After perusing the blogs of some other Peace Corps Volunteers I discovered that my own blog is somewhat lacking in actual information. I have sparse internet access, therefore my updates tend to be centered around huge events that take place. Sometimes I miss out on the little happenings of everyday life. It’s important that those things are shared, too. And sometimes, truthfully, I feel so normal in my village with the crazy things I do that I forget it’s still so foreign to my friends back home. So I scrolled through my camera roll, because I take more pictures than anything, and tried to come up with some highlights to share with everyone.
Recently, the country just finished up Songkran, a festival centered around water throwing, whiskey drinking and family reunions. But more importantly, the holiday honors the beginning of a Thai new year and commemorates the wise, elderly persons of the villages. Before the festivities began, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew that my host sister and brother from Bangkok were coming into town. What I didn’t know was that there were also twenty other family members coming in from all over Thailand and they would have a giant slumber party in our upstairs living room for more than five days. It was a riot just to see. The first day we would start by going over to my host uncle’s house and watching the Monks give blessings and chant.
Monks chanting at my host Uncle’s house during Songkran.
Then, the next day the Monks would come to my very own host family’s house and do the same thing. Except this time, after the Monks were finished with their ceremony and the family consumed a feast of food, we would also line up about eight elderly people and go through a ceremonial bathing process. It wasn’t really bathing at all actually, but typically they referred to it as that. Everyone lined up and put flower scented water in decorative, silver bowls. We would walk, one by one, and dump a little water onto each elderly person and then go on to the next. Afterward, we would kneel on the ground and wai in respect as the elderly offered their own blessings for us. A very adorable lady in the village said that she wanted to give me the blessing of strength and good health because she knew I would be making the long bike ride to school everyday. She is so sweet. Then, each person would take a white string and run it along our wrist three times toward our body to signify sending good energy, and three times away to signify ridding our bodies of bad energy. I caught the tail end of this ceremony the day before at a neighbors house and went through the line once. I was confused, as usual, and as I was wai-ing one of the elderly men slowly, he gave me a good wap on my head until it hit the cement ground. I laughed knowing that he was trying to help show me what I was supposed to be doing. Everyone kept talking about how beautiful my wai was so I felt encouraged I was doing something right. When my mother told me we were going to do the same thing, I felt proud being familiar with the tradition. However, this time, I did, in fact, replicate what I learned the day prior. Except, as my legs felt weak and I appeared to be the slowest Waier of them all, I heard snickers from everyone around me. Mind you, this is very common in Thailand. They love to laugh at you because they think it puts you at ease. As I got to the fifth elderly person, my host sister rushed over and finally told me that I was only supposed to wai them one time, not three like I had been for the past two days. She kindly explained that you only wai a Monk three times, and sometimes at funerals, but you only wai your elders once and with a quick tip of the head downward. That certainly won’t be the last mistake in Thailand. It all makes for a good laugh.
The water part I had down pat.
Now, as the evening settled in and more bottles of whiskey were opened the karaoke machine eventually switched on. Just when you think you have made it through a holiday safely, the family pulls out a massive speaker system (albeit of very poor quality) and a program of Thai sing along songs on a computer to go with it. As the middle-aged men drink away and slur along into the microphone as an electric keyboard version offers a horrible rendition of what could have once been a decent song, I smile. There is no drinking in the village for Peace Corps women. It isn’t against the rules, they leave that choice up to us, but it doesn’t make any sense to drink. No other self-respecting village woman does it and sitting around a group of drunk men doesn’t sound like my idea of safe fun, or even fun at all, for that matter. However, as the festivities continued I found myself longing for a festive cocktail. I have been in the service industry in the United States for far too long not to miss wine and fancy cocktails abroad. I can owe much of this to my fine-dining training by Dennis Chastang himself and the staff at Tony’s of Cincinnati. With serving comes a fine appreciation for great wine and spirits. So what does this self-respecting Peace Corps volunteer start to do? She starts conjuring ideas in her head of different delicious drinks that are possible. Before you know it, I am standing in a rustic kitchen making simple syrup over a gas powered burner. I send my cousins to their house to pick fresh mint from their garden and I get to work. I lightly muddled raw sugar and mint leaves in a pestle and mortar put it into a glass of ice, added whiskey, simple syrup and club soda to top it off. What I had was some strange mixture between a mojito and a mint julep, seeing as whiskey is the only spirit on hand. The next batch, I threw in ripe mangoes, muddled them as well and had a mango mint cocktail. I made enough to pass around and even my sixteen-year old cousins were enjoying a glass. I felt proud to bring some skill to the table, even if it was a strange one. Filled with this sense of pride, there was only one thing left to do, sing “Hotel California” by the Eagles on the Sing a Song machine. I switched up the pace from slurred, drunken men for just a moment and the family hollered cheers in the backround, “Sing a Song! Sing a Song!” I think what they meant to say, was “We love it!” or something of the like. Needless to say, that night I had a lot of fun.
The beginning of something delicious.
My new Thai family enjoying their cocktails.
Obviously the only thing left to do after such fun festivities of the evening. Join in the crowd of men and Sing a Song. Not just any song, but “Hotel California,” a song well known by Thais.
Now all of this is just the beginning. There are more adventurous tales to all of this holiday fun, including a gorgeous train ride with my sister to the capital of the Province, getting soaked under the water sprays from fire trucks, making homemade delicious Thai food with my and shopping at the town market for all the food we needed to cook for the week. I have many more stories to tell and pictures to go with it.