Day seven in Thailand. The unit in sustainable agriculture has just begun and I can hardly wait to dive in. All the new sights and smells, flavors and textures keep me on my toes at every turn. New words like agroforest and permaculture dance across my intellectual pallet like the spicy tom yum I had for lunch.
Our time here has been fantastic so far. From the cat cafe Catmosphere(a totally awesome place 10/10 would recommend) to the night bazar in Chiang Mai town which entails rows and rows of toursity gimmicks and flowy pants(of which I now own three, oops) coupled with the barely spicy pad thai stalls and fish spas, to the UDHP agriculture and development compound where we learn about sustainable agriculture and development. The rural vs. urban contrast seems to be present in all our visits.
The colorful markets are my favorite. On our way to the Fang hot springs today we drove past a rural sunday market. Tables and tables piled high with produce and goods lined the road. A woman squatted in front of her tarp stacked with totally unidentifiable vegetables. Across the street an shriveled old man hawks his dried sea creatures, yelling in Thai and motioning at what I can only assume is dried squid. Another notable activity was when we collected the ingredients for our lunch from UHDP’s very own agroforest. Splitting into groups we all ventured into the forest. One group to collect banana leaves for pork dumplings, some went to collect catfish for curried catfish. It felt like the OG version of Chopped. Once we collected our materials we were directed by our fabulous UDDP caretakers. I spent the next fifteen minutes working with a woman named Pii Joy. I watched as she effortlessly chopped the outer layers off of the fish tail palm to get to the starchy heart in a few moments. She handed me the machete and watched as I clumsily chopped at the cursed root, cursing my screaming western calves and unskilled western hands. After I broke the second heart we moved onto the chili pork paste and fish palm soup. The only difficulty here was that I was the only non Thai speaker in a room full of lively thai women who were cheerfully chatting, chopping and stirring, laughing as I stumbled to keep up with my knife and my mouth. Thai is a strange language compared to English. What english speakers would consider nasal and whiny, Thai speakers consider key. I could not tell you how many random Thai speakers have corrected my ka(the way you end a sentence, greet, or say yes) because it is not nearly long or nasal enough not the words of a feng(westerner).
All in all I love the totally foreign experience. I have the feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar city. Only instead of panic, there is excitement. I have no idea what I’m doing, what I’m saying or where I’m going a good 90% of the time, But isn’t that part of the adventure?
The jungle is totally still. The air is thick with moisture and every now and then a leaf falls from the tree tops, disrupting the tranquility. Cicadas and other unknown insects pepper the silence with their singing, occasionally joined by the birdsong. Thick vegetation covers the ground, Moss covered logs, huge vines winding their way to sunlight, ferns scattered anywhere they can lay spores. A small river divides the forest. Bamboo and other stalkish trees compete to be closest to the water. Bowing their branches to dip their leaves in the cool water. Tiny fish and tadpoles dart in and out from under the algae covered rocks. Within the incredible stillness the jungle seems to be breathing. Suddenly the stillness is broken. A man is walking down a centuries old path. His hair is shaved closely on the sides but the top is longer and stained red with acheote. Wielding a machete he effortlessly clears the leaves that have tried to reclaim the path. Following him is a string of students, All laden with backpacks and post diggers, reeking of bugspray and sunscreen, ready to spend the next three hours planting crop trees in the name of reforestation.
We have spent the past four and a half weeks living with the indigenous Tsa’chila people of rural Ecuador in a community called Bua. For four and a half weeks we have worked closely with families and community members to plant trees that not only will help the environment but also produce fruit and and wood eventually. The idea was’t to go into a forest that didn’t have room for a few more plants. The idea was to plant trees that would have multiple purposes. I like to think of it as reforestation through agriculture.
It is hard to believe that our time in Ecuador is over. It is even harder to believe that there is much much more to come.
Orientation in Mindo was a Blur. My group, sixteen students, four of whom are male, twelve are female, stayed in what is commonly refered to as a EcoLodge or EcoHotel, Abrazo Del Arbol in the tranquil mountains of Mindo. During this time we went from awkward aquaintances to familiar friends. Initally I felt I was getting the short end of the stick because I chose to stay in the main house instead of the cabins but it was soon reveiled that bugs were quite an issue and I was glad to have the mighty walls to protect us from the abundant creepy crawlies.The food was amazing and it was hard to face the reality that the quality would not be consistant. We ended our stay with a closing ceremony in the yoga kiosk, located 50 yards away from the lodge in the jungle. we formed a circle and lit candles and then were asked to consider where we would be at the end of our journey and it struck me that we were only ten days in. It is just the begining.
Now tucked away in a hostel in Quito we anxiously await the next step in our travels. A homestay in a remote village working on an ongoing reforestation project.
Again it is so strange to me that we have seen and done so much and I can already feel myself growing and welcoming the world around me. I cant believe that it is just the beginning.
6:32 am: The only coherent thought in my mind, “My life is about to change dramatically.”
It’s the first morning in over a week that I’ve woken up without butterflies in my stomach, but not the first morning that I wake up bursting with excitement. Every day seems to go by faster than the one before, and the list of things that needs to get done feels like its getting longer and longer. Family and friends feel like they’re pressing closer, and I’m trying to cherish every moment.
And yet, the future is looming. Adventure is calling. Every hour passes and I am closer to my goal. This thing that I have wanted for so long, and have worked so hard for. I’m standing on the brink and it is almost upon me. So why am I so scared? what about the travel, My peers, the cultures, the food, potential illness, potential disasters? I’m ready. I’ve begun to almost relish the fear. Yes, those things are all scary. Yes, it is going to be miserable sometimes and YES it is going to be AWESOME. Adventure is coming and all I can do is meet it head on, ready to face the life I make for myself.