Last week we embarked on our first community visit of the semester. The village, Ban Ta Pho, is in the Nam Phong district of Khon Kaen province. Ban Ta Pho is home to about 1200 people in a semi-rural area of Khon Kaen. During our 3 day stay with a host family, we sought to learn more about village life and systems such as health and social services, the physical environment, politics, and economics. We conducted focus groups, informal interviews, and were treated to several tours of the village. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing the people were to share their knowledge and perspectives with us. The amount I learned is too much for a single blog post, but here are a few highlights:
- Most people in the village are rice farmers and the selling price of rice has varied dramatically with changes in government.
- Cock fights are an all-day event lasting from 9am-8pm on weekends. About 40% of people in the village had fighting cocks, which can sell for 1000-2000 baht.
- Being a janitor carries high prestige in the community because they also have the task of keeping the kids safe within the school grounds.
- Every May there is a rocket festival as part of a rain-making ceremony. It is the biggest gambling festival of the year, as people bet on which rocket will stay in the air the longest.
In addition to gaining much insight about village life, we were treated to delicious home-cooked meals during our entire stay. I never knew there were so many different ways to cook sticky rice! Living in the community required a few adjustments for us American college students. For example, staying out until 9:30pm was considered quite late by village standards. When our host mom walked us back home we were greeted to a cacophony of barking dogs which probably woke up the entire village (oops!). I wish we had at least another day to stay in the community. I was so incredibly humbled by their generosity and hospitality, and I could see how closely-knit this community was. At the end of our stay, we held a community meeting where we shared what we learned with the villagers and asked for their opinion about priority areas that we might be able to focus on for our upcoming field research project.
The weekend after we returned from the community, we hosted an all-American student-cooked breakfast! Pancakes (with syrup), scrambled eggs, and bacon graced our taste buds and reminded us all a little bit of home. And to make things even better, we had a grilled cheese station going! The event was a big success. Now it’s time to gear up for our 1-week trip to Laos!