17.10.2006 34 °C
My doesn't time fly! I've finally made it to an internet place and have promptly been mauled by mosquitos. Just on the way back from Piloki village, where we've just been for a couple of nights to see about starting an eco-tourist project, but more about that later. First I'll update - via the ingenious method of cut and paste from the diary I've been keeping as I cannae be bothered to write it all twice
Spent another nigh tin Bangkok in a bizarre state of facial jetlag, incredibly achey cheeks and eyebrows which were only eased by pulling exaggerated facial expressions - anyone experienced that before? Had a Thai massage by a little old woman who kept laughing at me, so I can only presume I'm either remarkably unflexible or she was just a bit bonkers.Was not unlke doing an intense yoga workout, only she did all the work. A bit too intense actually as she left me with a brusied shoulder from lifing her entire body weight on it, and my hip made a spectacular hollow crack as she forced my knee up to meet my ear.
BKK changes so little - still the same warm pungent scent of overripe fruit and veg mingling with stagnent water, cooking food stalls and motorbike fumes, and the same mix of hippy tourists and british louts bartering for cheap clothes and jewelry, whilst locals sit around on tiny plastic stools braiding hair, fanning themselves and selling various assortments of bright coloured sticky rice sweets, marinated animal parts glistening on skewers, bamboo pots of smoked fish. And full body support tights, at least on the stall I passed this morning.
Bright and early Wednesday morning with my knapsack on my back I headed off to the bus station, after a brief battle with the taxi driver who insisted I’d got the wrong one. He did get out and check for me once there though, stopping me dead in my tracks as the clock struck 8am and the entire station froze to sing their national anthem, casting curious glances in the direction of the bewildered white ‘farang’ (foreigner).
Seven hours and only one pee later (had been on self-enforced drought for the occasion) I arrived in the tiny rural town of Sangklaburi, to be met by Lindsay and another Mirai, a Dutch volunteer who then whisked me off via songthau (little truck-taxi with benches in the trailer and a canopy roof) to the even teenier and more remote village of Huay Malai, home of Baan Dada’s home for (40) boys – plus 3 girls, a handful of mothers, one granny, numerous dogs, one terrified cat and a pen of goats. All of whom rushed to greet us (except cat who’s too scared to step outside).
The youngest of the kids wasted no time in introducing themselves, mostly by clambering all over me, whilst the older boys hung back a little and shyly called hello. Dada himself was in a particularly jolly mood, having just returned from Bangkok with a computer which had been donated to the home.
The home itself is pretty basic – there’s one main brick building comprising a concrete-floored office (cum music room/library/study/sleeping quarters), around 5 bedrooms - fully furnished with one bunk - bed (sans mattress), a few straw mats and blankets and a toilet/shower. There is in fact meant to be a second storey for bedrooms but funding ran out and so it remains just a floor and a few metal supports where the walls should be. This building leads into a sheltered kitchen/dining communal area with a couple of gas stoves and some newly built sinks and toilets. Under a tin roof is a row of tables where all the action seems to take place – eating, teaching, putting pomelo skins (large grapefruit-like fruits with a hard skin) on your head and other such important matters. Just behind is a paved area where Dada built a clay oven (used on the monthly birthday-pizza day) and a couple of clay ‘homes’ for the 2 resident dogs Angel and Snow White (Devil had his wicked way) and their 7 new-born pups which mostly spend their days squeaking.
Just across the muddy clearing is another multi-purpose hall, home to the ping-pong table (which doubles as a teaching board), that awaits a team of volunteers from Japan who are to build the walls over Christmas. Similarly there’s a weaving centre under construction – one of Dada’s recent sustainable community development projects aimed at empowering the impoverished local community, many of whom are unemployed and unskilled Mon and Karen refugees from Myanmar.
A handful of wooden and clay affairs house a few mothers and the girls, whilst a little swinging bridge leads you across the stream, to the organic farm and across the field to the volunteers’ house (a rather fine stone building with a shower and toilet, 2 bedrooms with bunk-beds, an upstairs and veranda, a giant gecko and (we suspect), a rat. Apparently we also have numerous tarantula-like residents too, though I’ve yet to have the pleasure. And that is Baan Dada! It really is the most beautiful place, right on the edge of the jungle and when there isn’t a thunderstorm raging the nights are spectacularly clear. The 5 minutes before nightfall (generally around 6) give you a snapshot of the most vivid reds and pinks against the silhouette of mountains and wooden homes on stilts, whilst the frogs cicadas and crickets crank up the volume in a nightly contest for jungle idol ; )
It didn't take long to settle in. Felt a tad squeamish going to bed the first night, what with slightly damp and fusty smelling bedding and having to sweep away a zillion of those spindly-legged, beady-bodied spiders from the corners above my bed. Nothing that a clean sarong, a tissue and an eye-mask over my mouth couldn’t handle, though.
It’s been 3 days now at the home though it feels much longer. I haven’t really done any teaching as of yet (the kids are on school holiday and there doesn’t appear to be much structure to their days at the moment). Mostly I’ve played games, swung the little ones around as they squealed delightedly and eaten 3 incredibly tasty vegetarian dishes each day, which always consists of rice accompanied by an assortment of veggies in various sauces. Chillis for breakfast was a bit much, though, and feel like I'm turning into a giant piece of tofu at times.
In the evenings the children seem to congregate in the office, playing various hand-clapping games tirelessly, or rolling around with cardboard boxes. They have no toys to speak of, but are incredibly creative when it comes to inventing games. (Last night the older boys spent a full hour throwing a ping pong ball from varying distances at each others’ bums. Ingenious! Four or so of the boys are in a rock-band – Dada hires a local music teacher and they practice nightly on equipment donated by a Japanese school. When there is enough money, Dada hires a van and drives the boys to the nearest town where they perform for tourists at a guesthouse, keeping whatever they make as pocket money. They are actually pretty good! For some of them it’s the only time you really see them smile. Unfortunately the lack of space means they are practicing whilst the younger kids are trying to sleep in the same room. It really struck me last night how much these boys need a mother-figure. There are a few mothers who work tirelessly around the home, cooking and cleaning, but they don’t have time to wash and tidy up after all 43 kids. Dada is an absolute star, but he is quite often away dealing with the numerous community projects he runs. So the boys run around barefoot all day, picking up all manner of muck. Without any specific bedtime or wash time, they tend to just sleep wherever they drop in their day clothes (they don’t in fact own nightclothes, they just put on clean things from a communal stock whenever one of the mothers grabs them!) – in fact most tend not to use the bunk beds and prefer to sleep on the floor in the office on thin straw mats. Last night I picked up a few who were out cold on the concrete floor, under tables and in the corridor, slipping mats under and blankets over them. And the most incredible thing? You never hear a complaint. They are the most cheerful and friendly group of children I’ve ever met. The oldest ones show utmost respect and are so patient with and protective of the little ones, who run about without a care in the world. Some of their background stories would make you weep but they seem remarkably resilient and well-adjusted, which can only be down to the incredible work of Dada.
On the nights he is at home everyone seems to congregate around him, the other night they spontaneously began a rhythmic kind of chanting song in time to the drum which someone was playing next door, before Dada led them in a few minutes meditation. It's so cool to see even the boisterous little ones instantly calm down - can't quite imagine boys at home being quite so open to that kind of thing.
... TBC when I next get the chance!