Have you ever celebrated a village's birthday? We just returned from the 2nd birthday party for Baw Kaew, a protest village that was set up 30 years after the Forest Industry Organization (FIO) kicked villagers off their land in order to create a national eucalyptus forest. Two years ago, the villagers with the support of the Isaan Land Reform Network, decided to move back onto their own land and refuse to leave, while fighting for a community land title. Although a subcommittee of the government declared that the FIO does not have the right to be using their land for profit, they continue to do so, and villagers have been arrested for trespassing and such. The process for receiving a land title is a long struggle, but the villagers remain hopeful that their fight will be successful. Their NGO was talking about the potential dissemination of the FIO, and the consequential privatization of the eucalyptus and other cash crop economies, and how that might affect villagers. We weren't necessarily there for information, as much as to congratulate and celebrate, but I'll be able to give a better community update when I return with the students.
Baw Kaew is community that I had visited as a student, and it was incredible to see how much the community has grown. They've built much more permanent structures, including a sala and a seed bank in which the villagers collect seeds for display and information dissemination to visitors. There were many more local plants sprouting up around the village, allowing colorful flowers and fresh aromas to seep through the ominous eucalyptus trees. The villagers take great pride in these structures, showing their power and permanence. It was a great feeling to return to a familiar community; my paw recognized me and was happy to see me, even though I only stayed with him for a night at the very beginning of my semester a year and a half ago. Anne, who worked on the Human Rights Report for Baw Kaew in Fall 2009 was the talk of the town.
As all village celebrations are, this was quite the party. Tons of people came to support Baw Kaew, a band played last night, and Thai PBS filmed a panel discussion this morning. The party happened to fall on the same day as Buddhist Lent, a huge holiday, so all the children were off from school. Additionally, CIEE is hosting an International Faculty Development Seminar in Thailand now, so the ten American professors on that seminar stopped by to exchange with the NGO working in Baw Kaew this afternoon. It was great to indirectly get a community update, because they were asking a ton of questions - I also got really excited for the students to come, because it was the first time I witnessed people learning about new community issues and becoming passionate, which I will get to see over and over for the next year! The weirdest part about the entire stay is when someone told us that they thought Americans were wasteful because we threw out sanitary napkins, in Thai. We had no idea what he was saying, until someone explained it as "a cloth that only women use," and we got it from there. Bizarre.
My camera was dead so I don't have any pictures, but it's amazing being here in the fall, during the rainy season. What was brown and dry when I was here as student is green and lush, full of life. The landscapes we drove through today were breathtaking, mountains overlooking rice patties, with cows grazing and farmers transplanting. It's some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen, and I'm just going to have to keep you waiting for visual images, sorry.