Today was an auspicious day for us to move our Spirit House and prepare a feast for Spirits that live on our land. The local Shaman (in a combat baseball cap) came to offer prayers and ask permission of the Spirits to use the land, and ask for their blessings for all those who live or visit our land. Originally the Spirit House (just about every piece of land in Thailand has one) was on the mound that you can see in the picture, but for some reason it was moved out into the sun before we bought the land. We decided that it would be a much better place for it, if moved back to its original site. A whole cooked chicken and a bottle of local rice alcohol were essential to the feast, with some fruit and flowers, candles and incense. It was all very casual and apparently successful and now we can use the land knowing that we have our ‘Planning permission’. (Thanks to Chris S for that thought!)
Tractors! We invited a Man with a Tractor to come and have a look at what needed doing. He practically laughed – but was too polite. His tractor mowed down trees and made earth terraces, not the little bits and pieces I wanted done. In his opinion, there was not a tractor small enough in the area. After talking to some other locals who agreed with him, we decided it would have to be people power to dig the top-soil off the areas needed. So we hired a couple of lads who were on a break from university in Chiang Mai and they cleared the main area where I want to take the earth for the plaster, and which will later be turned into a Natural Swimming Pool. Here is a picture of Khun Suwan finishing off the work they had done before they went off back to uni. I should add that they did all the digging wearing nothing but flip flops! The Spirit of Health and Safety would have been appalled (Glynis too!).
The hot weather has finally left us and it is pretty cold when the sun goes down. Toni is still very weak and often sick, poor little thing. He is feeling the cold very badly as he is still just skin and bones. Here is a picture of him under blankets. I got tired of constantly covering him up, and so Khun Suwan has made a little bamboo house for him, so I can cover the house with a blanket and he can be warm and snug inside. It works perfectly! On my last trip to Chiang Mai I went to the biggest doggie shop in the city and bought him some little fleece jackets, only to discover on Tuesday Market Day in Chiang Dao at least two stalls selling the same thing! Today Toni is dressed in combat fatigues and looks very proud of himself.
It is harvest time for rice, and migrant worker crews are cutting and clearing the rice fields. They are mostly Burmese and from the hill tribes in the area, are probably in the country illegally, and work very hard. Rice used to be a family affair, and at harvest time all the family working in towns and cities would return to the countryside and bring in the harvest. Nowadays you can’t get time off work to do that without the possibility of losing your job, so migrant workers are filling that gap.
I need rice husks (hulls) and the straw left over after harvesting the rice. A young friend called Mem, who with her German husband bakes delicious bread and cakes here in Chiang Dao, agreed to come and help translate as I was not sure I could get the message across that I needed a product that nobody wanted. Mem has been living here for a few years now and knows her way around much better than me. She took me straight to a rice mill she knew off, and there we found that for a price they would fill bags with rice husks for me. I needed to supply the bags. I told the man I would need several hundred and he seemed fine with that. Later that evening I finally made the calculations on how many bags I would need and it turned out to be 4000!
Mem and I then took off into the rice fields to find some straw. Surprisingly, most people had already agreed to give their straw to someone who wanted to burn it to make fertilizer, or else they wanted to burn it themselves and put the ashes on their corn fields. Finally we found a huge stack in the middle of a sea of rice fields that the owner did not want. She was going to burn it to get rid of it, but for the price of three bottles of beer (for her workers!) she agreed we could take the straw.
The next day I took my crew into the rice fields to pick up the straw. First we had to find the way to get there to our stack, walking on narrow strips of land between water and mud filled harvested rice fields. I only got lost once, which was pretty good going, but in the past I used to take my dogs for walks in the rice fields when I lived in a house on the edge of a big rice growing area, so I have a bit of experience.
Our next job was to transport this mountain of rice to where I had left the truck. This entailed making up bales of straw by piling it into bundles which were then tied with thin strips of bamboo. Then the bales were carried through the fields to the truck. Khun Suwan ‘found’ some bamboo nearby which we cut into the ties, and used as poles over the shoulders so that more than one bale could be carried at a time. Khun Suwan could carry 4 bales, the 3 women 2 bales each, and I, sadly, only managed one bale at a time! It took us half a day to load the truck as high as I would allow, and then, apologies to Health and Safely Spirit, three workers sat on top, one in with me, and off to the site to unload it, then back to do it all again. We took four loads in two days and did not finish the whole stack, but we had all had enough (or maybe it was just me??). We have now made bamboo stands to stack the bales off the ground and I just hope we have sufficient to mix with earth to make our first plaster.
Two volunteers are coming in the next few days. I hope they are going to enjoy this building process – I am loving it!