Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Visit to a Karen Village in the Mae Hongson Valley

Near Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Along the curving mountains between Mae Hongson and Pai lies a small Lisu village called Ban Namrin. Lisu is a minority group originating from a northern province named Chang Rai that hugs China. There is a lodgement of small bamboo huts that is run by a Lisu and her German husband, who welcome us like grandchildren to their peaceful hidden estate. It is low season and they only received three guests in May. Amee and Rudi advise us to enjoy a 5 hour walk to Manora, a Karen village.

Early Saturday morning we leave, rain gear in hand, along 2kms of cement after which the road transcends into a muddy dirt road that runs along a river. Playful butterflies dance around us, and blueheaded lizards jump across our path. Sloped farms with tough bamboo fences to keep out trotting cows are worked by groups of women and men. Carrying barrels of pesticides, spraying each field kilometers wide by hand, a barrel at a time. In one field, five groups of three are seeding the field with rice. A man, quick handed, shovels a hole for a couple seeds of rice, which are thrown accurately by his relative, and the third treads behind dragging a thick leaved branch that smoothes the surface of soil. Hard work is done at Ban Look Pa Kor, a Lahu village.

A two-hour ascend takes our breath and the view atop the mountain pass at 1400meter is beautifully 'photographic'. [insert photo]. The path leads away from slopes of agriculture and hardwork, and takes us through a bewildered jungle; a most wild hairdoo.

We meet a group of young men cutting down a tree of two diameters wide with a single axe. The smallest axe head we'd ever seen. An alien tree had twisted itself around the trunk and was sucking out all life out of its mother. Further descending, we met an older man rifle in hand, one almost two meters long. He was walking the jungles with his five hunting dogs. He parted when taking a hidden jungle track through the thick jungle.

Planting food

Our path is sprinkled with a sporadic presence of cement; often at curviest up- and downhill twists. Empty bags of cement left to be eaten by the earth. Manora is a sparkling gem at the bottom of the pass.

At the school, we present a letter in Amee's handwriting asking for a night's stay. One of the older girls is on the know-how and takes us to an older couple. Opa is delighted to meet us and greets us with a smile of warmth, instead Oma just sighs... The village is made up of 40 families, all Buddhist Karen who speak Pho Karen, not Sa Karen that our Christian Karen student speak. Words do not overlap and our interactions are with gestures, nods and smiles. Opa prepares a pot of delicious hot tea, we drink from cups carved from a bamboo branch.

Manora Karen Village, Northern Thailand Manora Karen Village, Northern Thailand

We shower under the bridge at the edge of the village, to wash away mud and sweat. Upon our return we find a happy gathering at the house; a celebration with Rice Wine Manorita for the return of a son from Chiang Mai.

Opa is the key; he is the only villager who knows the way from Manora to Mae Hongson over the mountains and through the jungle; a four day journey.

Their home is 30 years old and is built high on stilts. A small porch divides the living room and kitchen, with their bedroom. The bathroom is an outhouse, and below we count 3 pigs and a number of piglets. Chicken are kept in baskets in a hut off to the side. Dishes are done outside in peils with water thrown between the cracks of wood planks. In fact, any extra tea, saliva or food scraps are thrown through the crack and provide a party atmosphere for the fatties below.

A rural development project funded by Hitachi has provided a solar panel and battery to every family in Manora. Electricity, thus, is not an issue.

Solar Panels in remote Thai village

Solar Panels in remote Thai village
A project sponsored by Hitachi gives each family a solar panel and battery in certain remote villages in Thailand. The community also receives a larger station and battery charger.

In the evening, opa relaxes by the fire and rests a sore knee. A soundful sleep was impossible, our mind trying to place the noises our ears record. Dogs eating out metal pots at the front, drunken brothers returning home. Opa and Oma rise before the sunrise and light the fire. A thick cloud of dew is a lid to the valley but when it opens we begin our journey up the mountain slope, leaving behind a drawing of our of gratitude.