Kao neeow is amazing. It is a sticky rice that is used basically for every meal up in the Isaan region of Thailand. It was especially abundant in this past unit and homestay focusing on sustainable agriculture!
This homestay was a really amazing and completely different experience than i have ever had. I had a family with another girl on my program in this small village, which had never had any farang before. They had seen white people previosly, but had never had them stay in their houses. Our family consisted of our mom, dad and little sister (cutest 4-5 year old EVER.). However, kit took us awhile to find out that this was our immediate family because the community ties were so strong where we were staying. Everybody was related in some way, and if they weren't related, they acted like they were! the first night we got there, there were about 10-15 people all sitting on this little platform where we eat dinner. They all were talking to us, asking about our families, where we were from, how old we were, etc. WE finally had to ask who our mom and dad were, because there were so many people! Sarah (other CIEE student in the homestay) and I slept in a room with our mom, dad, and little sister, but their space was separated from ours by a big dresser.
The families that we all stayed with were part of the AAN, the Alternative Agriculture Network. this is a NGO which helps farmers switch fro mono cropping, and using herbicides and pesticides, to organic farming. The whole unit exposed us to the harms that the Green Revolution had on these small communities, because it switched the culture form one which supported integrated agriculture and self-sustaining farming, to one that relied on mono cropping in order to produce yield for exporting to other countries. Mono cropping made the land less fertile, because it got rid of a lot of native plants and species, and put herbicides and pesticides into the soil. These families are now trying to revert back into self-sustaining ag through organic farming and the formation of a green market.
It was really amazing to see how strong our parents were. Sarah and I helped them herd cows (where I got licked by one of the bigger cows), and organize vegetables to sell at the green market. The market happened on Saturday, where we got up at 2 am to drive to a neighboring city and set up the stalls for the market, which went from 6-9 am. I usually end the day around that time, so it was definitely a change to have my day start at 2 in the morning! The green market is a combination of different farmers in the AAN, who all grow different vegetables organically. All of the families support each other in different ways, and our parents said that they have become a lot more involved in the community since they started organically farming, because they now worked with and relied on other people, instead of competing against them when they were producing for yield.
In addition to the AAN, we had exchanges with government officials (who said that they supporting organic farming, even though they do not fund families like the ones that we were staying with...that exchange was kind of frustrating..), families in the AAN, consumers and organizers of the green market, an herbal healer, and two men who have been working on promoting sustainable agriculture. All of the people that we met really made me think about the way that I view food in the states. Is it better to buy from a large organic company, where you do not really know where your food is coming from and how the farmers are being compensated, or from a farmers market, where food may have been grown with herbicides or pesticides? I went into this unit thinking that the first was better, and came away with the opposite answer. I think it is really important to know WHERE your food is coming from. When we walk into a grocery store, and see the little organic symbol, how do we know who grew it? We don't know anything about that food, other than its status as organic food. However, when you buy food from farmers you know who you are supporting. It is incredibly important to support small-scale farmers, and you can do this through buying local. In addition, we read some really interesting readings that said it is worse to be a vegetarian and eat mass-produced soy and beans than to eat locally organically farmed meat. Food for thought..(haha)
My family supported this saying, "We grow what we eat, and we eat what we grow." These families in the AAN are living from the food that they grow and the food that their family members and neighbors grow. We would go down the street and pick some plants up from a random house's garden and then come back home and use them in our food. Really makes you think about what you eat in the states.
This unit was really amazing for me, because I had never felt a personal connection to food and agriculture before. Even though I have had family members interested in the topic/who are farmers, this opened up a new window to look at the issues. Some of the people that we talked to had been really sick when using chemical farming, and as soon as they switched to producing organic food, no longer have to go to the doctor. We also got to see families who are now finally getting out of debt because of the AAN and their self-sustaining philosophies.
On a different note, the family that we stayed with was hilarious. They would make fun of Sarah and I allllll of the time, because we talked so slowly. They were originally from Laos (as a lot of the NE of Thailand is), so they spoke mostly Lao, or Thai with a Lao accent. This one woman (who hung out at our house a lot, but I don't think is a family member) would say "faaarrrraaang" or "kaaaiiiii taaaaaaahhhhd" to make fun of how we said "farang" or "kai tahd." Kai tahd s fried eggs, which we had every meal because they were SO GOOD. She was pretty hilarious.
I also got to do a profile of the Herbal Healer, P'Klaengsak. We each have to do a profile piece of one of the people that we meet in the first 2 units, so I chose him. He runs this Herbal Medicine Center in the province, and has a really interesting history. One of the coolest things about him is that he doesn't make his patients pay him. He doesn't want to see his center as a business, so he has his patients pay him in plants instead of money. He accepts donations from people, which is how he is able to live well, but he won't make people pay what they can't afford. I had my interview with him at his house, which was really sweet because it had all of these different plants, roots and herbs all lying around. He gave me different things to eat before and after the interview, so hopefully i'll remain healthy. He also said I looked like Brooke Shields, which is completely not true and kind of funny.
Alright, now that I have written a long essay, I will just conclude that the homestay was completely amazing, and really changed the views that I had on organic food and different forms and effects of agriculture. Good times!