Nongkhai and its creatures

As we were doing our weekly cleaning of our volunteer house, I noticed one of the unusually large, semi-aerodynamic cockroaches hopping around outside our back door. It made me laugh to myself. If you know me really well, you know how much I love to quote a certain movie. It made me think of ROUS’s; you know, Rodents Of Unusual Sizes? But, in this case, they are IOUS’s: Insects of Unusual Sizes. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m quoting the delightful classic movie, The Princess Bride).

The new-to-me insects and spiders don’t freak me out too much. But they do a little. I think it’s healthy to give unusually large or unusually colored spiders a wide berth. At the same time, there is something refreshing about it all. You can’t keep the ants out of the house here. You do need to keep your home clean enough that they don’t go wild, though: washing dishes immediately after your meal; storing sugar in the refrigerator; sealing all food thoroughly, etc. But you are not expected to have an insect-free household. And isn’t that the way it should be? Most Thai people sweep their floors every day. At Hands of Hope, they sweep and mop the floor after breakfast and lunch. Then, once a week, the employees each use the end of their lunch hour to do a deep clean of the whole space, inside and out.

Usually, jing joks are not this small, but this one was so cute and tiny that I had to take a picture of it. See its size compared to the door handle.

I have already mentioned the jing joks: the little geckos that are all around the house. They eat all the bugs and are harmless, so I like them and even find them cute at times. However, there are also large geckos, called Tokays. They are a different story. They can grow up to 15 inches long. They are spotted and have bright colors: reddish-orange spots on a bluish-gray body. My biggest concern is that if you corner or scare the Tokays, they could bite you and not let go (I mean, really not let go. One website suggested the solution that you hold your bitten arm and the Tokay underwater for awhile until they let go). I don’t think it’s an overly common experience, but I don’t really want to find out for sure. We currently have 3-4 large ones on our volunteer house. They are attracted to the light, because other bugs will be there. So we have had to alter where we put our light on outside at night. Instead of outside the living area or our bedroom, we put the light on outside of the empty bedrooms (when there are more volunteers, as in previous years or months, these bedrooms will be in use).

Photo credit: 

One time, in the last few weeks, I heard something that sounded like it was running into the metal bottom half of our screen door. It was a loud bang, much louder than an insect. It made me jump 3 or 4 inches out of my chair (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. I might be influenced by my current reading selection of Bill Bryson and his often exaggerated story-telling about growing up in the 1950’s in his book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir). 

John and I had no idea where the sound came from. A few minutes later, as my heart rate was returning to normal, I stood up again to look outside the screen door to ponder what could have made that noise, and I saw a cat trotting away in our front yard. Aha! The culprit was found out.

On our bike rides or runs, we encounter cows on the road regularly. Usually, their owner is herding them, but sometimes they take over the road and you wait or navigate your route cautiously.

We also got to see the cows of the Good Shepherd Sisters’ agricultural program this week. The cow program is not a huge proponent of what they do here, but it is still very vital. First, we had to drive almost an hour away to a more rural area, where the cows are kept and cared for. This area is even more poor, as Sr. Pranee told us. We could see some evidence of that ourselves. The road was atrocious at times, as we got closer to our destination. And we even saw a power line that was wrapped around the top of a bare tree instead of a typical pole.

When we arrived, we were able to behold the graduation ceremony of approximately 10 farmers. They had attended an agricultural educational program hosted by Good Shepherd (I believe the program lasted for several months). The farmers learn about how to care for the cows for the long-term. As part of their graduation, their names are put in the raffle, and they are awarded a random set of two cows. The cows have already been paired up and given a monetary value (as if they could be sold). The farmers enter a signed agreement that they will continue to check in with the program and each other over the years. Over the next three and a half years, they have to give two cows back to Good Shepherd. From their first set of offspring, they can decide whether to keep the offspring or give it back. They like to keep the female offspring, to continue the lineage. For the next set of offspring, Good Shepherd gets the first choice (I might have the details a little confused, due to the language barrier, but it’s something along these lines).

The Good Shepherd program continues to breed or sell the cows (if they receive a male cow in return) and puts the money back into the program.

It was such an honor to be there on their special day, when they were finally awarded their set of cows. You could feel the excitement, and several of the farmers got up to speak and share how they felt. Some of them could not even find the words, they were just so happy.

Then, after a delicious meal (everyone feeds us so well and so graciously all the time here), we got to see the cows being loaded up to be taken back to the nearby villages. Then we drove the hour back to our respective workplaces and put in a little work before our day ended.

Cows being loaded up to be taken to the new farmers' nearby villages

Here are some other animal encounters we have had:

In case you haven’t seen this photo from social media yet!

Snake skin.

  • There are a few cats that live at Hands of Hope. Antonia, my supervisor at Hands of Hope and our main English-speaking contact, is a huge lover of animals. She cares for them dotingly and makes sure they are taken care of. Someone mentioned to us that if there is reincarnation, they would like to come back as one of Antonia’s cats. As I see them lounging around in the sun while we are busy working or getting petted and played with by my coworkers, I can see how one would feel that way!
  • Sister Mary (the 96-year-old Irish nun who began everything in Nongkhai over 25 years ago) is also a lover of animals. People have given her gifts from all over. When we go to the convent, we walk through a little garden area with many caged birds, including a parrot. She also has a pet monkey, who is playful with us.
  • There are so many dogs here, too. They act like they own the road. They will often not move out of the way as you approach (typically, we are on bikes, so I’m not sure if they are more scared of cars/motorbikes). We have been running a little bit, and we choose to carry large sticks with us in case the dogs get mean. I believe a previous volunteer got bit. I’m lucky that I have John with me when I’m bike-riding and running; they are not as scared of me. The down side is that I really can’t bike-ride for long distances or run without him. Besides the dogs, it’s not really safe (more on that if and when I decide to tackle what it is like to be a woman here. Not sure that I have a grasp on that subject yet, nor that I ever will!).
  • There are snakes here, too, but I haven’t seen any live ones yet - which is fine by me. I have seen several snakeskins while bike-riding or walking around.
  • Besides cows, we also see water buffalo, too.
  • I have already mentioned that the care center keeps some turtles as pets.
  • Since our volunteer house is right next to the pond, we see plenty of toads - both large and small. As a kid, I loved toads, and that has never really gone away. The little toads are so small (maybe 5 cm or half an inch), but they can jump so far. In one jump, they can go a foot easily. They crack me up.
  • We also see lots of snails, caterpillars, and worms. When there is a lot of rain, we even see some crabs, and I have almost stepped on one stepping out of the living room door!

Water Buffalo. Sorry for the fuzzy photos.

As I was wrapping up the first draft of this blog post, I heard a couple of noises right outside our window - like a small animal/large insect hitting our window… This place definitely keeps me on my toes. Not sure what it was yet, but I’ll report back if we figure it out later!