Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last Days in Thailand!

All is generally good with me. Wel actually its great! Aside from the past day in Bangkok life has continued to be filled with hope, a plethora of seeds, good challenges, and countless stories about seeds, peoples relation to their local crops, the change in agriculture, and the need for a rural system with community and local seeds at the core.
I am currently in Bangkook. This part of the city where all the guest houses are is like a crazy city of creepy old men with young thai women mixed with party girls and strange frat boys. Monks dressed in orange roam the streets and countless thai prostitutes yell “come here handsome man.” The first time I was flatered as I haven’t had much feminine contact in awhile. However, I soon realized this is their routine or it’s the only English they know. I am little shocked by all the sloppy drunk Americans wasting away their days drinking, getting tattoos, eating cheap food, and talking about the next rave party. I cant connect to them at all and haven’t spoke to anyone really since getting to Bangkok. Nonetheless, I am enjoying the solitude, warm shower, western food, coffee, and little comforts of city life.
Tomorrow night I fly to Ethiopia. I am very excited but also increasingly nervous. After hours of searching I found an Ethiopian guidebook yesterday. It gave me good info, but also scared me about how intense it will be. Im sure it will all be fine, just a challenging month.
The past week, since I left the Pun Pun farm and seed center where I was settled, has been amazing. I am so glad I went up to meet with Joko Seed center. I wish I could tell you all about their work. Seed Saving is the focus, but they use it as a focal point to start many school groups, train women with aids, provide healthcare and diet information, organize community forests, teach farmers plant breeding for their needs, how to make soaps, and so much more. For days I just kept finding out more and more programs they have. Once again I was amazed by how welcoming and kind people are to me when I simply say I am studying plant breeding. One of the staff met me at the bus station and organized every waking minute for me. I stayed in the village with their volunteers. It was great to be the only foreigner again and struggle with language, etc. I loved cooking with them, doing interviews, meeting farmers, exchanging stories with farmers, eating with old women who grow 37 different types of yams, and much more.
Pang was a great translator and they invited me to come along to a large festival they were having to celebrate rice diversity and the end of the season for their “farmer field school” It was a fun road trip there in the back of a pick up and a truly amazing festival. Anyway, theres so much more I could say. I loved seeing how passionate the farmers were about their rice and to see all the culture around rice diversity. One farmer who taught himself rice breeding and created a new strain good for their region is like a rockstar here. Everyone was talking about his variety and he strolled around handing out seeds and accepting change. He told me he did this because seeds are power. If that power is taked away the villagers will lose out to companies and no longer live the way they want. Through a translator he passionately explained why seed saving is important and all the benefits of old varieties (diease resistant, adapt to weather, always produce, stronger, good long straw for animals and houses, etc). However, I think part of the reason why he grows so many varieties and work constrantly breeding new local varieties in his field is because he loves being a rockstar. His variety helps people and gains him fame.
At the festival I learned so much about how Thais relate to rice. There are atleast three holidays a year here that are centered around rice. The whole village celebrates together and many songs are sung and specific patterns (related to the moon) are often followed. The ceremonies are beautiful and create a real community as one must wait for the last person to plant the rice or harvest the rice before the ceremonies begin. Special black rice or certain varieties are grown for these specific festivals. Aslo, specific rice varieties are grown for local rice whisky, baby food, wet conditionds, dry conditions, sticky rice, not sticky rice, and much more. The dancing was great at the festival. So many different groups performed as others tasted rice, cooked, or traded seeds.
Lastly, I even was asked to speak to the crowd of like 150 thai farmers(through my translator). The farmers loved it and I was given some gifts in exchange! It felt awesome to speak to them and relate to these farmers after they taught me so much., I spoke about seed saving, agriculture in America, and why Im here. After only a week, it was still a sad goodbye to the Joko crew and I spent much of the bus ride readings over notes I had scribbled about rice breeding, growing mushrooms with aids patients, making local pesticides and fertilizers with leaf mold form the forest, breeding rice, growing seeds for companies, yam diversity, and so much more. Joko and all the associated young men, old women, sticky rice, yam candies, and rice dancing has restored my hope and showed me again why I am on this unbelievable journey.

Now I am writing, drinking a beer and preparing to go to Ethiopia tomorow!!
I am currently posting photos to flickr and my blog. Also, subscribe to my blog if you want, so you will know when I post.

Lets keep in touch!!
All my love,

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