Every week seems to hold an unexpected surprise. It goes without saying that this could technically describe any week, but why let it go without saying?
Contemplation on Poverty
Last weekend, we had a wonderful first Skype session with another of our cherished friends. The questions she poses are always honest and direct, and I usually do my best to answer them in kind. It was the new phrasing of a common question about poverty that helped me find an improved clarity and understanding. Of course, the book I read recently by Ruth K Payne - A Framework for Understanding Poverty may have helped me start processing and building the vocabulary I needed.
As you may have previously gleaned, there is certainly a lower standard of living in the part of Thailand where we are living. To varying degrees, people make do with much less than we are accustomed: work is more sparse, education less common, food less processed, housing more cramped, mattresses much more firm, heat is non-existent, and of course mosquitoes are more dangerous.
However, I would like to stress that a lower standard of living does not directly translate into a lower quality of living. For sure there are droves of people in Thailand who live happier lives with much less than lower-middle class Americans would expect - in many aspects a happier life than I was choosing to live prior to coming here.
Clearly, I am no expert. I often struggle to differentiate poverty, culture, and quality of life. For instance, I have seen very few houses with a couch in the main room and I suspect most people would not want one if it was offered. On the other hand, I have started to see subtle indications of the dissatisfaction they have with the quality of their lives.
Tonight someone shared photos of Susan and I “pretend” rice farming. The photos made for a good laugh, followed by a very brief discussion by a few of how much their backs hurt - and my back hurt after 20 minutes planting. Some of them put in 10-hour days after working a full week, and others planted rice 60 hours a week.
Another example is everyone’s generosity. I have learned that a common feature of poverty in America is sharing. If you have, you share. When you have always known poverty, relationships become more important than things. People who live in poverty understand that if you do not share when you have, then you will not be shared with when you have not. So you tell me, do people here in Thailand share because they are part of a relationship based culture, because they have experienced generational poverty, or both? At the end of the day, what I still see is generosity: a way of being generous that often makes me feel selfish.
So the week started unexpectedly when the nurse Krisida was in a car collision on his way to work Monday morning. He lost control of his vehicle, it spun out, and then someone collided with him. Luckily everything was okay, but it was certainly concerning. To show our support, on Tuesday night a car load of us co-workers went to visit him and his family. They provided dinner for us all, and we had a wonderful time. He was obviously sore, but it was good to see him up and moving. It also turned out to be a late night as we chatted until around 9:30 and did not arrive home until almost 11:00pm!
Chinese New Year
We had been told by Sister Pranee that Monday was the Chinese New Year, so we were surprised when another co-worker came over Wednesday and asked if we would like to go to the Chinese New Year festivities. After a little work, and maybe some charades, we understood and agreed to me driving the truck and 5 people to NongKhai to watch the festival.
We were a little wary from having been out late the night before, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Once I found parking, we walked to the small festival that was giving out plenty of free food. There were many people dressed in beautiful, traditional Chinese outfits and there were some performances. Live drums and cymbals, combined with acrobatic dragon dances was great. Everyone in our group was ready to leave by 8:00, so we were home by 8:30! A pretty perfect night.