Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Home sweet home... and adjusting

It has been over a month since I got off the plane in Cedar Rapids, IA. I was warmly greeted by friends, family, and a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. My uncle wouldn't stop taking pictures, my mom started to tear up, and then I, of course, started crying. It was an incredible welcome and it felt great to finally be home.

I only had four days in Iowa City before I had to move into my apartment in Grand Rapids. The majority of my time was spent at the dermatologist. On my last course, I got bugbite/pus-oozing spots on my feet and legs and Pi Ben (course instructor) cleaned them and bandaged them up, but then I continued to get more and more... a total of 10 nasty spots on my body. They were pretty painful and constantly oozing. (Pi Ben put me on augmentin for 5 days) When I got home I showed them to my mom, who then took me to a dermatologist. My dermatologist had to do a punch biopsy, which is where she cut out a section of the skin for testing and then she followed up with stitches. I was put on Cipro and another antibiotic because they were concerned that I might have a parasite. The following morning, I woke up unable to bear any weight on my leg and the biopsy area swelled up to bigger than a golf ball. I was put on crutches and sent back to the dermatologist. She took a blood sample and culture and was worried that it might be Pyroderma Gangrenosum, which causes skin ulcerations and then we waited for 5 days to hear the results of the biopsy. Luckily, the results showed that I had staph infection and then I was given a stronger antibiotic, but similar to augmentin. The stitches were in for two weeks and had to be covered 24/7 because they constantly oozed. Pretty disgusting... but today I am STAPH FREE!!

My first few days in Grand Rapids were filled with moving into my apartment and wedding plans. My brother got married on June 22nd to an amazing woman. The wedding was beautiful and a whole lot of fun. Everyone from the Hausler clan made it, too!

Since the wedding, my days have been filled with job searching, filling out resumes and applications, interviews, etc. And still no luck! It is not exactly the summer that I had planned out, but it is still quite enjoyable. However, all of my free time has allowed me to explore Grand Rapids, make a surprise visit home to Iowa City, catch up with friends, house sit, hang out with my Young Life girls, and even go to Traverse City with my cousins. It has also given me time to think and process everything I learned this past semester.

Some of my thoughts I would like to share with you all:
First of all, I loved my experience in Thailand, but I don't want to go back... at least not for awhile. The experience I had was amazing because of the people I met. My instructors, host families, and fellow students were incredible because I learned so much from each and everyone of them. I was challenged on many levels and sometimes pushed beyond my limits, but I grew a lot from it all. Today, I am more independent and confident in myself. I have discovered new passions and affirmed old ones; I am more informed on environmental, political, and social issues and I care about my place in it all. I am blessed to have been able to spend 4 1/2 months in Thailand and I would not have been able to do it without trusting God. There were times when I struggled a lot, but God was always faithful.

I cannot thank you all enough for your support, encouraging letters and emails, and prayers. I would love to share pictures and stories with you all!

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

ally j

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm almost home...

I have only a few hours left in Chiang Mai... I am having a very relaxing day. First I am spending a few hours at a spa! Then I am meeting some girls for lunch at one of the best thai restaurants in the city. And then I am ending my time in Chiang Mai at a hair salon and getting my hair washed. It should be wonderful and sabai. My flight schedule is the following:

Friday, June 12, 2009
Thai Airways 117
1 hr 10 min
Depart: 7:15 pm Chiang Mai INTL
Arrive: 8:25 pm Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)

United 0890 6 hr 10 min 2,887 miles
Depart: (June 13th) 6:50 am Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Arrive: 3:00 pm Tokyo, Japan (NRT)

United 0882 11 hr 25 min 6,274 miles
Depart: 4:55 pm Tokyo, Japan (NRT)
Arrive: 2:20 pm Chicago, IL (ORD)

United 63551 hr 3 min 196 miles
Depart: 5:20 pm Chicago, IL (ORD)
Arrive: 6:20 pm Cedar Rapids, IA (CID)
I hope you are doing well and I am looking forward to sharing pictures and stories with you all.

Maybe I will see you at the airport :) Spaghetti dinner at my house afterwards!

ally j

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My classroom for the next few weeks: The deep, blue, mysterious OCEAN!

Wow. Tomorrow I leave for the last and final expedition course. I know I have said this in past blogs, but I can’t even grasp how fast this semester has gone. I will be away for about two weeks and then when I return to Chiang Mai the semester will be over. So this next course is one that really drew me to this semester abroad program at ISDSI. I have expressed my excitement about this course to some of you already and I don’t know exactly how to put what I will be doing into words besides saying…Sea Kayaking, Skin Diving, Snorkeling, Fish, Coral Reefs, Beaches, and the OCEAN! Since this doesn’t really give you a detailed idea of what I am going to do, I decided I would copy my course overview from my syllabus:

“Mangroves and the zone between land and sea are a key component of global biodiversity and sustainability. This course will examine the ecology of coastal zones, as well as the human communities that live and depend on the rich biological resources of coastal areas. The majority of this course occurs off campus. Students will be required to be flexible and motivated learners, working to study and understand the material at hand, while traveling through the coastal landscape. Both the physical and cultural environments will be changing—over a week of travel will be by sea kayak, and the final portion of this course will be in a small southern Thai fishing village.

By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of the major issues surrounding coastal ecology and resource management, with experience in and understanding of mangrove and near coastal ecosystems, including sea grasses and reefs; as well as an understanding of the unique challenges and struggles of the human communities that live in the coastal zone.”

So that pretty much sums it up… or I think it does! I have been waiting to be on the ocean for so long! It will be wonderful to run down the beach and splash into the water. The water is supposed to be really warm, so we won’t need any wet suits, and we won’t have to worry about hypothermia… which is always a plus. Yep, I am excited! Tomorrow we board a bus, which looks like a “pimp my ride” bus because it is a double-decker tour bus with crazy lights and colors and in addition, it has a karaoke system on the bottom floor! We will be riding it for 24+ hours to Southern Thailand. Then we will be kayaking for a week… what a life.

I will be home really soon. It is a bittersweet feeling right now, but I know I will be ready to come home on June 13th. I am looking forward to sharing stories and pictures with you all. Thank you for your support and please pray for safe travel and for focus during these last few weeks in Thailand. See you soon!

ally j

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Forest Course Pictures

I decided that for this course... I would explain it through pictures in hope that it would be a little more exciting :) I hope you enjoy it!

This is my backpacking group on our hike from Pa Ko Lo village to Hua Nam... We made a grand total of 30 river crossing and hiked for about 5-6 hours. In the village of Huay Hee, they practice shifting cultivation... this is a rai that is waiting to be planted. The pink bag is a handwoven Karen seed bag. They plant rice, pumpkin, papaya, cucumbers, beans and so much more on the mountain side.
Sweet bug on a chopped down tree in the middle of the rai. Hiking Doi Pui... the tallest mountain in Mae Hong Son. We are all pretty excited.
The view was gorgeous on the top of Doi Pui. Mountains everywhere!

Village kids were always following us around and as soon as we pulled out a camera they instantly dropped what they were doing and smiled.

WEAVING DAY: Mugah teaching us how to spin cotton into string... then we took the string and dyed it using natural things like bark, plants, dirt, etc.

One of the village kids watching while we learn how to weave.

My curious little host nephew. So adorable.

These kids would run up and down the mountain road playing with their cars and wheels for over 2 hours.
Our host mother with her grandson. It is not uncommon for Karen to carry children this way.
My host siblings in Huay Tong Kaew. Always smiling.

My future job: Blacksmithing!
Patti blacksmither watching over us as we try our hands at hitting metal... mai di.

This is a typical Karen roof (inside view)... it is made out of fan palms. They are put together when the fan palm is still green, then it has to dry out until it is cream colored. Over time the roof changes color as a result of the kitchen fires. In most Karen homes, the kitchen is located inside of the house and everything is cooked over open flames. So everything inside becomes a nice deep red-dark brown color.

Huay Tong Kaew's traditional medicine man and healer. He taught us about which herbs, roots, plants, and bark can heal someone or prevent an illness. Side note: he is also the midwife.

Mugah Kanom (Mother of the treats). Everyday we would visit her treat shop and buy various sugary snacks. After awhile we didn't even have to tell us what we wanted, she just knew.

My beautiful host mother is one of the most loving people I have ever met. She spoke very little Thai, but was extremely excited to teach me about her culture. I have never seen anyone shower people with love and care the same way that she did. She taught me so much. Thank you.
My little sister (Supava) learning how to embroider a traditional Karen shirt.

The pink bumpy thing is a chicken. We nicknamed it Meat. Yes it is alive.
A beautiful ecological gem... 900+ ft waterfall about a 2 hour hike from Huay Tong Kaew
Teacher of traditional ritual songs used by Karen people to sing to their lovers.

Teaching us the correct way to ask a lover out. haha

Pi Pookie: The basket queen.

My whole family in Huay Tong Kaew. So wonderful.

Neon purple flower in Mae Hong Son

I have so many more pictures, but this kind of summarizes a lot of what happened on the last course. If you have any questions or comments, let me know!

After we returned from the Forest course, we had a block break (2 1/2 days off + weekend). It was a great time to think things over, take some time to myself, and relax. On Thursday, I was 100% sabai (translates to complete relaxation and happiness). I went out for breakfast with Aajan Mark and then hung out in a really comfy chair and read Eat Pray Love. Then I met my roommates for lunch and had a grilled veggie pesto sandwich (aroi maak... very delicious). At 1:00pm, I met Laura and Acadia at Urban Spa Thailand and spent four hours getting a massage, body scrub, facial, and foot massage. The best part was this whole spa package was only $60.20... you can't even get a good pedicure for that much in the states!! For dinner we went to Mi Casa, which serves amazing Tapas andMediterranean food. Our waitress liked us so much she even gave a free after dinner liqueur. It was a wonderful day and it was spent with wonderful people.

Today, we started our first day of the Coast course. This week is an introduction to what we will be learning when we go out into the field. We will be in the south of Thailand learning about mangroves, reefs, and coast ecology. I'm stoked. I will tell you more about it later this week. Have a wonderful day! Thanks for the prayers.

ally j

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Karen Pride and My Pride

Before this course my only perception of the hilltribes of Northern Thailand was a quite negative one. I had heard that I would have to take part in strange rituals and spiritual ceremonies, eat weird foods, and live with long-necked people. All of these assumptions have proven to be false time and time again. The Karen people are some of the most kind and caring people I have ever met. They also have a lot of pride in who they are and where they come from. The largest aspect that has had an impact on me is the Karen's sense of place.

Growing up I never had a strong sense of place in Iowa City, Iowa. I always wished I was somewhere else besides the corn capital of the world. The Karen care about their community and the environment around them. Huay Hee (and other Karen villages) practices rotational cultivation in a way that allows the environment to thrive. Their cultivations incorporate long fallows to ensure a replenishment of nutrients in the soil and regrowth. As carer's of the environment, they understand the importance of preserving the forests and keeping them diverse and healthy. Throughout this entire semester-but more specifically this course- I have grown to admire how the Karen care and understand the area around them.

In addition, the Karen display a lot of passion for their community. This passion is seen in how the families work together in the fields, help take care of each other's children, eat together, pray together, etc. Their passion allows organization to be possible. It seems that Community Based Tourism (CBT) has thrived in Huay Hee because the villagers are willing to work together to help each other and their community prosper. On the hike to Doi Pui, the headman explained how the organization of the villagers enabled them to keep two building ideas from happening (a tunnel through the base of the mountain and 3 million baht tourism spot on the top of the mountain). Huay Hee is not the only Karen village that displays this kind of passion and sense of organization.

Every time I see this passion it makes me think about my own place. I constantly reflect on what aspects of my place make me feel happy and excited; what is happening that makes me sad and want to do something; what about my place am I passionate about? By thinking about these questions, I feel a greater sense of love and pride for my place. At this very moment, I love Iowa City, Iowa. I love how our soil is so rich in nutrients that I can have a garden full of big juicy tomatoes. I love that there are more pigs than people. I love that sweetgrass smell on a hot and humid summer day. And I especially love the deep red, purple, and orange sunsets that are smeared above a farmer's field. I now believe in the importance of understanding your place and having a sense of pride for that place. I have really thought about having pride in a place; especially now that I have one year left in college and then I have a whole world of opportunities. My roots and my foundation have a strong tie to Iowa. I know the culture, the language, and the norms that distinguish Iowa from any other place. Each village we have gone to I have spoken with at least one or two people who went off to college and then decided to come back and live in their village. They care about their community so much that they even turn away other offers and choose to go home and help the place they love. I have a strong urge to do the same and it almost seems foolish to not.

My reason for applying for this semester at ISDSI was not because of the environmental aspects of the program. However, now my views about the environment have become a lot clearer. I could not tell you very much about environmental issues in the United States; in fact, right now I could probably tell you more about Thailand's issues than America's. This will probably change when I return home. I am learning through the Karen a lot about the forests and understanding what they do and how they live in harmony with their surroundings. It amazes me that I can point to a tree and ask one of the guides what kind it is and they always know, or I can pick up a seed off the ground and they can identify it right away. Seeing this has struck a yearning in myself to better understand my own surroundings at home and learning about the issues that are negatively affecting the environment.

I want to hike through the forest in my backyard and figure out what trees and plants occupy the area. I want to learn about and explore the watershed. I want to become more informed and have a greater sense of pride for my place.

This past block was pretty challenging, not because of the backpacking part, but because there were a lot of other thoughts and ideas that I had to straighten out. I also didn't have a strong interest in the material for this course... or at least not as strong as I had for the last course. However, I learned a lot through my wonderful instructors, my hilarious Aajan (professor), and amazing discussions and conversations with other ISDSI students.

I have a 5 day block break and then I start back on Monday with Coastal course pre-field work and a week of Thai class. I hope that I will get to skype or chat with many of you before I leave for the next course. Thank you for all of your support.

ally j

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chocolate, Yellow Shoes, Hairdryers, and Hospitals

About twenty minutes ago, I was exploring part of Chiang Mai with some of my friends and we stumbled upon one of the best places in all of the city. The Chocolate Fact. The tagline is "Live Life Chocolately" and who can disagree with that. As soon as we walk in, there is a huge sign that says "CHOCOLATE 100%." This may not seem like a very cool thing to you, but here in Thailand the consumption of chocolate is quite low in comparison to the states. I have been chocolate deprived on many different occasions and today was one of those occasions. Right next to this huge sign is twenty-five different chocolate desserts and then next to that was a huge menu of over 30 different chocolate drinks!! Definitely heaven. It took us about seven minutes to actually decide on what we wanted to order. So many options... I finally settled on a dark chocolate latte and let me tell you, it was incredible. To top off this great little place, they even have FREE wifi, which is always a bonus.

Every Sunday night Chiang Mai closes down two major streets that run through the Old City for "The Walking Street". It brings in both tourists and locals alike. The streets are lined with people's homemade clothing/paintings/souvenirs etc and food vendors. I have gone a few times before with Johnny's host family and it seems to be more of a social event then a shopping event. Well last Sunday, I was on a mission... my mission was to buy some gifts. The mission failed horribly and I got really frustrated. I ran into Rachel (another ISDSI student and one of my roommates) and we decided to stop in some clothing stores on our walk home. She is a fashion queen and has had a really successful semester in the shopping area of Thailand, which is not usually typical for most foreigners. Most stores have only two clothing sizes: extra small and extra huge. And they usually have only one size of shoes: 6.5 (sometimes 7 if your lucky). So my shopping experience in Thailand has been quite unexciting. While Rachel was trying on some clothes I found a sweet pair of florescent yellow pumas, I got really excited and tried to put them on... but of course they were too small by about 1/2 a size. Bummer. When we walked out of the store (with some new clothes for Rachel and me empty handed and frustrated) I said to Rachel, "You know, all i really want right now is a pair of bright yellow shoes that fit me. I am done trying to find clothes, all i want now are shoes." She laughed and said that she would try to help me find some. We came up to the corner of the street and on our right was a little shoe store of barely worn shoes. As soon as I walked in, I looked to my left and right there in a spotlight were a pair of bright yellow new balance shoes. It was as though they were calling out my name... I put them on and guess what!! They fit, perfectly. The best part was that they were about $5-10. It was a materialistic/impulsive buying moment, but it was definitely worth it. I wore them the next day with my uniform: black skirt, white collar shirt, and bright yellow shoes. I probably looked like an idiot haha, but I was happy. My Bright Yellow Shoes

I had a pretty scary morning last week. I almost lost all of my hair! I was late to school already and my hair was still a little wet, so I grabbed my blow dryer to quickly dry my bangs. Shortly after I turned it on I heard a click sound and then a loud explosion sound and then my blow dryer was blowing flames!!!!! AHHHH! I unplugged it as fast as I could and thankfully none of my hair was affected! It was a little terrifying and not the best way to start a morning :( Sorry Mom for ruining your blow dryer. At least I still have all of my hair :)

On Monday I started to notice a sort of rash on my knee. The next day it started to puss and pop and get really gross. Wednesday it started to spread a little and Thursday I finally decided it wasn't normal. I showed it to one of our instructors and she gave me a band-aid and said she had no idea what it was. Friday, I showed it to her again and it was decided that I should go to the hospital and get it checked out just in case it doesn't spread while we are backpacking through the jungle the following week. By then the wound looked really strange and not like a normal scratch or scab. The reason why I just told you that gruesome information is because it is important to understand the background of the wound to fully grasp the following event I am going to tell you about.

As soon as class was over on Friday (around noon), I decided to go to the hospital. I walked in and sat at the information desk. The receptionist asked me what was wrong and I said "I have this strange wound on my knee that I would like to get looked at." She asked to see it and as soon as I showed it to her, her eyes got really big and she said, "you need to go over to there (pointing to the surgery desk)." Of course I was a little confused and I said, "to surgery??" and she quickly replied, "yes, yes to surgery." Now I am sure you can imagine what was going through my head when this conversation ended. "SURGERY, WHAT THE HECK!?! I DON'T NEED TO GET SURGERY FOR THIS STUPID WOUND! THEY BETTER NOT PERFORM SURGERY ON MY KNEE, THEN I WON'T BE ABLE TO WALK FOR AWHILE, THEN I WON'T BE ABLE TO GO BACKPACKING NEXT WEEK!?!? AND I HAVEN'T EVEN TOLD MY MOTHER! AHHHHH" I looked at her and nodded and walked over to the surgery desk. As I approached the desk (which was surrounded by 5 Thai nurses) I heard one of the nurses say in Thai, "A farang (foreigner) is coming, who can speak English to her." Then a woman walks over and says in perfect English, "Sawatdee Ka, how can I help you?" I told her about my knee, showed it to her, then she took me into a room where I got my temp, blood pressure, height, and weight checked. She looked at my knee asked me in less perfect English what had happened. I then explained to her everything that I told you in the previous paragraph. She said, "ohhhhhh, please go wait in the waiting room." Still at this point, my thoughts are racing wondering if this is normal in Thailand and on top of all of that I am freaking out a little about how I am going to explain this to my mom. About twenty minutes later I am called into a room with what looks to be a surgeon. He looks at my knee, I explain the story again and then after about ten minutes of questions and inspecting my knee he says, "it looks like you may have an abscess of some sort, but you don't need to get surgery for this, so I will have one of my nurses take you up to the dermatology unit." HOLY COW, WHAT A RELIEF! No more surgery, YEAH! :) I saw the dermatologists, she put me on some anti-biotics and gave me some cream to put on my wound. This crazy two+ hour adventure in the hospital ended with a hospital bill of about $30. Not too bad, but definitely emotionally draining. haha. After, I paid my bill I went up to the tenth floor to visit another ISDSI student. She had an infection on her ankle and had to stay in the hospital for a few days and get hooked up to IV and take some anti-biotics. I think that maybe there was a little paranoia with my knee, thinking that maybe it could be something worse... but hey it is better safe than sorry. Later that night, I went back to the hospital with 4 other students to visit Anna. We brought popcorn, m&ms, and a dancing movie. This hospital didn't have any visiting rules, so we had a little movie party for 5 hours in Anna's hospital room. It was awesome.

Tomorrow I leave for the province of Mae Hong Son where I will be backpacking from village to village learning about political ecology, conservation, and human rights. It is going to be pretty intense, but I am really excited. I won't have internet access until May 14th, I believe so until then please pray for our group and for the villagers that we will be living with. Thank you for all of your prayers and support and I pray that you have a wonderful next few weeks!

ally j

Saturday, April 18, 2009

PART 1 of 2: Earth Rights Abuses and the Village of Nong Bo

Spring break is almost over and the third block is soon to begin. Songkran festival was wet and fun; Sukhothai was beautiful and hot; and now I have a lot of reading to prepare for the next course, which is focused on political ecology of forests, but I am not going to discuss it in this blog J. Many people have asked me about my experience with the past course (Rivers: Human Rights and the Environment) and I apologize for not responding sooner with a blog post, but it took me a long time (and still taking me a long time) to process everything and regurgitate it all to you. So I hope this blog will give you a better understanding of what I experienced and how it all made me feel.

The course was structured as follows:

week one- in Chiang Mai to learn and understand the rivers in Thailand

week two- in Nong Bo (Fishing village) living in a village directly affected by the building of the Pak Mun Dam on the Mae Nam Mun River.

mid-block break- two days of seminar and discussion on what we learned and tools for processing everything

week three/four- Canoeing down the Yom River with 10 Don Chai activists learning about what the river means to them

The conflict that we continually learned about is the link between access to river resources and human rights are linked. The government looks at the rivers as a source of money and power whereas the villagers view it differently. The Mun river is referred to as the Mae Nam Mun, which uses the Thai word for mother. The Mekong is directly translated as “our mother.” This creates a significant distinction in how the rivers are viewed; the villagers see the rivers as a source of life and they depend on it for survival and understand it in ways other people do not. They would never intentionally do anything to harm the river because of how much they rely on it. The other view comes from the people who see the rivers as a source of convenience. Commonly, these people build “development” projects like dams because it will conveniently supply them with more electricity access and ultimately more money. The level of respect for the rivers is different between these two views.

The dams have created great issues concerning human rights and the access to river resources. Construction of dams violates this idea of earth rights: “earth rights are those rights that demonstrate the connection between human well-being and a sound environment, and include the right to a healthy environment, the right to speak out and act to protect the environment, and the right to participate in development decisions” (Earth Rights 20.) Each aspect has been violated with the creation of the dams. The right to a healthy environment is abused when a person is forced to move out of their home because of dynamiting a channel. When a river is unable to provide a healthy environment (as a result of outside influences) it directly impacts the livelihood of the people that use the river everyday. Fishermen can not survive on a river that has become environmentally unsound because if you take away fish then there is no life for people.

While in Nong Bo we spoke with Mae Jarun, a woman who was the first in her village to oppose the building of the Pak Mun Dam and she has been a leading protester since before the dam was built. Mae Jarun and the alliance of fishermen (along the Mae Nam Mun River) are prime examples of the violations of the right to speak out and act to protect the environment. Mae Jarun was condoned by the headman of her village and pressured by the governor to change her mind about the dam. She was allowed to speak out, but consequences would follow. Many people who decide to protest to protect their environment are physically abused, threatened, or killed. Before the dam was built, some villagers were talked to by the dam building committee about the projected idea for the dam and its construction. The problem arises when people are only told the “benefits” of building the dam. If both the pros and the cons are not given then it violates the people’s right to know.

Right to participation is the link between human rights and the environment. This right can be violated if there is not genuine involvement, if power is forced, and if people are not allowed to take part in decision making. The stakeholders involved wih the building of the Pak Mun Dam and many other dams alike (including projected dams) are not given equal participation. The villagers downstream of the dam were notified but their say had little influence in the dam construction. When stakeholders are lied to and not given a fair say then their human rights are abused.

The people that have been affected by human rights abuses along the Mae Nam Mun and the Mekong have been disempowered. Many have lost hope and dignity because of corruption and a desire for money. Why does there seem to be a constant link between abusing the rivers and human rights abuses?

We were given the opportunity to tour the Pak Mun Dam and learn about how it works from the engineers who control it. They walked us all around the dam and then took us down into the control room where everything happens. We learned that the dam only opens its gates for a few months during the rainy season and the rest of the year the only water flow is through the electrical turbines that run during peak electricity hours (starting at 5pm). The villagers said that every year they have to turn in a petition to open the gates in June (they would prefer the gates to be open all year round), which is time consuming and extremely stressful trying to fight against government decisions. It blows my mind how much power the government has over these people; at any time, day or night, the government can call up the engineers and ask them to open the gates (even if it is harmful), yet the villagers have to petition and protest for days on end to open the gates in June. A few days before we heard from Mae Jarun a tragedy happened. The government wanted to stock up water for Songkran Festival and they decided that the best way to do this was get it from the reservoir above the Pak Mun Dam. They sent word to the engineers that they wanted some of the gates to be opened that night, and of course, they got their wish. When the engineers open the gates they told us that they first blow a few blasts on a horn to let the villagers know and then they open the gates very slowly to both allow the flow to seem more natural and to avoid sediment contamination. However, this was not the case on that night. No one remembers the blasts and gates were not opened slowly to allow for a natural flow. Mae Jarun’s two sons went fishing late into the night a few kilometers downstream from the dam; both of them fell asleep in their boats, but one son got up to get closer to shore. On his way over to shore he heard an earsplitting, train whistle, roaring sound and then a few seconds later a huge tidal wave of water came bellowing down the river. The son near the shore was unable to yell to his brother to wake him up in time. One of Mae Jarun’s sons was killed and her other son barely survived the scariest moment of his life. Of all people, Mae Jarun, the woman who was the first to stand up against the Pak Mun Dam, the woman who has lost everything because of this dam, it just sickens me that the government doesn’t even care.

Why am I here? That is a question I have been thinking about constantly the past few weeks. These thoughts started after the community meeting and was heightened at the mid-block seminar. I definitely did not know what I was getting into when I applied fro this semester. I didn’t know that I would be in a village that has been directly affected by the building of the dams, or even see and experience human rights/earth rights abused first hand. I didn’t know that each community that I will be staying with will take a piece of my heart. I didn’t think that I would be struggling over issues that villagers have been experiencing for many years. I didn’t know it would be this difficult!

I definitely felt a huge sense of guilt. I felt like I needed to do something, but didn’t quite know just what it was. The seminar definitely helped channel my thoughts and understand that I have already done a lot. Just by sitting there and listening to the stories of the villagers and participating in their culture was a way to empower the community. Hopefully, I have showed them that someone cares about their village and what has happened to them. Maybe I even gave them a sense of hope and dignity. I struggle with this. Is it just a cop out to say that I did all I could by listening to their stories? They even said themselves that they are tired and can’t think of anything else to do. I think the only way that I can truly grasp this idea is by figuring it out myself with the right of participation.

ally j