During unit 4 we spent one week living with villagers in Na Nong Bong and learning about their way-of-life. Na Nong Bong is a community struggling to have their basic human rights respected, as their health and traditional livelihoods have been dramatically affected by a gold mine that was constructed near their village in 2006. While in Na Nong Bong we had exchanges with local NGOs, the villagers, the Provincial Health Office and the Provincial Ministry of Industry to learn more about the challenges facing the villagers, but the unit was not all business. We also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with our host families.
I stayed with Kate and Hilary, and our host family farms corn, rubber and soybeans. They have two large farms, and with harvesting season upon us, they were more than happy to put us to work. On the morning of our first day in Na Nong Bong we piled into the back of our Paws pick-up truck and headed for their soybean farm. Along the way we made a few stops to pick up some essentials for the day. Three new hats to shield Hilary, Kate and I from the sun, papaya for lunch, and at the final stop, about 15 more villagers who would be helping in the fields. After cramming everyone into the back of the pick-up truck we were on our way.
Once at the farm the villagers put on their hats and gloves, grabbed their sickles and went to work. This was the first time I had seen a soybean plant, which ranges in height from half a foot, to two feet tall, and grows in rows beneath the rubber trees. To harvest them you either pull them out of the ground from their base, or cut them at the base with the sickle. You then place them in piles throughout the rows, which are gathered at a later point.
After observing the villagers’ technique my Paw handed me a pair of gloves and a sickle. Settling in among the other workers, I quickly developed a rhythm, moving swiftly through the rows, careful not to leave any soybean plants behind! I was so in the zone that I failed to notice how humorous the spectacle of three Farangs farming soybeans was to the villagers.
Look how sweaty the Farangs are! Look how tall they are, and how they struggle to stay in a squatted position! Aren’t you getting tired? Do you want to take a break? They joked and laughed at us, and with us, as we struggled to find comfortable positions to squat down or bend over. I was constantly standing up to stretch out my back and legs, which are not used to that type of manual labor. I knew I would be feeling pretty soar in the morning, but it was so gratifying when at the end of the day I looked around and saw how much work we accomplished. “Chan ben chow na (I am a farmer)!” I told them. They just laughed and told me I could come back and work anytime.