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Thaiing up my life

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Songkran in the village



My friends' village is in the North East - Eesan in Thai - of the country, which is by far the poorest area. Most people there are subsistence rice farmers, and their situation has worsened with climate change: most years they get only one, not two harvests, as rainfall has decreased.

Usually, one child in a family will work the family paddies. Others may marry locally, someone else who owns land, but often the other children go to work in Bangkok or in a tourist area. This is my friends' situation.

There were seven of them.

D - boy - died aged 21 over 40 years ago. He had taken a job logging in the jungle after a failed rice harvest, and caught malaria. So did their father, who also died.

L - girl - married a village man who deserted her, leaving her with 3 children. She took a job as a maid in Bangkok, and her mother took care of her kids. 2 of the 3 died of dysentery aged 4 and 6 - there was no medical care close enough to save them. She later met an Englishman in Bangkok, and has now been married for over 30 years; they have one daughter. They lived and worked in Saudi Arabia until his recent retirement,when they came to live permanently in our town.

B - boy - married a local girl, 3 children. Worked in Bangkok, and later for his sister L in the resort town where we live.Died of leukemia at 51.

K - girl - married a local man, moved to Pattaya, where he works in construction and she has a noodle stall. Planning to retire back to the village, and open a shop selling agricultural supplies.

N - went to work as a maid in Bangkok at age 14. At around 20, met an Englishman in a disco, married him and had 2 children.They were later my business partners, but I first met them 25 years ago. Their marriage ended, and she now has a beauty shop and a bar/restaurant in our town.

K2 - girl - Married a local man and stayed in the family house in the village. They farm the family land.

J - boy - Came to work for N in our town in his very early twenties. Has now established his own business, and is doing very well.

N, J and L are all close friends, as are J and L's spouses.We live very closely, less than a mile between all of us. Financially, these three are all very comfortable by Thai standards, and all help the rest of the family, sometimes by offering employment, sometimes by supporting village projects.  Recently they helped install pumps and piping to allow irrigation of the paddy fields from the nearby dam - which allows the village to get two rice harvests a year. As they grow jasmine rice - the highest quality and most expensive - this has vastly improved the income of the villagers.

I have known this family for years - but I only know one's real name! Thailand has a tradition of nicknames, which are used to the exclusion of the real name. So, sister No.1 is 'little' - and my favourite, brother No 3 is 'pouty mouth' - because he had tantrums as a 2 year old! Sadly, the word for 'pouty mouth', if the tone (Thai has low, medium,high, rising and falling tones) is not correct, also means 'penis' - so a lot of foreigners, without knowing it, are calling him a dick......I have other friends called mouse, crab, small, fat, one, dog and rat!

N, J and L are all quite westernised, and speak good English - self taught. They all had/have businesses where they interact with foreigners in our resort town. But back in the village, they are pure Eesan! I was educated in the delights of fresh, field caught fried crickets as opposed to farmed ones, and watched the balls of a bull being roasted over an open fire - and then they did the tail. The poverty of the past means they will eat just about anything. N and L would go for a walk, and come back with wild greens of various kinds for dinner. There is not much wildlife - the name of the village includes 'crocodile', and I asked where I could see them - "Oh, we ate them all"!

I'm so lucky to have made these friends all those years ago. They treat me as family, and call me 'big sister' - I am the same age as L. This is a tremendous compliment in Thailand, and I feel privileged. I've been at their weddings - the second generation now - and their funerals.At their memorials and merit making ceremonies. And at their GREAT parties! Thanks to them, I don't feel an outsider in my much loved, adopted country.




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