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April 06, 2005

Hanging on

Yesterday was pretty mellow after the 100 Days' fest. I had a hard time finding a project, so it ended up being a bit of a day off.

Today I went with Albert's group to the Thap Tawan camp. He is working with some German investors, and the project is building something like 30 homes for Thap Tawan residents whose homes were completely washed away. (Ha — sorry — I was told this link would "explain everything about the project" but I see now it explains entirely in Thai and German. Good luck!)

Please read more about Thap Tawan camp by clicking continue below.

***The new homes are thin cinderblock, one BR, one BA, with a bit of a front porch. Open-air roof, ceramic tile floors throughout. Small. But supposedly an improvement over the tin-roof shacks they used to live in. Another group right up the street opted for bamboo houses on short stilts with sort of rattan walls. They are nice, and breathable, but I wonder how they would do in a windstorm?

I joined Sarah (UK), Cristal (Belgium), Jackie (UK) and Martha (Denver) in whitewashing two houses as primer before the final paint goes on. It was straightforward work, and lovely in the shade. Until noon, when there wasn't much more shade. A group of guys built and installed windows.

The dirty secret of this project is, the chef at the Sheraton/Bangkok is guest-chefing for a week to teach the Thais some Western cooking. We all benefit from the lessons. Well — the volunteers do anyway — at lunchtime all the Thais lined up for veggies and rice and all the volunteers lined up for the pasta, potatoes and small bits of steak. We'll enjoy it while he's here.

The 'kitchen' for this project is outdoors and camp-style. They have 2-3 buckets they fill with wood and burn it until it's charcoal, then cook everything on a wok on that one flame. Tables are made from planks and cinderblocks. Washing up is done in a series of round plastic bins. Two families of pigs and a new lot of chicks wander around nearby. One of the pigs barked at me today. What is it with the animals in this country?!

Around 3pm on a break, Martha took me to the small 'convenience' store nearby. (It's a place where a guy has some simple things like soap and shampoo and snacks on a shelf and a cooler full of drinks.) She bought me a cold Coke, and a Thai guy joined us at the table out front. He offered to share his Chiang beer (never made the same way twice, varying levels of high alcohol content, contains formaldehyde, very popular here) but we already had drinks.

Then he started just talking to us. I didn't understand a word he said, since it was all in Thai. Martha lived two years in BKK a while back, so she translated. He is a fisherman, and still has a boat. He said he was 39, and a member of the Morgan Tribe (they took a big hit in the wave). He lost seven people in his family — his four children and three others. His wife is still alive. He grabbed a tree while he was in the water and he tried to reach for his children, but he couldn't save them. They were aged 6-14, three boys and a girl.

His eyes were welling up with tears as he told us so many times, he is part of the Morgan tribe. He lost....one, two, three, four, five...he kept counting on both hands so we would understand. All his children. Martha asked if he had friends around, and he said no, he just drinks beer.

He seemed so lost and there wasn't anything we could do but listen. After about 20 minutes we needed to go, because we had finished our drinks and he would have bought us new ones. Martha told him that we appreciated that he had shared his story and that we will be thinking about him. And "Chok dee," which is a Thai wish of good luck, sort of like "Safe Travels," only a bit more meaningful.

How is a parent supposed to live without any of his children? There are so many stories here of the parents who tried to hold on, but their grip was lost, the water was too strong. This man is more than devastated. There is barely a slip of his soul left, and he is left trying to figure out how he has been permitted to move on without the only things in life that matter to him.

Posted by sedda at April 6, 2005 05:59 PM