by Ushmi, Co-Director, IHF Chiang Rai
Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
You start off on a bus early in the morning from Chiang Rai and your stop is among the last of its journey. You stop almost every 5 minutes to pick up passengers. Sometimes you stop and a parcel hops on to be delivered from one town to the next… cheaper, faster and reliable so why not?
But what becomes more prominent as you move further out of town, apart from the change in scenery, is the population. As well as the change in average age, the population becomes scarcer. The village towns become noticeably smaller while the size of farms stretches further out.
The next part of the journey is from the village town to the homes. We are picked up in a beaten yet hefty truck. The next left is a long-winded road that leads to the village. You can count the number of cars that drive down the road and so it isn’t unusual to meet a mama with her two babies waiting at the corner for the next passerby. We stop and help pull the babies, a small cabin bag and some shopping into the truck.
We’re now on a dusty, bumpy road and fully surrounded by rice fields and farms growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Coffee plantations are in plenty too. We pass a ‘gate’ leading us onto an even more narrow, rough road that follows the edge of the village hills like a neat outline. We have the midday sun radiating dry heat but the landscapes are the breath of fresh air that you appreciate… almost as much as the discovery of an oasis in the middle of a desert.
The houses are small bamboo structures lifted on wooden stumps. There maybe two or three, similar sized houses that are linked to create one family’s home. A steep path, uphill, leads you to the next family’s home… and so forth.
Dogs are in plenty, playing dead under the sun and scooters are parked, sometimes in pairs, near almost every home’s entrance.
The kitchen come living room come grandparents’ room floor is carpeted with straw mats. A big clay pot, that already has sweet potato boiling, roofs a small indoor fire. The aroma of the lunch is a truly warming feeling. Children are excited to eat and come rushing in, the older ones carrying the younger ones so that they can get inside as quick as possible. Without being told, the younger children help mama arrange the table with plates and chopsticks while the older ones heap the serving plates with food. The table is a large bamboo basket turned upside-down.
We all sit around and indulge. After serving guests, the children pass plates to the grandparents and the rest share from the serving plates.
Imagination Versus Reality
Before the trip I imagined a combination of Kenya and India’s rural area. What I experienced was a somewhat middle ground between the two. The dusty and dryness was the similarity I found with rural areas of Northern Kenya- the country’s desert landscape. The lifestyle and behavior was what I found similar with the villages of Northern India, Gujarat in particular- the way the mothers run the households, the way the grandparents remain silent but every minimal action and word is worth holding onto forever, and the way the children misbehave lovingly.