Written by Jenica Hagler, Washington State University
“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, but they make the best of everything they have.”
Today was an amazing experience for the Ethiopia students in Thailand at our homestay in Ban Rai Gong King, but before I can begin to describe the day’s activities, I need to begin with a disclaimer: there is absolutely no way that this day can accurately be captured in words and pictures. The emotions that were felt, the senses that were activated, the lessons that were learned, and the memories that were made are too incredible and unique to try to replicate, however, I do hope that this will give you a brief glance at our experience.
We began the day with an early rooster-crowing-rise-and-shine at 6:00am for a bike ride. Despite the hesitation caused by the combination of exhaustion and uncertainty, all were bright-eyed and ready to go, and as we left the village, the cool air lifted everyone’s spirits. We rode our bikes for a few minutes before parking our bikes near a small hill, climbing to the top, and witnessing a spectacular sunrise together. On our way back to the village we stopped to visit our first temple and learn about the way locals worship, contribute, and participate in the religion.
Our host family, Ma and Pa Luang, and other village members prepared another amazing meal for breakfast (we were treated to their famous chicken curry the night before) and we proceeded to the introductory program. Ma Luang explained how the village works together to provide essential medical, physical, agricultural, and financial services to the village members with the leadership of the elected council. The homestay experience is just one little part of the village’s goal and mission to sustainably improve their quality of life and share their findings with others. They choose to provide the homestay opportunity to bring in tourism income that will benefit their community through savings funds, loans, and medical and education stipends. The village members focus on health through herbal treatments including herbal massages and a fitness center for the village members to use. They also try to improve the quality of life by focusing on healthy food. One interesting point that we learned during this introduction was that the village no longer utilizes chemicals in their food production after bad experiences with sickness, and I think it is unfortunate to see this belief trending across the globe due to lack of pesticide application education and understanding. Hopefully during our time here and in our reflections, we can try to shed a positive light on utilizing both sides of agriculture production.
Our program began with a visit to a nearby village that focused on pottery as their specialty. Each family crafted one-of-a-kind pottery to sell at the local shop, and they were proud to label all of their pottery as traditional handmade art made without the use of electrical pottery wheels. One of the women we interacted with had been making pottery for 55 years! She carefully spun and formed about 22 beautiful vases per 8-hour work day. I was blown away by the happiness and contentment that this woman exhibited in her simple life. She was so purposeful in her hard work as she used her talent to support her family, and I can only hope that one day I can live out my passion in this manner.
After another delicious lunch meal, we traveled to the village’s massage and fitness center. We were treated to traditional Thai massages, sauna, and the village’s unique healing fire massage. Yes, I said fire massage! (This was a technique which utilized heat, pressure, and herbal remedies to combat sickness and injury.) The afternoon was an amazing luxury and opportunity to relax, but it was also a specialized look into their traditions and lifestyle. We learned that these special services are reserved only for village members and guests, and while we were there, several community members came to utilize the facilities. I am inspired by their focus on healthy lifestyle and promoting wellness throughout their entire community.
The community members have full time jobs in the city, but they volunteer their time as masseuses, farmers, tour guides, cooks, etc. to serve the village. After our time at the massage center, we assisted with vegetable transplanting in a local garden that was owned and operated by a village member who used his extra free time to raise crops. We also learned that our fire masseuse was only able to do massages by appointment because he tended to a herd of cattle, as well. I love the way that they use what they have to their best ability and dedicate their free time to bettering their quality of life.
Finally, the capstone to our amazing day in the village was a special dinner hosted by the community. They only hold large gatherings like this for their overseas guests and community occasions, so we all felt very honored and fortunate as the guests of honor. The food was incredible, but the excitement, high spirits, and attitudes of all of the attendees was really the part that will forever stick out in my mind. One of the younger boys in the village had recently won the Mr. Thailand Speech award, and he surprised us with a perfectly spoken English welcome,ollowed by many beautiful traditional Northern Thai dances. We were heartily welcomed to participate and enjoyed an evening of laughter with some of the kindest people I have ever met.
To say that the experience was phenomenal and unforgettable would truly be an understatement. The opportunity to live in the village for a couple days and experience their culture was a blessing, and I hope that I can try to be as welcoming, kind, generous, health-oriented, giving, and simple as the village members are. One of the village’s mottos was to live with what they have, and I believe they are living out their mission in every aspect of their lives. From the pottery woman to our host family to the dancers, every person we met showed true contentment from a hard-working, purposeful life within their means. As we return to busy lives back in the States, I hope we can remember the joy and laughter of our interactions with the village members and be absolutely happy for the blessings we already have.