The Journey of a Permaculture Community in Thailand’s, Effort at Integration with the Local Community

Rak Tamachat has been going for 11 months now, and many amazing events and projects have transpired during that time.  Even right now we are hosting our third PDC, a new experience for most of the residents at the site, and generally not the most ideal time to invite the neighboring village for a tour of the farm!  It did however, end up being amazing. The idea of how to integrate has been discussed several times over the past year, as it is one of our goals.  However, we often felt it would be too premature to show the locals what we were up to, before we’d actually done that much physically. As much of our attention was focused in setting up a functional community.  Also, in general we don’t speak very much Thai, so more integration is a little intimidating.  We have one member, Ben, who pretty much immersed himself in their culture and work, but he is the exception among the Farang, as although it is a goal, so is trying to learn and experience all we can about Permaculture. [singlepic id=1737 w=320 h=240 float=center] Pon, our only Thai community member, has always been trying to find ways to help us integrate into his culture.  To be completely honest, it’s been a hard mission for him, and difficult for us to fully accept the possibility or the responsibility of this goal.  But the time had come to make the leap, and with the extra push from the Ahooha film makers on site, Pon went ahead and invited the whole village to come and finally see what all these crazy farangs are up to!  I was lucky enough to be the one to go with him as we visited all the respected leaders and elders of the village, and even announced the event over the town’s loudspeaker! [singlepic id=1765 w=320 h=240 float=center] The warmth and openness of the people gave me so much inspiration, and I can’t thank Pon enough for motivating us to go through with this plan…

The Plan

The plan was simple, a bit intimidating, but overall pretty simple.  Two days after the announcement, it all began with a ride in our lovely Tuk Tuk around the village to spread some excitement and increase the curiosity of the people. What better way than a bunch of dirty farang in a very farmer-style vehicle, banging on drums, gongs, and symbols, and blowing on flutes and didgery doo’s!? To be completely honest, we only saw about 40 people on our noisy little parade, but it is rice harvest time, so many of the people are hard at work during this critical time of year.  All we needed though was a few excited smiles and waves from the kids, and some curious looks from the elders to know it was working.

After our 30 minute portable jam session, we returned to the farm to finish some site cleanup and prepare the snacks and drinks.  We also cleared out some grass and dug holes in an area near Pon’s circle garden for the kids to plant papaya trees at the climax ending of their tour.  I’ll get back to that at the end…

So when 1pm rolled around, I was summoned by Pon to get back on the tuk tuk and be the ‘bus driver’.  He intended to join me, but as we were on our way out we saw that the Monks had already arrived, so he stayed behind to welcome them.  Here I was, on my own and off to pick up however many people were willing and free to take us up on our offer.  Pon had estimated between 20 and 100!  I’ll admit, I was a bit worried, as my Thai is minimal.  But of course, as things usually do in Thailand, it all worked out.  I went to the school, the pre-determined pickup spot, but nobody was there except for farmers drying and bagging their rice.  A lady across the street, sitting on her motorbike with 2 of her children, directed me over to mama and papa’s shop up the road.  Once there, I parked, brought the sides of the tuktuk down, and waited.  After about 10 minutes, and only about 6 kids with me, I decided to head back, a little sad that only a handful of kids were joining us.

Maybe it was the sound of the tuk tuk, but as soon as I started it up a dozen more came running around the corner, and a couple of old mama’s came out of a neighboring shop and hopped in the back.  Success!   Then upon returning to the farm, I saw a few sidecars, trucks, and motorbikes parked randomly around.  In the end, about 25 kids and 15 adults had made it, a perfect amount to keep our nerves cool, and allow for a successful and easily controlled introduction to our project.

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We began with a simple description of Rak Tamachat’s goals as the kids and adults munched on some fried bananas and peanuts, and drank chrysanthemum tea.  We also went around all the interns and students who were present, and gave personal introductions.  Pon of course helped with translation, and kept it all going with a funny and relaxed atmosphere.  The power of these introductions is something one may easily underestimate.  Just imagine what people in a very rural village in Thailand think or know about farang…  TV.  They see money and sex and so-called beauty on MTV, violence and drugs on the news and in movies, and hear stories of beautiful young Thai women marrying old white men.  Much of this is unfortunately a realistic perspective to have, and if you’ve ever been to Bangkok, often you’ll see this understanding being reproduced through the modernization, or rather disintegration of Thai culture.  So when these locals hear that EVERY farang is here to learn from and practice more respect for nature, integrate with Thai culture, and escape a money-driven world, their entire perception of the ‘west’ shifts.  We can even hope that this new perspective could even inspire some of the children to not aspire to be more like ‘us’, and continue on their cultural ways that are community based and nature inspired.

Following this was the tour, a simple walk around the farm to the many systems we have going.  Again, it’s easy to underestimate the value of many of the things we do that have become normal to us, but are in reality very far from normal.  First we showed them the soap we make, cheaper than soap you buy and naturally derived.  They were quite impressed, and asked for details on how to make it and the cost.

Next was the banana circle greywater system out the back of the kitchen.  Obvious to Permaculturalists, but quite inspiring to our visitors!  Details were not necessary, but the concept was.  Why waste water?  Why not make use of something that usually is dismissed as a waste?  Being in a very hot and dry area of Thailand, it’s easy to emphasize the importance of getting the most use from your water.

Onto the ‘Not-Trash’ station, another powerful concept for a culture, who in all honesty, is not very trash conscious.  Why burn plastic and damage the ozone layer when you can stuff it into bottles to use in building walls?  Why throw something out when you can use it to create art or build something else at a later point in time?  Although to be honest, most ‘developed’ countries need more of a wake-up call in this respect than rural Thai’s.

Then came the animals, many of which they have never seen before, such as turkeys, geese, and guinea fowl.  Ducks, chickens, and pink pigs aren’t a very new thing to rural Thai’s, but the emphasis here was put on diversity, and how diversity equals stability.  The kids loved the very fat black pigs the most.  Someday we hope to get them out in a pig-tractor, and put their huge appetite, poop, and digging abilities to better use.

Probably the most interesting, somehow funny, and inspiring aspect of our farm is the composting toilet.  Earthen building was common place in Thailand in the past, but has been replaced mostly by cement.  The opportunity to show them that we were doing something that had been mostly forgotten, was pretty amazing.  Explaining the idea of using our poo to fertilize the trees brought about a lot of giggles and laughter, but also some “mmm’s” and “aaa’s” of understanding when we emphasized that because we do this we won’t need to buy fertilizer for our fruit trees.  At this point, our favorite papa from the village drove up the driveway in his tractor and joined the tour.  At about 85 years old, he still works harder than most of us.  Pon translated for me the previous night when we were sharing a beer at papa’s shop that he thought he would stop working when he got this old, but he can’t.  Agriculture is in his blood, and he loves it!  We frequently purchase our evening beverages from the shop he and his wife run, so after having so much contact with him, it was a wonderful feeling when he came up and saw the creative and solid work we’ve put into the compost toilet.  First thing he said after hitting the walls was “kang lang”, meaning very strong!  Then he kept walking and saw all the crazy beautiful art that Lola and Jade had working on over the past month or so.  Sculpted faces, patterns with beer bottles and bamboo, candle holders, a mail box… he, and all who saw, loved it!  He actually compared my face and his to the earthen sculpted face on the outer wall and joked that it looks more like me than him!  All the while, the huge smile on his face made my year.  This was a classic and memorable moment for sure.

Break time for the PDC, break time for the tour.  This also gave us a chance to let them walk around the classroom and see the space where we pass on our knowledge to the students.  This is also where we will be having regular English classes for local children in the future.  They loved the design board filled with drawings of projects we have done or dream of making happen.  It’s interesting to note that one of the periods that day was on appropriate technology, and how local knowledge is obviously often the most appropriate.  This is an area where we, as still a largely foreign community, need to focus on.  Hopefully this tour is the kick we needed to allow for this mutual knowledge exchange to happen more!

Last stop, the circle garden and Papaya planting!  Leave it to children to inspire.  We didn’t have to do much really, we showed them the holes, the baby trees, the cow manure, the straw for mulch, and they did the rest without needing a push!  Pon explained how we’ll share the fruit with the school when they are ready, but I believe that even without this incentive they would’ve reacted the same way.  Something about how the kids just jumped right in and were all eager to put the tree in the ground was a huge inspiration for all of us involved.  This action is by no means work, it is a joyous privilege that children are inherently aware of.  Full Power Inspiration!!!

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