Friday, March 15, 2013

Road Babe Dispatch From Thailand Part I

Shortly after arriving in Thailand, I discovered a portal to a forgotten world. I was offered a brief but illuminating glimpse of life in the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan. My travel companion Melanie and I spent one week in the mountains of Chiayaphum, at a small place called Ban Sai Roong (the rainbow community). We learned the ropes of village life, taught English to children in a Buddhist temple, constructed a wall from mud, and became part of an amazing group of people. A man named Isara hosted us in his humble mud house, which he built himself for a mere 10,000 baht. Anais Nin said, "We write to taste life twice." So, I have carefully recorded every detail of this experience, as I could relive this story a thousand times over.

It begins with me on the streets of Chiayaphum. I am an outsider, I am the minority, and I am thrilled to be here, to be given this perspective. As we wait outside a 7/11 because we cannot find the truck station, we witness the Land of Smiles unfolding before us. We are mostly the beneficiaries. Looking somewhat confused and conspicuously pale-skinned, we are warmed by a crowd that forms around us. Employees and customers and random bypassers step up to offer information, a few words in English, or anything they can do to help. Everyone takes time to get a look at us and share a smile. The children giggle and bury their faces in their mothers' dresses, then look back at us again. We do not go unnoticed or unacknowledged. We are spectators and spectacle.

Isara picked us up to take us to Ban Sai Roong around 8 pm. We talked over a bowl of congee soup and realized we had common ground, that our dreams run parallel. Isara is a generous, lovable man with bright ideas for a better world. He told us he has 10,000 friends all over Thailand, so if we are ever hungry or need somewhere to sleep, to call him and he will work things out. As we drove out of the city and up a mountain to the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan, I felt my heart jump. Ban Sai Roong is magical.

The following day, I awoke at 5:30 to monks chanting, dogs barking, and some roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing. Suddenly, these noises were drowned out by a voice announcing the morning news to the village over a loudspeaker. Mel and I roused, took cold showers, and prepared for a busy day. Isara came to give us a foraging lesson by walking us around his property. There are more than 90 edible species growing on his land. We picked some leaves for breakfast, added them to tuna and bread. Ferns, basil, mint, elephant ear, and other plants I cannot remember or pronounce.

Isara took us around the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan. With nearly 3,000 people there, we were the only farangs (foreigners) - except for the occasional rich Western guy dropping in to snag a Thai wife. First, we walked through the town's Buddhist temple, which is practically in Isara's backyard. Temporary monkhood is a traditional obligation for every Thai man before he is permitted to marry. Some monks stay in the temple for a few months, while some stay their whole lives. Isara stayed for 8 years. Every monk that passes us knows him and he has conversation to exchange with all of them. Monks in the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan do not beg for alms or have money (unlike the monks in Bangkok) in order to free themselves of attachments.

The temple grounds are made up of a large courtyard, a dormitory for monks, a dining hall, and a kindergarten school. Outside, children are laughing, playing and pushing a wheelbarrow. Isara promises them that we will be back at 9 am. We visit a bamboo post office, so Isara can pick up a package. It's a box of toys. It's always toys. I now realize that Isara is Santa Claus - every single day! He is passionate about giving to the children of Ta Ma Fai Wan. Every few days, he receives a parcel containing toys for the village children from sources all over the world. He is a master networker. At his home, he has a room full of toys waiting to be delivered. He walks around with toys in his pockets, greets nearly every child by name, takes interest in their lives, inspires hope and instills confidence. They come running to greet him. With a humble disposition, he does not want to be glorified or revered by the children. All he asks is that they return the favor by giving to others.

With the adults of Ta Ma Fai Wan, Isara shares news, knowledge, and smiles. Every house we pass is a friend of his. They welcome us on their stoops and he introduces us warmly. He's so happy to show us his way of life: always giving. His job is to volunteer and his hobby is to work, he says. He spends 5 days a month holding workshops on how to build mud houses. The rest of the time, he serves his community, spends time with the people, and is a light wherever he goes. I'll tell you more of my adventures with him in the second half of this story. 

Josalin Saffer is a writer, photographer, and ESL teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. She now lives in Thailand. Continually traveling the world in search of new places, new faces, new ways to live and new ways to love, she journals passionately on her website found at Her inclusion in the Road Babe Dispatches column reflects only the view of Lyn's "editorial staff."

1 comment:

  1. An entirely different world, Josalin! Thank you for writing about it.