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April 09, 2005

New Beginnings

Today was a special and lucky day. After spending three days painting houses near the Thap Tawan camp, I was able to see the handover ceremony as the village was returned to the villagers in BangSak.

The ceremony had long ago been set for April 9th, as the number 9 is auspicious for new beginnings.

Yesterday I helped inflate and tie knots in balloons for the ceremony. They thought they had gotten balloons in the colors of the German and Thai flags...however, the black balloons for Germany inflated...blue. Sometime overnight, they spray-painted the blue balloons black. These were the first ones to explode in the heat. By the time of the ceremony, only about half the ballons were left. Too hot!

Click here for photos. (I'm standing in the group photo on the right hand side, next to a guy in a navy shirt. Good luck finding me.) Anything on that site that says Thap Tawan, Morgan, or BangSak probably will be of interest.

The day was really interesting, please click continue below to read more about it.

***But back to the beginning. The day began with a blessing by nine (?) saffron-robed monks for the community and the homes. They chanted and prayed in a temporary wat, a home that was covered inside and out with 8x10 photos of the international volunteers who built the community. They blessed a large ball of string that would connect all of the homes, eventually.

Thai people from the community crawled in and made rice offerings to the monks, bowing low three times. The monks chanted and prayed some more. The senior monk came out with a small green reed-brush that he dunked in holy water, and used the brush to fling water on people while praying as a blessing. He also used the brush to bap people on the heads in blessing. A small child, who was one of the more rambunctious ones, received four baps on the head. I think somehow he knew she might need some extra help.

At the end, people crawled in then paid respects three times, and the monk blessed a string necklace with a buddha charm on it. He blew on each one as a final blessing, then placed it around their necks. This is a very auspicious gift. The project leader, Albert, was asked to go in, and he received a necklace and two other small Buddha charms.

Finally, the senior monk came over to the window where some of us were watching what was happening inside. He picked up a bag of home-roasted cashews and blew on it, then handed them to me! He made eating motions. I gave him deep wai, amazed. I ate many of them and shared the rest with friends, making sure many people participated, to share this special blessing.

Then, lunch! Many vendors with noodles, soups, whole fried chickens, shakes (shave ice), sodas. All free, except the sodas and ice cream. And lots of time to spend, as the rest of the ceremony began at 3pm.

It was a long delay, but this time gave the opportunity to talk with some Thai people that we wouldn't ordinarily have. Luckily, Martha likes to chat in her simple Thai, so by sticking with her, you could nearly have real conversations, groupwise. She and Gorana and another woman were taking dance lessons from an old Morgan lady. It looked a bit like a hula dance, without hips. I said, "That looks a lot like the Morgan dancing at the 100 Days ceremony. Is that a traditional dance?" Martha smiled as she gave me the reply: "She says, 'You just feel the music and you dance."


We also spent time with Aw, a Thai coordinator of the Thap Tawan project from Takua Pa, the 'larger' city to the north of here. I told her that I had seen her in the wat, receiving the beautiful special beaded bracelet blessed by the monk. Eeek, which of course compelled her to insist on giving it to me. I tried to say no, it's yours, it's for you, but she insisted three times and my understanding is after three times in Thai culture you have to give up or else you are being rude not to take what is offered. She said, "I am the owner now, and I would like to give it to you." This is a great blessing and a wonderful gift of love and friendship in Thai culture.

Later, she thanked all of us on behalf of all of Takua Pa. It has been lovely, how appreciative everyone has been. Really heartfelt.

Then Willi and a friend showed off their fencing skills. One of them fell off the stage dodging backwards, and some Morgans had to post there as interference for the rest of the demonstration.

The ceremony finally began, and there were lovely (and brief!) speeches from Willi, his father, the German ambassador to Thailand, the governor's wife (who has a leadership role in the Thai Red Cross?), and the Phang Nga representative in the National Assembly for the district. All wished luck and blessings on the Morgan people, and deep thanks for the Germans who donated money, and the volunteers who spent time. The ambassador was sweet, she said she didn't really know why she was there because, "We didn't do anything! You did everything yourselves."

Then each of 30 families received keys to their new front doors (which was mostly symbolic as....most homes didn't have doors on them yet, and...the community is small enough that no one locks anything). They also received donations from the Thai Red Cross and others. Their starter kit for the house included, but probably wasn't limited to:
-"Willi for Morgans/Morgans for Willi" t-shirts distributed early in the day
-Symbolic house keys
-Two large 2-gal bottles of water
-A large laundry bag filled with unknown stuff (clothes? rice?)
-A saffron bucket filled with cutlery and small kitchen stuff
-A packet of sarongs and possibly flipflops
-An electric fan (they do have electricity, one cord seems to service the whole neighborhood...)
-And the big surprise, a new refrigerator.

The best part happened last. Thais believe that releasing loud bangs of firecrackers will clear bad spirits away from homes and temples. Each house had a long string of firecrackers hanging from the front porch. They all were lit at the same time, and the noise was deafening. Thirty homes all being cleansed of three months' worth of sadness and uncertainty. Together, as a community. The moment was powerful and bittersweet. Tears streamed down my face and I strained not to cry for real because I didn't think I would be able to stop. This is the power of people working together. We can't always right the wrongs of the past, but we can pull together so people can go on with their lives and do the best they can.

Posted by sedda at April 9, 2005 11:30 PM