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March 18, 2005

Moving north to help more people

It's time to head north to find some work to do. Tik helped me find a red tuk-tuk (open-air taxi) to take me to Phuket Town, about 45 mins northeast of Kata Beach. The fare was 300bht ($7.50), which is pretty steep considering the sawngthaew openair bus would have been 40bht or less ($1). But the tuk-tuk dropped me right at the bus station, which made it easier with my heavy bag, and what I really was paying for was for Tik not to worry. She is a natural worrier. I think she might have been convinced that I could have ended up with the rebels in Burma without her watchful eye.

The timing was perfect, and I found a bus leaving in 40mins to Khao Lak Nature Preserve, which is where the Khao Lak volunteer center is. The bus was basically a school bus, but entirely done in chrome instead of yellow paint. No a/c, no bathroom. The breeze was wonderful through the whole 2.5-hr ride. I had a seat to myself until I got to share it with a Thai student who kept falling asleep on my shoulder. During a few of the stops, vendors hopped on peddling bags of ice with a straw (perhaps a drink came with, I couldn't see), sliced fruit, and other sweets.

I stuck with my Lay's Sweet Basil chips (which somehow tasted a bit like BBQ) and only a tiny bit of water. See "no bathroom," above.

The driver knew exactly where to go, and dropped me at the front door of the volunteer center, right next to Khao Lak National Park. I signed up for two weeks, and have my pick of helpful tasks. Tomorrow I think I'll do the beach cleaning, and on Monday I'll help with painting bookcases, stools and benches to be used at schools. I also can help with construction and a number of other things, if I want to. Sundays are a day of rest.

It's a great project because it is run by Thai people for Thai people. At registration, Jenny stressed that things must be done in the Thai way, even if it doesn't make much sense. This is to limit their sense of confusion (they've been through enough already), and to make sure the project is maintainable in the way they are used to, after volunteers leave.

Please, please click on continue below to read the rest of the story.

***The goal of all projects is to get each situation stabilized enough to give it back to the Thai people.

The volunteer center has several main, important requirements they stressed as I registered. All appear to be priority #1:
-be respectful to the thai people and thai ways (+dress appropriately)
-pick up after yourself
-do not leave ANY food unattended because the monkeys get into it

The gibbons apparently are "quite cheeky" (as a girl Kate described one lurking over her head), and will grab anything that resembles food even if you are standing right there. They tried to get into some Cipro earlier today, and one of them found some painkillers yesterday. Although, they don't sound half as bad as the squirrels at Big Rock or the Marmots in the Sierras, as they will not chew your bag open to find the crumbs inside. (Signs posted around say: "Caution—Be Careful Monkey. Do not touch+give your food.")

Today I helped Kate, Mickey and Yo tie tags onto Tsunami dolls that will be a fundraiser during the a 100 Days Festival. Each of us was from a different country. The dolls are in the shape of a spirit person (like their logo) and each has "hope" "spirit" or "renewal" on his chest. They are filled with the sand of local beaches, and made from donated clothing that can't be worn, but must be consumed in some way so they don't become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The dolls come with a tag printed in English/Thai:
A symbol of hope, spirit and renewal:
Women from Thap Tawan, Khuek Khak, Khao Lak and other villages sew the Tsunami Dolls using leftover donated clothes. With the hope for a sustainable future, in the spirit of strength and togetherness, creating new out of the old.

Filled with sand from Phang Nga's beaches, the Tsunami Doll reminds us of the 26Dec2004. Grains of sand represent our lives-lives of those who perished, of survivors, and of those who came to help.

They sell for 50bht+ each. If you would like me to bring one home for you, email me and I can collect $1.25 from you later. They are not cute, but they are quite powerful to hold in your hand, the grains of sand working their way out of the fabric and into your palm.

The center requires a 100bht ($2.50) daily donation, which covers three meals, and some food for local volunteers. I hope to find a hotel in town, I hear the closest one is 200bht ($5) per night, with A/C. Or, I can stay in my tent for free (no A/C). After all that complaining about how heavy my bag was, I may not use that tent at all!

But I need to arrange all of that. The local method of transport is hitch-hiking — the Thais are so grateful to have the help, they pay the volunteers back by shuttling them the 4 minutes over the hill.

I haven't yet been into town, and it's supposed to be quite a mess. Khao Lak was hit particularly hard, which is pretty evident just by the fact that this center is still open and thriving. On my way in, I also passed the Thai Army Tsunami Relief camp. Thriving, and just up the road.

Posted by sedda at March 18, 2005 04:57 PM