I’m sitting in the last row of a bus bound for Bangkok. As I scarf down my coconut yogurt and “Mexican BBQ” flavored banana chips, I’m reflecting on the events of our quick trip up to Isaan to see our friends Cori and Jupp and the community they’ve established there. I guess ‘quick’ is a pretty relative term. Indeed, this bus ride, and the one we took just two nights ago, is six hours long.
But I can’t complain anymore because sitting in the last row has given me room to stretch out my legs. I’m also glad that I’m no longer sitting next to the middle-aged guy who was beside me for the first half of the voyage. He was nice and courteous of my space, but he was creeping me out the way he used his grotesquely long pinky nail to pick boogers from his nose and continually pick at scabs on his wrist and blemishes on his face and chest! Yuck!
After spending five days in the roaring, fast-paced, consumer-driven metropolis of Bangkok, it was quite refreshing to step off the bus and smell fresh air and hear nothing but the occasional motorbike wiz past. It’s always a shock to me how differently people live out in the country than in cities. The first bit of news our friends told us was about how a man in the next town over had recently let loose tigers because he didn’t want the police to confiscate them. Some reports said there were 19 tigers, others said 11. Whichever one was the case, I was pretty sure to lock our bedroom door that night!
Cori and Jupp were living in Bangkok a few years ago when we met them, working with an organization Jessie and I spent some time volunteering at. Through a series of events they were renting a large house in the eastern part of Bangkok where they lived in community and had welcomed two teenaged girls to live with them; teenagers who were considered to be from at risk households. Since that time they have moved to the rural area where we visited them on this trip. Part of their motivation for moving was to initiate community development projects in the area and to provide a more stable living environment to their community which has now grown to include eleven teen girls!
As we waited for the girls to get home from school, Cori took us out to see their farming field. On the way we walked along narrow ridges that sectioned off large rice paddies with skinny green shoots popping up through the muddy stagnant ponds. She spoke about the satisfaction of working a long, hard day in the dirt and how the girls were learning about the benefits of having a good work ethic. I loved hearing her excitement about getting them involved. Their land was pushing up sugar cane that rivaled all the other plots around.
Back at the house the girls arrived and hurriedly showered before starting their chores. One of the girls I’d met from before was sitting at the table with her texts, ready to study, but instead of looking at her books she was staring out the window at the beautiful sunset filtering through the clouds and falling over the distant hills. I sat down across from her and started asking her questions about her day. Pretty soon I discovered that her favorite subject was English. So we looked together at a book that had both Thai and English vocabulary in it and taught each other the correct pronunciation of several pages of words. The other girls grew interested and soon I found myself surrounded by girls who were laughing at how hard it is for them to say “difficult” and how hard it is for me to say “ngeeng.”
At some point in the evening, as we sat on pillows in the living room and talked about the hardships and rewards of country living, a chicken scuttled past me with one of the girls in hot pursuit. And it reconfirmed for me that despite my love of the city, I really do enjoy country life, regardless of the chilling bucket showers and hordes of mosquitos that drive us to sleep under nets and all the other crazy things it involves.