More than any of the other students, I know roads. I went to the hospital in town three times during the Forests course, one time each from Nam Hu, Huai Hee, and Huai Tong Gow. Huay Tong Gow is three hours away from town at the end of the road (dead ends there), but the most paved sections are between there and Huai Hee. For some reason, I would have expected that the closer to town, the better the road would be be. This is patently not the case. In fact, the section I thought most likely to be paved, from the checkpoint near town up to the 3-million-Baht viewpoint area, is one of the worst sections of the entire road.
In some ways, I thought that paving the road entirely would be a great investment for the villages of Huai Poo Ling sub-district. Children would have a much easier time getting to school, their vehicles would be in better shape, and farang would have an easier time getting to the hospital (ha). A quicker way to town affords the community a whole host of new opportunities.
But in every community meeting so far, elder villagers have voiced concern about the road contributing to the loss of Karen culture. Some of the younger generation do seem to be returning to live in the villages, even after experiencing all of the pleasures of town life. But some do not.
In other ways, having roads at all seems more trouble that they are worth. Living in the US, I have completely taken for granted the existence of quality roads, without much thought for the massive amount of maintenance they require. The road to Huai Tong Gow has many sections that are unpaved and each year the villages may decide to pave another stretch. But many of the sections that have already been paved are in need of repair, too. The roads worsen flooding issues in the rainy season, for example, and many are cracked and broken with deep potholes. The villages have money from the government, but the more they put towards roads, the faster their culture may be eroded by external forces and the less money will be going toward the community's other goals, like health care, watershed protection, and education.
The current condition of the roads serves as a buffer between the villages and destructive outsiders. On my last trip to town, the pattee who so kindly drove us in his truck said that he once met a group from Bangkok driving up to see the view from Doi Pui, but when they heard about the condition of the road ahead and that they would have to park and walk up the mountain, they turned around and went back to Mae Hong Son. If the road were paved like the road to Doi Suthep, you can be sure Huai Hee would have a lot of unwanted traffic through their quiet village.
I certainly don't fault the villagers for wanting a better road (or, in the case of Huai Goong, wanting any kind they can get) because it is apparent that they could not really survive in today's context, with the central Thai state grabbing more and more power, without a road. Still, I mourn for what has been and will be lost because of it.