Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mae Hong Son (Day 2) - The Village of Mae Jong

I was going to split the details of my trip over two posts but when I sat down to write day 2 I discovered that to do it justice, and to share my impressions of the place (and some of the stories of the people who live there), the village of Mae Jong needed a post all to itself!!

The lovely Lane mentioned in her comment on the previous post that she was curious as to why the people are known as The Karen Hill Tribe so I thought I would try and give you a brief history.

If your not interested in the history you can skip this bit :-)
The Karen people are originally from Burma. There are roughly 7,000,000 Karen People in Burma and around 400,000 in Thailand. When the current Government came into power in Burma the Karen people aspired to have the areas where they were the majority formed into a 'region' within Burma similar to what the Shan, Kachin and Chin peoples had been given but, due to the fact that they boycotted the elections (This was because their people had been massacred by both the Japanese and the Burmese Army during World War II and had received no justice), they were not included in the 1947 constitution (The Karen were not the only ones...the Mon People got no consideration as well). I don't know what their name was originally but when Burma was carved up into different regions by the Government the Karen people took their name from the land on which they had lived. The Burmese Goverment (I should probably say Myanmar but I can't get used to calling it that) refuse to recognise them as Burmese citizens and the Thai Government don't recognise them either!! (They are known for their weaving and hand crafts hence the pictures). So, back to the village.

We were dragged from our peaceful slumber at 6am by the Princess's anthem being blasted out of speakers across the hillside. We were then lulled into a false sense of security by a few moments silence, when we thought we might be able to get a few more minutes shut eye, before the Kings anthem started!!! (No-one had warned us about that but I have to say that it's a very good alarm system....there is no way you could sleep through it!!). I dragged my carcass out of my sleeping bag and was shocked to discover that it was actually cold....proper cold!! Do you remember me telling you that the water for showering was in a concrete bath and that you had to scoop it up and pour it over yourself?.....well, I had to use all my powers of persuasion to convince myself to pour the second lot of water over my skin. The first one was bad but the second one.....holy crap it was freeeeeeeezzzzing!!!!! Then it dawned on me that that was how these people they washed themselves and their hair every single day. We had breakfast outside looking over the valley and then it was time for us go into the village itself.

I have never seen anything like it!!! The village consisted of about 40 houses all made of wood and bamboo (which had been built by the villagers themselves!!) and had a large clearing in the middle of it which was obviously used as the village meeting area. The whole place just bustled with life...there were little pigs (and I mean tiny wee things) that snuffled around your feet making very cute little snorting noises as you walked, cattle lowing as they were moved from one area to another, chickens scratching in the earth and people going about their daily lives. Traditionally this was one of the villages that farmed poppies which were then used for opium but some time ago the Thai King requested that they swap poppies for cabbages so as well as the rice paddies there were also tiers of cabbages growing up the mountainside.

Life is not easy for this community.....if you look closely at the photo you will see a little track leading from the top of the hill to the huts at the bottom....the family who's land that is walk along the ridge, down the hill, work in the fields, walk back up the hill and then back along the ridge to their home......and they do that every day!!!

This is a picture of a man in the process of slaughtering one of his cows....every single scrap will be used in some way or other. I don't know if you can see it clearly in the picture but he has spread a bamboo mat on the ground just next to his house which he is using to keep the carcass out the dirt. The woman here is being helped by her neighbours to wash the entrails and other bits (bits is the technical term obviously!!)

We stopped and had a chat with this woman using one of the teachers as an interpreter. Her husband passed away a number of years before so she was out chopping her own wood for a fire later in the evening. She told us that the bracelets on her arms give her strength which is why she is still able to chop wood, cook and be a help to the community. She wasn't sure just how old she was but she knew that she was over 80.

Some of the villagers had got together and were sitting chatting in the meeting area of the village. I have to say that the number of people smoking was really surprising....I'm not sure why I found that so surprising but I did!! It was here that I met a woman who told me that her son was one of the first kids to go through the school and that he's now studying to be a Doctor in Chaing Mai. She earns two thousand baht a year (That's about £35) and she gives one thousand five hundred of it to her son....she was so proud of him!!! I tried to take some pictures of the villagers surreptitiously.....I hope I've managed to capture something of the place and it's people.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic! They must really appreciate the help, since it looks as if they have only themselves to rely on.

You must admire the workmanship on her pipe!!!*snigger*

Love Mum xxxx

Troy said...

I read this morning about the problems at the airport and immediately wondered whether you were affected. So pleased instead to read about you having all these wonderful adventures.

Blu said...

I envy you, how wonderful to see all this. great pictures and very natural, are they good posers?

Lane said...

Thanks for the Karen Hill explanation Carol. You're educating me you know:-)

The photos are amazing. It was certainly worth braving the cold water and early mornings to experience what you did. Thanks for sharing with us the lives of these people.

JJ Beattie said...

Just 'WOW.' What a fantastic trip.

French Fancy said...

I know it's cliches and truisms but the thing is they are so true - these poor people just getting on with things in a natural basic way and then there is us lot - grumbling about our lives and the things that piss us off - if only we could spend a day as these people do, well it might make us appreciate our lives more.

Very very moving, Carol.

French Fancy said...

p.s. - I'm forcing myself not to look at the dog rescue site you've linked to.

Carol said...

Mum - The entire trip was one of the most amazing things I have ever done!!

I do think the help is appreciated. That woman who's son is at University was just so so proud and she said that there was no way he would have been able to achieve that without the help of the school. It's not a lot of money but it makes one hell of a difference!!

E.A.T - The political situation here is just hideous....We are not straying far from home at the moment!! There is currently a Mexican stand-off with neither side backing down and rumours of another coup are spreading like wildfire!! Hopefully there will not be any more violence!! A good friend of ours is currently in India and is struggling to get home to his family (It looks like he's going to have to fly to Singapore tonight, then to Phuket tomorrow and then get a taxi from Phuket to Bangkok which is a journey that takes about 9 hours!!). It's not good!!

Blu - I felt very privileged to have the opportunity of visiting the area...not many people get the chance!!

The Thai's can be funny about photographs (some still have the belief that a photo steals a bit of your soul) but the people here were fine about it. I've got some awful 'posed' pictures but most of the ones I posted here were taken when they weren't looking....I was a bit sneaky!!

Lane - I'm glad you asked the question because it meant I learned a bit more about them too :-)(I knew some of it but not all)

JJ - I know!! If you could have coped with the road....I think you would have loved it!!

French Fancy - I'm torn between thinking that no-one should have to live like that in this day and age and feeling that it's very special that the old way of life has been preserved. I wish there could be some way of meeting in the middle where the old way of life is valued and the community preserved but life is not quite so hard for them!!

We got our two splats from SCAD...they do brilliant work here!! But don't'll want to take them all home!!

C x

Debs said...

What incredible photos, and so interesting too, to see people whose lives are so different from our own. Thank you.

Carol said...

Awww Debs your welcome. I was in awe of the way they lived, the sense of community that they have and the fact that they were so was just amazing!!!

C x

peter_may said...

Great blogs, pet. WHAT an experience! How in God's name will you ever settle for life now in dull, boring Swindon?

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