Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I then came home, sat down at my computer, and started to write a book, a book I have wanted to write for a long time. A few years ago I wrote one book – a novel – about living in Kathmandu in 1981. This will be my second.
Late afternoon I got back on my bike and headed over to Leelawadee Gardens to have a beer with friends. Suddenly I realized that it's June 21. Summer Solstice.
Pea always drives (though not that she's happy about it). She has way more experience, and she's a great driver. We're almost always heavily loaded, either taking food from the Prasat marketout for Mae and family, or bringingplants from the garden and buie (fertilizer, most often from cow and pig) backto town. Pea often goes out to Kravan by herself, but when it's the two of us,it's a heavier load and harder.
Arriving in the village is always a pleasure. The town of Prasat is an unpolluted, peaceful, well-cared for small town, but nothing to compare with the village. When we turn off the highway and ride down the mile-or-so of pot-marked dirt road leading into Kravan, life is simply – fundamentally - different. Or at least it is for me. At some point last year I realized that I
couldn't continue to live a long time more in the village (and especially inside a language – Khmer – that I had so little of), and that's when we moved into town. But a big reason why I live "here" – in the southern part of northeastern Thailand - is because of Kravan, and all the hundreds of villages just like Kravan. Somehow, for me, they are something of a reality check.
Yesterday we pulled up to the house on the motorbike, a group of older people like always sitting inside the thatch hut that we built last year. They all yelled out in greeting, but not in the overly-polite Thai sort of way. Khmer people here, and especially in the village, are much more informal. They are more likely to tease, or to make a joke, than to bother with a polite greeting.
But there is just as keen a sense of welcome.
We immediately unpacked the motorbike and I headed straight to the back garden to check things out. I love the back garden. There's a canopy of beautiful tall areca palms stretching far into the sky. There are mango trees, and jackfruit, pomelo, custard apple, banana, coconut, star fruit. There are pineapples and dragon fruit, and piper ….. vines growing throughout. The soil,
after years of decaying palm fronds, banana leaves, and a world of wild insects munching away, is brown, almost black with humus (unlike most of the lateritic soil here in this part of the world). I used to dream about making a small thatch bungalow for myself under the canopy of the areca palms, but it's better for growing vegetables.
I worked all day, happy. My major job was digging new fence posts and redoing the netting so that the ducks and chickens can't get in. Last year Pea grew yardlong beans, winged beans, several varieties of eggplants, bitter gourd, bird chiles…. With rainy season it will soon be a jungle!
By late afternoon the southwest sky became dark, almost black. Thunder started to boom. I picked up my tools and put everything away, and then headed for the thatch. The eighty-six year old neighbor – a man who always smokes a cheroot and never wears a shirt – was there for a drink of lao khao. So too was Eit, a woman who is probably sixty years old, and one of my favorites. Last year at planting when I injured my back, she got me back up feeling good, the best masseuse in the village. There was Ahn of course, and baby Off. And Kaesorn, sister number one. There were children taking shelter from the rain. Like so many times in the village, it felt like a time when time was standing still. Eit told a funny story about going to a Seven-Eleven in town, having never seen an automatic door. All the older women chewed betel.
No one talked about the economy. No one talked about a sports team.
Pea told everyone about the enormous pla duk (catfish)that we'd seen for sale the day before in the market. She had all ears.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
It was funny, though, starting out. I started right beside the old barn, right in the place where the cobra lived last year. The area is bare now, but still I looked around carefully as I tossed the rice. It's amazing how much the farm transforms from dry season to wet season and back again to dry season. Soon the fields will be deep in water and there will be fish and shrimps, crabs and
Pea was hugely happy to be planting. She loves the farm from deep inside her soul. And so does Mae. They're just happy to sit there in the quiet, a breeze blowing, clouds racing across the sky. They've known that farm all their lives. They've planted the fields and harvested the fields all their lives. It's their place on earth.
Yesterday we even had an extra bonus: we're in the height of red ant egg season! We came home with a bounty of red ant eggs, riding the motorbike tired but cool with a breeze. In the air there was a wonderfully familiar smell of tender rice seedlings coming up in fields all around. It's a smell that's hard to describe: sweet, almost like jasmine rice cooking in the kitchen, but more
night. Like now, I remember almost never having a dream set in the place where I was living, or with the people I was living with every day. I would dream about friends I had in junior high school, Chad, Matt and Everett (people I had virtually never seen since junior high school). They became characters, almost symbolic. I'd also dream often about the village of Ventry in southwestern Ireland, a place I had lived for eight months a few years before. Almost once a
week I would have a dream about walking on the road, along the ocean, heading for Ventry. But I'd never get there, never actually arrive in the village.
Here in Prasat I dream several nights each week about my father, who has passed away. The dreams can be about anything, but my father is a constant. The people I know here in Prasat – Pea, Gung, my friends from the Leelawadee – are almost never in my dreams, and almost never in a dream am I here in Thailand. Besides my father, I dream very often about "stuff", like one's worldly possessions. Junk. I will be at a great garage sale, or a farm auction, or at a thrift store. Sometimes these dreams are like nightmares, like arriving "home" and finding my possessions all strewn about a front yard, people having already walked away with many things. Or I will be in a crowd and discover my camera bag missing together with all my money, passport, and valuables. I'll wake up in a panic and look across the room, as one does, happy to know that it
was a dream.