Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Celebration of Rain [Missive 3]

Dear all,

This week it rained in Chiang Mai for the first time since October. Most of the students on my program were at the Irish pub for St. Patty's Day to hear our program director's band play. Just as we began singing a rousing rendition of "Whiskey in the Jar," rain started to pound on the metal roof. Everyone cheered. Much dancing ensued, of course instigated by the initiative-taking students of ISDSI. The next morning, our perpetual sore throats magically cleared up and the smell of life was everywhere. Flowers I hadn't noticed before (or that weren't there before) came clearly into focus on my walk to school. I passed seven distended bullfrogs on the side of the road, flattened by traffic. Unfortunately, the number of dengue-carrying mosquitoes also multiplied rapidly.

We moved out of our host families last week and while I truly miss the incredible meals and wonderful people, I have taken advantage of the freedom to explore Chiang Mai on a deeper level. One day last week a few of us woke up at 5 a.m. to explore one of the fresh markets before school. We witnessed the incredible generosity of storekeepers and other members of the community who came out before first light to offer food to the droves of Buddhist monks in orange filing through the streets with alms bowls. We watched the ManU-Liverpool game with a crowd of Thai people on a jumbotron in a parking lot, ate different kinds of questionable cuisine, explored markets of all kinds, went to karoake, and negotiated our way to a lake recreation area in another village with surprising success.

The past week has been a whirlwind of readings, discussions, and activities about river ecology, dams, and human rights. We are preparing for our first field expedition course to the Mekong, Mun, and Yom rivers. Tomorrow, we will pile in vans and travel to the opposite side of Thailand to learn from communities impacted by the Pak Mun Dam (those of you older than me may remember struggles surrounding this dam from international news in the early 1990s). While living with host families there, we've been told to expect meals of raw fermented fish and ant larvae... it's character building! Then, we'll paddle a 5-day section of the Yom river that will be inundated if a proposed dam is approved. We will paddle, fish, and explore the ecology of the river with village elders and local activists. We will also do comprehensive stream surveys of all three rivers, a skill I am really excited to learn.

I will not have access to internet until April 8th, after which date I will respond to your emails and post lots of pictures (assuming my camera survives the trip). Have a great next few weeks!


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