Saturday, October 24, 2015

Don Jiiong

Some things I've learned about Thailand:
1. Pad thai does not have a peanut based sauce. The sauce is turmeric based and only involves peanuts as a garnish. Shocking, I know!!
2. When writing in Thai characters, Thai does not use spaces. Silly Americans thought all of the signs just had one extremely long word.
3. Thai people drive on the left side of the street.
4. You don't need to know the same language in order to have a personal connection with someone. 

For the past 3 weeks, our group has been staying in Don Jiiong, a rural village in the north of Thailand. Don Jiiong has about 200 families, all farmers in the area. Eighteen of those families have organic farms and are part of the organic organization. My family consisted of many amazing people pictured below. Not pictured is my little brother *Nong Moss. I was pleasantly surprised to bond over our mutual love of Harry Potter with him. He even went as far as to assign us all characters we resemble. I got the generous assignment of miss Hermione Granger (probably due to how the humidity is treating my hair). 
From left to right: Eva (Dao), Mae Sii (Mom), Pi Nuon with baby Fokat, Pae, Me (Som-O)
In front: Pi Jeab
Not pictured: Nong Moss

Our home was filled with love, compassion, and a lot of Thai. We had thai classes in the afternoon about twice a week where we would learn phrases and words to use with our families. Eva's and my host mom learned our names quickly because we went by our Thai names- Dao (star) and Som-O (pamelo), respectively. The small gesture meant a lot to them and showed them we wanted to be part of their family.
Learning how to grill some leaves

Our stay in the village was intermixed with some field trips. One of which was a highlight of the trip: visiting the elephants. Our visit started off with watching the elephants do a number of tricks, including painting pieces of art I couldn't even dream of painting. Then we learned how to ride them bare-back, took a break for lunch, went on a ride through the jungle, and finished with a bath in the river. Such a fun experience!

The outfits we got at the elephant camp
Other field trips included days at the market in Chiang Mai. Many nights we would stay up and help our mae (pronounced like meh) prepare items to sell. Those were probably the days we enjoyed most because we got to see what are hard work on the farm was materializing into.
Preparing some delicious rice snacks for the Saturday early morning market (4 am!)

My awesome tbb/ host-sister Eva (Dao) and host brother Moss selling Passion fruit at the Thursday organic market
We leave for Cambodia tomorrow and stay there for a week. We are excited to see Ankor Wat and (hopefully) a acrobatic circus while there. Then it's off to New Delhi, India where we will do another homestay for 5 weeks!

*In Thai, we use Nong in front of a name to signify someone younger and Pi to signify someone older. Even twins will call each other Nong/Pi depending on who was born first.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Farm (backyard) to Table

From farm to table: a popular saying I had yet to fully experience before this morning.

For the past week, our group has been working at the Upland Holistic Development Program (UHDP). This organization provides local farmers many tools including organic seeds and alternative low energy farm practices! We have been learning the ropes about seed banking, agroforestry, germination, natural pesticides, home-made animal feed, and much more.

The morning started with splitting into two groups. My group was sent to the forest, with a UHDP leader, to collect bamboo trunks and 20 large banana leaves. The task was fun and filled with a lot of machete use, which is always a bonus. As we trotted back to the preparation area with huge banana leaves on our shoulders, we met up with the other half of our group. They were catching catfish with food we had made and dried 5 days prier.

Making catfish food balls
Their tasks were slightly bloodier and involved the circle of life a little more closely, but they still had a great time. As they started to prepare the catfish and cook it in the bamboo wood, we stripped palm trees and added the hearts of palm to a soup. We all joined back up to assemble some steamed wrapped pork*. We diced shallots, lemon grass, garlic, and more into the pork mixture. Then we took a scoopful of the raw mixture, wrapped it in banana leaves and tied it off with a bamboo string. Sticky rice (a different type of grain form traditional rice) was also cooked in bamboo wood on the fire.

Wrapping the pork!
Candid pork wrapping shot
The meal was wonderful and shared among everyone who had prepared it, including our Thinking Beyond Boarders group, the UHDP staff, and the ECHO** staff. We all agreed that eating a meal that we had taken a part in growing, harvesting, and preparing was a pretty rare and amazing experience.

Tomorrow we leave for a village in the mountains for one day and then off to Don Jiiong, a village about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, for our homestays for 3 weeks!

*Warning: the pork was bought at the market this morning and not slaughtered on site. In past years they have slaughtered the pig and used its meat, but our small group would not be able to use the entire pig and therefore would be wasteful. The pig was raised on a farm close to here in northern Thailand but it is true that we do not know the conditions in which it was raised.

** ECHO is a seed bank center and partner organization to UHDP

Friday, September 25, 2015


Welcome to my first blog post! First things first let's address the title. As some of you know, sometime last year, in a fit of self- absorption, I changed my Instagram bio to an original Molly Lipman quote. I would describe it as an inspirational comment on the 2000's hit Who Let The Dogs Out by the Baha Men. I chose to focus on the root of the problem that these so called Baha Men were singing about instead of playing the blame game, as I thought they were doing. The Instagram bio read "'Stop worrying about who let the dogs out and start trying to get them back' -Molly Lipman." Now as you might imagine by the wisdom of this quote, it was a frequent point brought up in discussions among friends. As I was looking for a title for this blog, I was persuaded by my roaring fans (shout-out to Maggie and Akash) to incorporate my defining quote. I digress (another shout-out to Mr. Frese for the awesome saying).

So here I am in Thailand! After a long 27 hours of travel through Hong Kong, Singapore and finally Thailand, we arrived in Chiang Mai, a city of about 400,000 people in the north of Thailand. Overwhelmed by beautiful mountains and a scary language barrier, the nine of us (seven girls and two program leaders) managed through some hefty jet lag. Our first ten-ish days were spent at the Imm Eco Resort for what Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) calls orientation. We got to know the city, visited with some partnering organizations, learned some Thai, and were introduced to seminars. These are discussions that are a part of the ever wise TBB curriculum. We will be continuing seminars regularly for the rest of the program as we make our way through the agriculture unit in Thailand and the education unit in India. On our last day in Chiang Mai, we had the privilege to visit Jeff Rutherford's Faith Earth Farm and learn about the history of organic farming and how important it is today. I suggest the movie The Worm Is Turning: Ecological Farming The Real Revolution for anyone (skeptics and believers!) interested in learning more about the topic. This morning we drove five hours out of the city to a facility run by the Upland Holistic Development Program (UHDP). We will be here for about five days working on the farm, learning about seed banks, natural feed and more, and working on our Thai. Then we will be going to a rural village and doing home-stays for about three weeks with a family that has an organic farm. Here at UHDP we are very lucky to have internet access, but I can't promise any amount of frequency for this blog after we make our way to the village. After Thailand, the next stops on our voyage are Ankor Wat, Cambodia for a week and then Dehli, India for five weeks. I'm so excited to be able to have this opportunity to work with such an amazing program, and I'm ready to take on the challenges and excitement of these next two and a half months!

p.s. I suggest to anyone looking into a gap year to check out TBB's website and what they're all about