Last weekend was so much fun. The volunteers from CCT (which is EIL’s partner organization here in Thailand) were invited to the wedding of one of the Thai staff, P. Clo (who is so nice) in a hill tribe village about a four hour drive away from Chiang Mai.
Arriving in the village we were greeted with stunning scenery – mountains covered with trees that gave a feeling of vast expanse, Paddy Fields and other features.
The day before the wedding we helped by making a welcome board for the bride and groom with loads of pictures of them and love hearts and the like. P.Clo’s dad drove us down to the local shop and we got all the supplies we needed, blue and white paper for background and making love hearts, ribbons to frame the piece and double sided sticky tape for the photos. We spent a while having fun making it before a nice dinner with Clo’s extended family – it was really nice getting to know them over the weekend. One of the volunteers, A.J. made animals from balloons and w as giving them out to the little kids running around the house area where the wedding was to be. Most of the volunteers with Cultural Canvass Thailand (CCT) are in the Art Relief Program and their creativity here was so infectious and really fun to join in with. Later on in the night we helped make flowers out of coloured paper which were then glued to boards in a typical thai style. It was really nice because we were working on this with people from Clo’s family, and I felt the whole rhythm of getting the paper, making the flower, and passing it on for somebody else to put it on the board quite relaxing and almost therapeutic, under the humm of the fan and the few creatures like ghekkos and the cover of the dark sky with the glow of the light overhead. Then it was back to our accommodation to practice singing ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’ which we performed at the wedding.
P. Clo and his wife are Christian (which is very uncommon in this part of the world – mainly Buddhist and a small Islamic population in Chiang Mai. Nevertheless, the wedding was very different to any I had been to or heard about in Ireland, given that it was performed in one of the houses before moving onto a stage for the main part. They played the song ‘Here comes the bride’ and I didn’t realize how long it went on for, but I was trying to humm the melody and sing any of the Thai words I recognized, which were pretty few and far between to be honest! Then it was our turn to sing, P. Po and the Farang (we didn’t actually call ourselves that, it was only a joke – ฝรั่ง (farang) means foreigner and given we were in a small village in rural Thailand, we did stick out a little, but in a good way I thought). Anyway we heard after that apparently our performance was the talk of the town (or the village), so that was quite nice!
Before retuning to the wedding celebrations later on that night, we spent the day back in our accommodation and going for a little bit of exploring in the local area. For us that meant having a look at the Paddy Fields which were really close by. The locals working there were really nice and let us walk all along the patchwork fields without any hesitancy. We were so taken by that that in return we decided it would be a nice idea to bring them done something as a thank, which in this case was fruit (because this is very welcome in my experience at any social gathering – might look a bit strange back in Ireland!) Anyway, what we didn’t expect was to be invited to join with them in eating their meal in a little cover overlooking the fields, and having a few small drinks. It was such a pleasant surprise, and given that this was our second last weekend, although my Thai was broken, as the five or so farang that were there we managed to have good banter and overcome the language barrier – which I thought was a really nice sense of accomplishment and showed the value of learning Thai wasn’t just for work and fun in the city but has real rewards in the countryside too. Afterwards we (the volunteers in the accommodation) had a great night, first at P. Clo’s house (having fun trying to blow a horn and just hanging out), and afterwards talking till the wee hours of the morning.
The following morning, myself and another volunteer (Linda) got up early and walked down to the Paddy Fields to help out with the planting, which was well received. We had great fun putting in the rice crop into the mucky water, and the women there (it was mainly women on Sunday whereas Saturday was mainly men) showed us what to do and laughed as we went about it, intially with much fumbling, but afterwards with at least some accuracy. After having helped plant two fields we all returned to the shade for some lunch, at which point myself and Linda rallyed the troops back in the house, who got some food to bring down and shared in some nice food, tea, and chats with the local rice farmers.
After that it was back into the bus (during which there were nice conversations also) and home for a big sleep after the events of the weekend. Certainly though, the fondness I have for that village after that weekend will stay with me for quite a while to come.
Action at home
1. I wrote a guide to sexual health and a guide to where to get free condoms, and then published these guides on our secret UCD LGBTQ+ facebook group with over five hundred members, our website and printed them off to have along with the other sexual health materials at our events.
2. It was targeted primarily at MSM students in UCD, but also at students in Dublin in general, as particularly with MSM the incidence of HIV has been rising quite dramatically (about 30% on last year) in the past few years, and at the same time awareness of HIV isn’t great, so I felt it was important for people to get tested and to use prevention and for cost not to be a barrier as it can be.
3. UCD Dublin
4. I published these in September and then had them at our weekly coffee mornings at the LGBTQ+ society throughout the year.