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