Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Happy Thai New Year! Happy Songkra!

Songkra is here and what a weird, crazy festival it is. How its celebrated now-a-days varies quite a bit from the traditions of the Buddist New Year (they're keener on the rounded jolly guy, than our well known JC and reflect this in their date setting too -add on another 543/4 years to our AD calender date and welcome to the year 2555!). Traditionally Buddha images are brought out of their chapels and ritually washed to also celebrate the end of the 'dry season'. But this ritual bathing has evolved- frankly, its mutated into the biggest three-day water fight ever.

Songkran mayhem in Bangkok

These cheeky chappies wanted
20Bhat for taking this photo!

From the 13th-15th April this year, all over the news there are images of mass waterfights on the city streets and this 'festivity' is not missed out by the rural communities either. It's all good natured fun- fueled to some extent by a lot of alcohol but I found it totally crazy too. Just walking to the shops turns into a serious route planning exercise to try and miss the main waterthrowing stations or else a resigned drenched wander to get your food for the day! And they don't care if your driving! Cars, motorbikes and bikes get the same treatment, doesn't matter if your old or young and being a Farang (foreigner) is the prize soaking of all. Lydia and I were driving a motorbike on our way to Sangkhlaburi for a day and had several nerve racking moments on the twisting mountain road as passing pick-up trucks full of young revelers chucked as much water as they could at you from the back of the truck! Serious nervous laugh, not that walking around Huay Malai or the town was any easier- we were accosted multiple times with water and gloppy paints, creams and powders that were smeared over our faces and arms. I got smothered by this red menthol type paste that went into my eyes (the agony!)- bit of a weird moment as they realised I was blinded and took the opportunity to put even more water all over me to help wash the stuff out... and to add to the craziness, the stuff was dye that I couldn't get out of my skin. So the usual red, hot and bothered look was intensified for a day or so by a strange fushia aura. It has to be said, it would all end in tears if this ever took on in England- but here it was just a great experience and mostly a lot of fun! 

So the middle of the week was pretty exciting thanks to Songkra, but the week also started off with a bang (well, more like a heart breaking thud) with dropping my Kindle and breaking it. Thank the Lord I had just ordered accidental breakage insurance the day before- phewee. But thankfully that is the only injury so far- although I feared a Wasp ambush. I had noticed last week a couple of wasp-things climbing up the outside of my mozzie net at night, but this week a whole swarm appeared around the outside light close to my room. After watching carefully, I then barricaded myself into the room by putting a blanket across the bottom of the door- so far so good, and they seem to have disbanded over the past few nights- only to be replaced by our little friend (Colin). I have never seen a cockroach (I think that's what it was...) so big, it made such a racket when it was flying around that I just wanted to catch the scene on camera, but as you can see, he didn't feel up to performing- although he still managed to frighten the living daylights out of us even when he was still... I hope at some point I will get used to the creepy crawleys!

Picture to follow

There have been a lot more storms over the past few nights, which has meant less access to the internet as there has been no electricity (so bear with me if I take a little longer to get back to your email messages). However the charm of cooking and eating by candlelight has not been lost and seems to add a certain adventurous edge to the most menial of tasks (possibly because you can't quite see what it is exactly that you are eating!) and forces an opportunity for International Scrabble (Dutch and English allowed- neither of us are good enough to add Thai yet, but watch this space!) .

I have had the opportunity to spend some more time at the hospital and other projects in the area. Despite my usual fainting tendencies, I even managed to watch a couple of operations (which hilariously the scrub nurse told my housemate Lydia I talked all the way through!), but due to the holidays it has been very quiet at KRCH and I am yet to see any of the Public Health Clinics that I will be involved in.  

I have met the local SafeHouse Project- which I hope to help out with when I return here. The SafeHouse is a charitable home for people with severe mental health problems, culturally these peoples are marginalised and dumped by their families to fend for themselves. The Home has been going for 18 years but is in dire need of finances to improve the accommodation for the residents. I wanted to cry when I saw that most of the rooms are not waterproof and each storm the residents have to huddle together in the middle of the room on the floor to try and stay warm, knowing they will be wet for the rest of the evening. Yet this home is the best place they could hope to be as their medical, emotional and spiritual needs are met by loving staff who genuinely care for their residents wellbeing. I will be taking more pictures and updating you on how you can be a part of helping this situation over the next months. In addition to the home for the mentally ill, they also have an Old peoples home and a Children's home that arose from offspring/dependents of the residents at the SafeHouse needing somewhere to live.

I braved my first public motorbike taxi to Sangkhlaburi to visit the Government hospital's HIV and AIDS programme. A devoted lady called DoDo heads up an outreach programme that supports people who are afraid they have HIV but yet to be tested and for those post diagnosis with practical help, counselling and health promotion. With so many opportunities to serve, I am praying that God gives me wisdom and guides me as to the best use of my time and skills to support the local community I will be living in.

Sunday was another service at the local church- It was palm Sunday so the children had prepared songs and came in waving Palm leaves, it was fantastic. I would have enjoyed it all the more only I was completely embarrassed by one of the dogs from home following us to the church, and into the church and proceeded to lie down in the middle of the aisle for the whole service... I was cringing- but to be honest no one else seemed that bothered so I think it's not uncommon!

So final highlights of the week, I had planned a glorious sun-rise photo to show how beautiful it is around here, but after getting out of bed at 4.30am today all that happened was that the view got gradually lighter- slightly disappointing and frankly not wow enough of a note to finish on. So instead I have opted for some real-life footage of a very afraid farang learning to ride a motor bike... Enjoy x


  1. Great to hear you are having a good time Jo - do you have everything you need?

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  3. This is a great read jo, and can almost imagine being right there with you and your pets?!! Keep writing and we will be following as close as we can ESME x x x x xx x x x x

  4. Sounds exciting, adventurous, and completely you! I look forward to your blog postings and hearing what you'll be up to over the next several months! :)

  5. I love reading your posts and knowing how things are going. You always make me smile!