Sunday, November 21, 2010
Over the Hill - Wait! That's my Mother
Just kidding Mom. I love you. Please don't put coal in my stocking :)
So I’ve told you guys all about RYLA.
(By the way - the answer is: you put a little booger in it!)
The week after that was also a lot of fun. From October 11th to 14th I ended up going to a Hill Tribe village to help build a school. I went with my exchange student friends Aya and Lorena (Lorena’s host Dad being the one who organized this for us). We worked on the school (actually, we were renovating an old building) with students from Chinese International School (Hong Kong) and Concordian International School (Bangkok). We painted, fixed shutters, painted, put tables and benches together, painted those benches and tables. And when we thought we were all done, we painted some more! I kept my paint-stained work gloves and pinned them to my Blazer :) Now, the students from CIS and Concordian stayed at a camp a good 20 minute drive away from the work site. But us Rotarians were special. We got to camp out in a tent right beside the school. Which meant just on the edge of the village. Which meant we were woken every morning at about 4:00 a.m by a rooster. A rooster who was blessed with enough lung power to crow continuously for about 3 hours. And, of course, the village people woke with the rooster. So about 30 minutes after the rooster began his incessant noise-making, the trucks would start rolling through the village. My guess is that the truck drivers were engaged in a vicious competition to see who could honk their horn in the loudest and most annoying fashion. And let me just say: they were all in it to win it.
But that rude awakening was just the start, because after we woke up, we had to shower. (Thais shower obsessively: every morning and evening, and any other time they change and/or have time). When we first went looking for the showers, I thought the person we asked for directions was confused; he kept pointing us towards the toilets.
Oh, toilets in Thailand. The infamous squatty potty. Now, having been raised by a Father who took me hiking and canoeing in places where toilets were a laughable idea and having said Father also take me to Japan twice, I was well familiar with the act of squatting before I came to Thailand. But the Thais have taken it to a whole new level - because they don't have flushing mechanisms, they have large buckets of water beside the toilet with small, handled buckets floating on the top of the water inside. One uses the small bucket to draw water from the large bucket and then pours the water into the toilet so that the pressure of the water makes the toilet "flush". Going to the mountains, I was expecting this. What I wasn't expecting was for the same room (SCRATCH) stall to be our shower. But it was.
We showered by drawing water from the big bucket with the small bucket and then sloshing it over ourselves. So imagine this stall. About 5 by 4 feet, entirely concrete, roof not really connected to the walls. Two nails above the door for clothes and towel, a squatty potty (about 1 ft x 6 in) and a bucket the size of a rain barrel filled with water (and a few drowned bugs). Not a lot of wiggle room. And when you splash water on your self, it tends to spray in the other direction. So to keep my towel and clothes at least somewhat dry, I had to essentially straddle the squat toilet while showering.
But I did it - I even washed my hair. And I know now that wherever I go, whatever I need to do: I can handle it.
Now, all joking aside, it was really hard to see the type of abject poverty these villagers were living in. I mean, a two-room school for 60 students isn't much - but for them it was an incredible luxury. And the collection of stuffed animals we bought for them wasn't large - but it was huge to them. It killed me to think that I probably had a similarly sized collection in my room growing up - and I would scream and fuss if someone tried to take even one away.
I think this experience was good for me. I mean, I'm not an idiot - I've always known there were people in the world in such situations, but there's a big difference between watching the Unicef ads on TV or buying something at Ten Thousand Villages and actually being in a poverty stricken hill-tribe village in Northern Thailand.
Did I mention that the last night of our stay there we had an impromptu dance party and I taught a little 5 year old boy how to "raise the roof"?