After a few weeks of traveling through Thailand and spending spring break all together in the islands, we finished off our Spring Semester in Thailand Program with a week-long trip up to the mountains. This trip was spent with some incredible people from the hill tribe in a Lahu Village in a mountain city outside Chiang Rai called Ban Bala.
The village stay was a great way to close of our semester, we learned so much about the culture and got to spend time enjoying each others company and escaping from the busyness of the city before some of us headed home to America and others came back to Chiang Mai to continue travels and start TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
We spent most of our week hanging out with and learning from a man named Witoon, who has a passion for sustainable agriculture. He is following a dream to transform his village’s agricultural style from slash and burn agriculture and growing corn for profit into a more sustainable system with a variety of crops grown in a way that will sustain the land and protect the environment. He is working now with some SST alumni to pursue this dream, and they coordinated and planned out a wonderful week for us while we visited to get to learn about his vision, get some hands on experience in farming and Lahu village life and to see more of Northern Thailand.
The week was jam packed with activities like planting banana trees (we planted 1,080 trees!), traditional fishing, hiking to a waterfall, visiting the famous white temple, visiting a coffee growing village, learning about the agricultural processes of Pii Witoon’s farm, a traditional Lahu new-years celebration with fireworks and dancing, killing a pig which fed us for the entire week, learning to cook a few Lahu foods, and even attending a Lahu wedding. In the evenings, Witoon, his wife Nayu, and his sister Dara each shared their stories with us and they were very inspiring. I learned from their stories and the small glimpse we got of their lives the power of resilience, living a simple and content life, and patiently following a dream.
Personally my favorite part of the experience was getting to be so close to my food. We spent time out in the fields helping with the process of growing bananas and then were eating many bananas from those same fields all week. We ate wild honey straight off the honeycomb. We knew that the vegetables we were eating were fresh from nearby farms and the majority of the meat came from a pig we watched (and some of us helped) to slaughter. Back at home I don’t know a thing about where my vegetables were grown and know even less about the meats I consume, I feel so far removed from that process that I never really even thought much about what it could mean. Being here has created a new appreciation for food, rather than scarfing down every meal or ordering whatever type of food I craved in the moment. I was motivated to slow down and consider the roots of where my food was coming from. This was something most of us don’t experience back in the states and was pretty interesting for me and I think it will impact the way I consume when I get home.
Overall, after this village stay and an entire semester over here in Thailand, I think our whole group has been stretched and changed far beyond expectations. As some of us head home for the summer and others start up the TEFL certification course or stick around for a bit more traveling we are all trying to process and prepare ourselves for a new transition back home. With a reserved anticipation we are excited to be back in the states with the people we love but also a bit uncertain how the changes we have experienced are going to fit into our lives back home. It is sad to accept that this group will never be all together again in this context with this amount of space and time to listen to each other and to know each other, but as we part ways we are filled with gratitude, great memories, joy, maybe a little fear, and anticipation for the transition and each of our next steps.