrived mid-morning. The air was cool and the sky was blue and the plants were lusciously green—a nice change from down in the lowlands in Chiang Mai where they are burning their crops and everything is dry and lifeless. We were actually at a high enough elevation that there were pine trees. The Pah that was hosting us welcomed us with a coffee feast, if there ever were such a thing. He had a bag of beans sitting on the table. I nibbled on one—immediate cure to my caffeine headache. Pah ground the beans, put heaps of them in a filter over a pitcher and methodically poured water over the ground beans. Comforting smells of rich, robust black coffee, right from the source wafted up towards my face. I felt as though I was at our family cabin in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. The combination of the smell of pine and the smell of dark coffee brought me back to summer mornings spent there. This was paradise. A pour over coffee, traditionally one of the most hipster drinks you can buy in America, was being brought back to it’s roots. Actually though. I was physically standing under the coffee tree the beans had come from.

The bean roaster
The bean roaster

Noticing my joy and delight over this little experience we were having, Pah picked the coffee cherry, the fruit that the bean derives from, off of the tree and allowed me to smell it. Then he led me around the side of the house and showed me where he roasts the beans. I was expecting a massive roasting machine like there are in the US. I hadn’t even imagined other ways one could roast the coffee plant. But we turn the corner, and he motions to this little pot on the ground, that essentially a Thai wood burning stove. He then pulled out a contraption that sat on top of it; a small barrel with open ends and a crank on the side that he put the beans in over the fire. Turning and turning them to roast each batch, which would have probably filled three or four bags to sell. Handmade coffee. I was in awe. I will never see coffee the same again.

By practiceyogadistrict

With a three-day weekend, a world of freedom opened so two friends and I decided to travel up to the north of Thailand to explore Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai. The north is known for it’s lush green foliage and gorgeous mountains. Unfortunately we chose to go at the worst possible time because in the month of March, all the rice farmers burn their fields in order to grow herbs and mushrooms that sprout from the ashes. Though it’s an effective practice for the farmers to earn a little extra income from the second crop, it is horrible both for the environment and visibility, so our mountain views were a little less spectacular. Even so, getting out of our Khon Kaen bubble was fun and exciting.

Khon Kaen, as it would be, is the farthest thing from a tourist destination in Thailand. Comparatively, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai are major tourist destinations. As we disembarked our bus in Chiang Mai, we saw countless white faces in the crowds of Thai people. I was a little taken aback, being used to being one of the only farrang around in Khon Kaen. Even more shocking was when I arrived in Pai. Pai is a world of dreaded, tattooed, pierced European backpackers. I could walk down the street without seeing a single Thai. It was a place completely catered to tourists. There were even people dressed in Karen hill tribe cultural dress performing on the street to give the tourists a taste of the ‘culture.’

As I spent time in these tourist locales using my Thai language that I have garnered so far, I spoke in Thai with locals about my life and asked them about theirs. I found that the Thais I spoke with were pleasantly surprised and even excited to encounter a farrang who had more permanence in Thailand than other tourists. I became more than just a walking moneybag to them. Gaining even the simple ability to communicate on a deeper level gave me more humanity in their eyes. One friend I made along the way, an elephant trainer, even asked my friends and I to come back and work on the elephant farm with him.

What I realized through my long weekend is how blessed I am to get more than just a few days or weeks in Thailand as a tourist, but rather months studying and seeking to gain as much understanding as possible about the culture in which I am living. Tourists who make their rounds of Thailand go to the beaches in the south, Bangkok for the big city experience, and then Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai/ Pai in the north to see pretty mountains. They stay on the tourist trail where it is easy to communicate in English. They see the sights, buy some trinkets, and then they move along to the next country. Though I have four short months, I am getting far more than any tourist might. I am gaining empathy.

By practiceyogadistrict

A friend from home asked me last week what my favorite thing that happened to me was that week. Here is how I answered her:

At 10:30pm I returned home from dinner out with friends at a restaurant in downtown Khon Kaen. A few minutes after I had stepped through the door, my roommate Kim strolls into the room. She had just returned from a ceremony where the first years in her faculty received their special faculty belt buckles for their uniforms. She immediately started changing out of her very formal uniform into her usual jeans and T-shirt, then asked me if I wanted to go get milk with her and her friends. First I was confused by what she meant by going to get ‘milk’ thinking maybe it was slang for beer or something. It’s not. She meant milk. Though it had been an extremely long day and I was neuwai maak (very tired), I decided to go.

I hopped on the back of her moto-sci (motorcycle), and we drove through the humid night to a very hipster café. It met all of my standards of what necessitates a cool café—raw brick walls, spiral staircase up to the second floor/loft, a comfy couch, random art, and a guitar. Turns out, asking someone to go to milk with you is the same as asking someone to go to coffee, except in Thailand many of the drinks that you order at a café are some form of sweet milk. Kim’s friend arrived shortly after we did. We had ordered one of the best Thai desserts, a crepe cake (layers of crepe and cream, ours had banana in it too). Kim proudly introduced me as her American roommate, and forced me to speak Thai to her friend, and forced her friend to speak English to me. I discovered halfway through our conversation that I was the first farrang (foreigner) he had ever spoken English with besides his farrang professors. What a separate world this is.

Around midnight as Kim and I were on our way home singing Beatles at the top of our lungs, Kim declared we were going to Karaoke. I thought maybe she meant we should go to Karaoke another night, but she meant right then. We pulled up to a building that looked a bit like a renovated motel with a bright sign that declared that we were at the karaoke ‘place’. I say place because I naturally was expecting a karaoke bar, the logical place to sing karaoke. But this was Thai-style karaoke. Any group of people, small or large, that wants to sing karaoke rents a room for an hour, equipped with the appropriate number of microphones, a large speaker, and a flat screen TV for the lyrics and background music video. There I was with my roommate, one room, two microphones, too much Adam Levine, a bit of Adele, for one full hour. It’s these sorts of small, slightly strange experiences that I hope to not forget when I return to the states.

By practiceyogadistrict

If you know me you know that I like everything to be chronological, organized, and in order. And to my great chagrin, this post isn’t. Mai-pen-rai, ka. (means ‘no big deal’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’ in Thai).

A few weeks ago, over a three-day weekend, I went with a few friends on a grand adventure to Khao Yai National Park.

The adventure began right from jump. To get to the park, we had to take a bus to a small city that was closest to the North Entrance of the National Park. The city was called Pak Chong. We boarded a night bus to Bangkok and were told that it would go through Pak Chong. Side-note-- busses in Thailand are incredible! It was like flying first class. Big chairs that leaned all the way back, small individual TV screens, and free food. Not quite as smooth a ride as flying is, however. All of us slept a bit, but tried to keep our eye on the time. We knew it was about four or five hours to Pak Chong. Though we asked the driver to tell us when we arrived in Pak Chong, we weren’t sure that request was communicated perfectly. After about four hours, the driver told us that we are at our stop, so we all proceed to schlep our backpacks off the bus, and the bus whizzed away. We gathered our surroundings. There we stood on the side of the highway at two in the morning under a ‘Khao Yai Outlet’ sign. By no means were we anywhere near the center of the city where we were planning on sleeping before heading to the park the next day. We tried calling the number of the cheap motel where we had made reservations, but the call wouldn’t go through. There seemed to be not a soul around. Luckily, on second glance, we saw a small security shack that lay a few meters back from the highway, and by some small miracle, inside the security shack was a security guard. The poor poor man must have been more than a little alarmed when a mob of young Americans were knocking on his window asking in Tenglish (Very poor thai/English) how to get into the city. We certainly looked desperate enough, so he tried calling a taxi service for us. Of course in a small city, there was none running at 2am. Finally he communicates that he got us transportation and it will be by shortly to pick us up. Ten minutes later, a car probably two-thirds the size of a Toyota Prius rolls up. I am almost certain the security guard had just called a friend to come get us because he didn’t know what else to do with us. The man requests 700 bhat (probably 4x the normal price) to drive us to our motel in Pak Chong, and so the EIGHT of us agreed, and crammed into his tiny tiny car.

Once we were in Pak Chong, he drove us down an alleyway, and lo and behold, there was our motel/hostel. The rooms smelled so strongly of sewage it was almost unbearable and the two mattresses stacked in the corner on the floor were covered with a stained sheet and a moth-eaten blanket. Mai-pen-rai! It was only to get a few hours of shuteye until the next morning when we would take the song-towe to the national park. However, I was immensely thankful for my little cocoon-sleeping sheet that I had brought along from America that made a small barrier between the ratchet bedding and I.

The next morning we made it, with a little less drama, to the park entrance. Four of the girls who already had planned to camp in the park continued on in while myself and the other three friends I had traveled with sought out accommodation. After several failed attempts we ended up staying in the accommodation closest to the park; what was six neon bungalows all in a row. They were clean and had air conditioning—all we needed.

After dropping off our bags, we proceeded to the park entrance, paid, and then asked the attendant how to get to the visitors center/ park headquarters that was 14kilometers away, the place we knew all the hiking trails branched off of. Casually she remarked, ‘hitch-hike.’ We asked again, and again she said ‘you hitch-hike.’ Surely, I thought, there must be a bus! But no… We hitch-hiked, and ended up having to hitch-hike in the park any time we wanted to get anywhere. Though the first time we were very reluctant, it ended up being a blast and only adding to the adventure! It never took us too long to catch a ride, and several times the folks that picked us up spoke English. It was neat to get to meet so many different people this way. We met a business man from Bangkok who had a free day and wanted to just drive through the park and soak up some of the nature. We also met a Thai dad and his son who had downs syndrome. We talked with them about movies, and it was sweet to see in such a short encounter the tender care the father had for his son.

On that first day we made it (after hitch-hiking) to the visitors center/ park headquarters by about noon. We grabbed a map, looked at trail descriptions, and wanting to get in a good, long hike in the afternoon, we immediately asked the man at the desk how to get to the trailhead for an 8-kilometer hike to a waterfall. The man shook his head and said we needed a guide and it was too late in the afternoon for that hike, we didn’t have enough time. We figured it’s less than 5 miles, and we are all strong women who have hiked plenty in our lives, we can do five miles before 5 pm! So, using the piece paper that was a poor excuse for a map, off we went to seek the trailhead for the long 8k hike. The start of the hike was off of a smaller 1k-nature walk that was paved, so we started there. Each time we came upon something that looked like it might be a trail, we tried walking on it for a ways, and then when it came to bush-whacking we decided to turn back. Finally, after several other attempts, we succumbed to hammocking in the Eno Hammocks my friend Hunter and I had brought along. It wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, though we were a little bummed to not get a big hike in.

That night, with no restaurant at the bungalows to eat at, the owner, who also took pity on us four farrang who had no mode of transportation, loaded us in the back of his truck and drove us a few miles down the road to a restaurant called Khao Yai Cowboy. The place was western themed; hence the name, with tarnished pictures of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Native Americans, and galloping horses hanging on the walls next to massive racks of antlers and long horns and old fashioned lamps. The tables were made of beautiful raw wood, and all surrounded an open dance floor and a stage. I felt as though I could have been at a cool bar in the American Southwest. What made me not forget that I was in Thailand was the food (I ordered some bad Chinese food) and the music.

About halfway through our meal, a band shows up to the restaurant and begins to set up the stage. The four of us were all looking forward to the live music. They begin to play a set of classic rock and bluegrass/country music. Keep in mind however, that these are Thai men singing with Thai accents. Often times they would just imitate the sound of the lyric, but not quite get the full word. Not only that, but the restaurant owner’s two children, my guess is they were ages 3 and 5 or so, began casually performing with the band up front, the little girl dancing, and the little boy hitting the bongos. The highlight was when the main singer began yodeling and two of my friends got up to dance.

We began our second day early. It was our only full day in the park, so we wanted to get the most out of it that we could. We hitch-hiked our way up to the visitor’s center determined to do the 8k hike, at any cost, even if we had to get a guide. Turns out that the guide was not such a bad idea. Our guide was named ‘choke dee’ which means ‘good luck’ in Thai. He was incredibly handsome and looked like he was in his late 20s, maybe early 30s. Turns out he was actually in his early 40s. He claimed all the sun and carefree hiking is what kept him young. I’m sure he was right. He wore heavy-duty hiking boots and tough-looking pants. I on the other hand wore my open-toed Chaco sandals and a pair of running shorts. Good choices.

He led us to the trailhead, one of the semi-trail-looking trails that we had passed the day before but actually decided not to try walking down the day before because it was so overgrown. He prayed before we started the hike, then right after he prays proceeds to pull out a machete and a pistol from his backpacking backpack. It had just gotten real. In the past hikers had come across tigers and hyenas, so that was what the machete and pistol were for… just in case. Luckily we had no need for them. Hikers had also come across elephants and gibbons on the trail, which we unfortunately did not encounter.

Half of the time on the hike my mind was thanking God that we didn’t try this trail the day before. Every twist, turn, and bushwhacking section we encountered I became more and more grateful. The other half of the hike I was marveling at the beauty of the verdant forest. Giant palms crossed our path, massive vines wound up trees and hung down to meet us on the ground, and the sun shone through leaves the size of a platter. It was gorgeous.

As we neared the end of our hike, Choke Dee took us to a hidden waterfall. It had no sign of other tourists—all ours! We jumped into the little watering hole screeching as all the sweat, dirt, and blood from the hike washed off. Choke Dee showed us how to climb up the waterfall, and we scaled the slippery rock and plunged into the pool below time after time. Having the guide was absolutely worth it. After snacking and drying off we continued on the last kilometer of the hike to Khao Yai’s most famous waterfall where our hike ended. Though it was big, it seemed much less exciting after our thrilling private waterfall that we had enjoyed. We also didn’t want the hike, or the weekend, to end.

The travel home was a little bit less eventful that travel to get to Khao Yai. Though we got lost trying to find the bus station, I had a map written on my hand by a local man who tried to help us very lost farrang (westerners) in the market, and we sprinted across a six lane highway, we made it home safe and sound.

It turns out very little planning makes for some great stories. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

So fresh and so local, the food from my agrarian homestay.
So fresh and so local, the food from my agrarian homestay.

“Arroi maak, ka!” “Chan im maak ka!” I must have said these two Thai phrases hundreds of time this past week.

I was living in a MooBan (village) in Yosothon Province, about three hours northeast of where I am in Khon Kaen, learning about the agrarian life in Thailand. We lived with farming families, and had what CIEE calls ‘exchanges’ each day. Exchanges are essentially meetings where different groups will share their experiences and knowledge, and we will share a bit of our own. We met with groups like organic farmers, farmers who sell at a green market, chemical farmers, and contract farmers. We also visited a rice mill and a sugar plantation. However all these exchanges were far from the highlight of my time away from Khon Kaen. My highlight, you ask? It was the experiences that prompted me to exclaim “Arroi maak” and “Chan im maak.” (Very delicious, and I’m VERY full.)

The food. My Meh in this family was an organic farmer. When rice is in season she grows organic rice, and in the off-season (which is right now) she grows a wide variety cover crops that nourish the soil for the next rice season. The crops included an assortment of vegetables, watermelon, and corn. There were also a number of chickens that roamed the back yard and offered us fresh eggs each day. Everything that was placed before us to eat was fresh, organic, and grown by my Meh herself or by one of our neighbors.

There was an abundance of stir fried vegetables, fish, som tham (green papaya salad), and sticky rice (SO MUCH sticky rice!).

My two favorite dishes were a local Isaan variety of black sticky rice (cow neow see dam), soaked in coconut milk and topped with sweet egg and fresh coconut meat that came from the coconuts plucked from the trees in our yard. I had to slurp down the coconut water first before I could eat the meat of the fruit with our sticky rice. My second favorite was a dish of caramelized onions and whole cloves of garlic paired with boiled eggs that had then been fried so the outside was a little crispy. I dipped my sticky rice (plain white this time) in the sauce, scooping out caramelized onions and garlic, to eat with my bite of boiled/fried egg. A perfect blend of savory and sweet. My mouth waters as I write and reminisce. Arroi MAAK, ka.

Eating from such an intensely local food system was an incredible experience. The food was probably the best I will have in Thailand.