The Thai Chapter: Just Another Day with the Wwoofers

Sunset on the farm

The volunteers at the farm wake daily at around 7:00 a.m. to the sound of a lone rooster crowing. We meander downstairs, getting ready for 7:30 a.m. watering on the property. It’s the dry season, and, as the old saying goes, “If the sun’s up, it’s too late…” so perhaps we are a tad late for maximum water retention. But it’s okay.

Pam and Paulo bought real coffee. No more Nescafe. What is that sugary shit anyway? These days, we make a pot of coffee in a saucepan, letting the grounds and water steep and then using a filter for each cup. Maxi, resident farm dog, also wakes up slowly. She lounges underneath the table, raising her snout to sniff the air and see if anything good’s up there.

There are two black cats and one Siamese-looking cat, all fully grown but still small. They like being anywhere you are, and especially like being on the table while you eat. We are thankful that they kill the mice, but defend the gecko against their stealth. They have weird stubby tails that we cannot figure out. Is it genetic? Is there a Thai trend with chopping cat tails? They are pretty mangy little guys, and rumor has it one of the black cats is pregnant. She’s so small, it’s like a teenage pregnancy.

While some Wwoofers are watering and getting daily projects underway, one or two people clean up the kitchen and start preparing breakfast. Thai breakfast is no different from any other meal. They eat rice (always rice: fried, sticky or steamed) with egg, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, fish…whatever is available. We westerners like our breakfast a particular way. Since the Wwoofers have taken over making it, we’ve enjoyed: French toast, scrambled or fried eggs and hash browns. Next up: banana pancakes. Other meals we cook, or sometimes Deng, mother of the Thai family who also live at the farm cooks. The other night she made us a fish curry, which was wonderful. We enjoyed that with homemade bread, made in the carefully stoked brick oven.We also made cookies, to which I donated a handful of dark chocolate M&Ms. Ketun, Deng’s littlest, has a real sweet tooth and she munched several cookies.

After breakfast and clean up we enjoy a brief digestive siesta. Then on to the rest of the day, where projects include digging the canal, putting paper around the mangos to protect them, fertilizing, mulching and weeding. Lunch comes, another brief clean up and siesta, and a little more work before the day is through. I’ve mostly been working on the Daruma Eco-Farm’s website and facebook page.

Yesterday afternoon all the Wwoofers participated in a “World Café.” This is an activity where groups of people are given a scenario such as:

WWIII started today. We’re on a remote farm in Thailand. How will we protect ourselves? Will we share with our neighbors? What actions should we take? What defenses do we need? (For the record, everyone who participated in this World Cafe decided, “Fuck the neighbors”)

Then you break into as many groups as the number of people allows. Within the groups, you discuss the problem and come up with solutions about how to proceed. You create a layout for what actions need to be taken, what roles people will take on, etc. Then you switch groups. One person stays to explain what they came up with to newcomers and the comments from the newcomers generate more ideas.

Our World Café was less dramatic. Our problem? Neil has a 15 X 15 meter plot of land. He wants to build more housing in that spot. What should the housing look like? Neil pulled out several reference texts about Permaculture and building and read aloud many passages about things we should consider. We briefly discussed Western styles of building, Thai styles, Iran/Muslim styles and Japanese styles.

We were told to consider:
•    People may be living in this communal housing for up to 6 months: teachers, artists in residence, or the rooms may be available for tourist rental.
•    We should try to build no more than 8 rooms.
•    Need for kitchens and bathrooms. Will they be communal, or not?
•    Each room should have an equally good view.
•    What architects call, “negative space.”

We later found we also needed to consider:
•    How much light the structure lets in, to save on energy costs.
•    The size of rooms: some singles, some doubles, dormitory or group room.
•    Thailand experiences a monsoon season. What kind of roof will the dwelling have?
•    Will it be at all elevated? Many Thai build their housing on two levels because of rain, and snakes.

We broke into groups of three. In our group: Wwoofer Paulo, who has a gift for drawing, Troy, who offers meditation and raw food classes and has lived all over the world, and me. Paulo immediately began to sketch ideas. Almost the moment we put an idea into words, it was also expressed visually on the paper. We all favored a very open dwelling, with as few walls as possible. We landed on a two-story, flower shaped building with a two-tiered circular roof to deflect rain. Our building had a communal kitchen (flower center) and bathroom on the first floor, a living room on the second floor (flower center).

The other group came up with a two tours approach. In each tower, the bottom level would have a kitchen and dining room. On the second story would be housing. In the negative space between the two would be a garden/play space. The stairway to the second level would be on the outside of the dwelling, and there would be a bridge/balcony connecting both towers at the top.

We reconvened, presented and discussed our ideas. Everyone was very supportive of everyone else, and all ideas were workshopped as a big group and subjected to some constructive criticism.

In the evening, we do family style meals and spend time talking of travel. Sometimes we watch movies like Clerks or What about Bob? Am, the eldest daughter of the Thai family, often follows our movie watching with a Thai program. Thai television programs are all very dramatic. In the one she watched the other night, it started with two teenagers on what appeared to be a date, singing karaoke by themselves, in the boy’s living room. The next time I glanced up from my book, they were getting their asses kicked by some female ninja. Then the boy through a soccer ball at the ninja lady, who was threatening his girlfriend. The soccer ball turned out to be a bomb and it exploded, injuring only the ninja. It went on from there…


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