To be fair, one cannot exactly be ON Rangiora. It is not a singular thing, but a small city just north of Christchurch. Additionally, we were more specifically in West Eyreton - which is less of a town and more of a series of intersections, thus the terrible pun of a reference to the nearest populated area with a substantial Centre and collection of local and chain businesses. Regardless, this is the area that we spent three weeks of work exchange with a generous local family.Read More
As a continuing part of our travel/life philosophy, as well as a means to literally get our hands in the dirt, we have been weaving in stays at organic farms wherever it makes the most sense. At the last minute, we had an opportunity to make sure Thailand was no exception to that rule.
Our trusty steed, pictured above, spirited us - ok, bounced us - up and out of Chiang Mai for a few days around the 12th of November. We were headed to a place called PunPun, just northeast of the city and about 50km out. We would be part-time volunteering - paying a small amount to have our room and food covered while working about 4 hours a day. Eli and I were looking forward to some time out of a city, however small, and the sight of hills and dustier roads was welcome. As the vegetables, dry goods and random bags of supplies were emptied out at each small village stop, the back of the truck got roomier. We felt much like happy puppies in a pickup bed must, ears flapping in the breeze and eyes squinting into the sun.
First, the lay of the land - a great and natural network of paths between houses, common areas like the kitchen and meeting rooms, bathrooms and showers, and planting areas. These buildings are all naturally built - mostly adobe, straw, clay and bamboo structures that have emerged over the past eight years. Our stay for the last two nights in the VIP room - which is more of a small home, minus the kitchen, felt downright luxurious:
Location:Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand
By way of the aforementioned hour-long-10km-taxi-bus ride, we arrived to the farm late in the afternoon sweaty and a little sleepy, with dirt in our nostrils and curiosity in our pulses. It was the end of September and, for those of you not in the know, Eli's birthday was the next day (Friday the 30th). After getting settled, receiving a henna tattoo from Dipika and her best friend Monita, enjoying the first of many delicious dal bhat dishes, and being safely under the protection of our mosquito net, we passed out - but not without fleeting wonderings of what was to come with our time here, what makes birthdays really memorable and why we celebrate them anyway, and the new faces and names of those who had invited us graciously into their home floating in front of us in the dark.
After some exploring in the late afternoon, we ate more dal bhat and cleaned up at the water pump. As dark came, some local kids wandered into the yard...then some more neighbors...then folks from the orphanage next door...then Madalina, a volunteer from Romania who we rode to Sitamai with, strolls in with her host family. We were wondering what was going on, fairly obliviously because of the size (approx. 30-50) of the village and the nature of people to wander in and out. Next, Pramila and Padam dragged a chair out into the middle of the yard and ordered Eli to take a seat. They had invited everyone over for a birthday celebration of Tika giving, music, and dancing! Here is Eli right before that realization...and right after receiving flowers from a stream of people and Tika from Padam.
Dasain essentially celebrates the victory of gods and goddesses over demons, and does so in intricately timed and highly representative ways. There is also a focus on family and the renewal of community ties during this time, hence the build up of excitement and amount of gatherings during these 15 days. As part of an offering to the goddess Durga, goats are sacrificed nationwide and the blood and meat is considered auspicious. We were invited to, and attended, a sacrifice in the village at 7am. What resonated most with us was not only the commitment to ritual, but the fact that each and every part of this animal was both honored and utilized for two families. They had raised it and they would go on to worship it and their gods by way of this process. (Though the family insisted I could photograph any part of the event, I decided the aftermath was more appropriate for me):
A brief addendum to my previous farm post. To give a clearer picture of how diverse the produce on the farm was, I have listed everything I remember to be just past, during, or just before harvest season while we were there. Some things in rows, some interplanted, some randomly growing on and taking over trees or thatched roofs. My future garden is taking notes. *This is in no way complete but helps round out a picture:
Mango Guava Papaya Lemon Pineapple Bananas
Ginger Turmeric Lemongrass Neem Tulsi Chili Peppers a Plenty
Spinach Bitter gourd (bitter melon) Broccoli Cabbage Cauliflower Potato Radish Zucchini like squash Sponge gourd (left to dry, you can peel and have a loofah!) Cucumber Green pumpkin Lettuce Jungle Spinach (use leaves like spinach and stalk in a pickle) Carrots
After a six hour bus ride spent swerving through the rocky cliff passes and easing our way down into the Terai jungle territory of southern Nepal, we stopped in Narayangarh, a small city north of our destination. We would pile into a Toyota minibus, fit with with a Suzuki windshield screen topper, and head for approximately 17km (or 10.5 miles) towards Sitamai Eco Farm. It would take a full hour. This is due to the condition of the roads, which are really just broad hosts for potholes, pedestrians, motorcyclists, buffalo and people carrying the days harvest home on or by their noggins. With the frenetic wildness of Kathmandu behind us, we entered the steamy (yet, as visually stimulating) calm of village life. It is still impossible to pinpoint the exact name of the village where the farm is and, truly, it may not actually have one that is officially on any map. For technical purposes, we will refer to it as Sitamai, near Patihani.
The view above, of those never ending rice fields, can only be experienced from the top of a twenty foot high bamboo structure built in the back corner of the small, well utilized property. It was one of the first places we sat and settled our minds and bodies after the day's travel and is a pretty magical experience every time.
The farm is the family property of Padam and Pramila Ghimire, and is home to the two of them, their two children (Dipika and Dependre), and Padam's mother, known to us only as Ama. Pramila and the children live part time in Kathmandu, where they attend school and she manages her myriad projects - a school near Sitamai, a volunteering non-profit, and planning another farm which aims to employ disadvantaged women. Our timing was perfect for sharing the time and space with the whole family, as the national holiday of Dasain was taking place during the exact two weeks we would be there. More on that later, though.
Below is the buffalo waste collection mixer, where you combine it with urine or water to make a liquid, and Padam (who didn't usually wear that amazing hat) explaining how the system works while Eli stands on top of a main collection tank. Next to all of this were the three compost piles, which didn't smell as bad as one might imagine in the heat.