Friday, 14 August 2009

The Elephant Ride

I am still in Pai. On Sunday I make my way south first to Chiang Mai, then Bangkok and on Tuesday to Cambodia. After lots of changing of mind I am after all going to Angkor. It seems crazy to be soo close to a place I so wanted to visit and not do it. Pai is still relaxing. Well, apart from today when Maya, my Israeli friend, finally managed to convince me to go on an elephant ride. I did not want to go for numerous reasons, but she wanted so much that I gave into it. So Mickey, a 22 year old Israeli boy, Maya and I rode towards the elephant "farms". I disliked seeing the elephants tied by chains, did not feel like going, and when someone tried to explain me that riding tourists is nicer than "carrying wood" I was certain I should not do it. Elephants should just be in reservations I think. But Maya could not go alone, so we agreed to go. Neither Mickey or I were really into the elephant tourist trap experience, but Maya not only convinced us but managed to make us get the full experience " riding through the jungle and bathing in the river!"

We were given a guide that spoke not a single word of English, and led to to climb a platform from which we could get onto the elephant. The nice guide, carried a tool that had something like a hook made of iron to make sure the elephant obeyed him... As soon as we sat on the elephant we cracked up. I have ridden horses and camels, so I was prepared for the moving of the elephants. We did not have a proper seat like you usually see in films, but a blanket. I always sat on the back but Maya and Mickey alternated between middle and head. As soon as we entered the "jungle" the ride became increasingly scaring. I could not breathe so much I laughed. Our guide seemed to enjoy a lot the fact that I could not breathe from laughter. So he chose the most dangerous paths. Over trunks of trees, and land slides, and rocks, and narrow paths and so on. And as he could not speak English we could not explain him that a "reitred florida old couple" ride would be preferable. By the time we were getting close to the river I was convinced I did not want to go into it. So when I saw a big tree I literally jumped from the elephant into the tree and abandoned the ride. I stood in the perfect place to take pictures and and watch Maya and Mickey in total despair. Had I laughed any harder I would have fallen out of the tree.

The elephant did not seem to want to bathe. The guide did not seem to understand that Mickey and Maya did not mind. So he hit the elephant into the laying down. The elephant did not move. Then he lifted his tail and defecated. Still being pulled down he collapsed entirely immersing his head under water. All I could see was M and M scared, and Maya saying " I think the elephant died!" But then the elephant moved up and collapsed to one side dropping Maya out of his back into his shit. I could not breathe so much I laughed. The confusion was immense. The elephant collapsing, the guide not understanding English, M and M already done with the bathing experience, the guide making the elephant throw water with his trunk over the two of them. I watched from the tree quite relieved I had not joined them.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Volunteering in Thailand

South East Asia 9

The sun was stronger than ever this morning. I usually am very careful when taking my showers. As i have told before, i hate cold water! To my surprise however, i am not only totally getting used to the bucket bathing, but i am actually enjoying it a lot. There is something else quite strange about this place. It is like suddenly little things become quite delightful. I, for instance, love eating outside on a little wooden stool and washing my clothes by hand. Not many, just a couple inside of a bucket, lots of foam, the birds singing, the cool water, and my total inability to do it well. It is absolutely therapeutic. And it is not that i really need to, there is a very old and quite simple washing machine. But i just like to start my day having a bucket shower and then listening to the splashing of the water while i wash the few items i have worn the day before. And then there is breakfast. Mind you, all of this before 7 am. Nothing hurried, nothing unpleasant. Almost a ritualistic morning routine. For breakfast i have the fruits of the garden and the region, which i will not even attempt to write the names, as many of them i have never seen before. And then we ride the scooter for 4 km into the little village until we reach the school.
Today it was once again PE day. Have i already explained about the colours of the clothes? On Monday they dress in blue and white, and the teachers in brown for the government, on Tuesday in pink for the king, on Wednesday they dress as scout boys and girls, on Thursday in black pants and red shirts for PE day, and on Friday in yellow for the Kon Khaen province. I guess it is a way to insure that kids change clothes every day. Thai people are very clean and usually shower twice a day. I really don't see how to do otherwise in this heat, but then again in some other places people do.
Today, as we arrived in school, Horm told me 'i am going to Chum Pae (a bigger village around here), wanna join me?'. Even though i have been here for a while it still surprises me how teachers can suddenly just leave the school and the students unattended. So, i said i would stay, and i was left taking care of year 3 and 4 on my own. Picture this, i do not speak Thai and they do not speak English. In fact, nobody speaks English around here. I had absolutely no idea what to do, and luckily for me they were more then willing to help me by teaching me games we could play together. Everything here involves a lot of noise. So the games consisted in the kids either singing very loudly, or i had to write numbers on the board, divide the class in 2 groups and call the numbers out (a bit like bingo) while one person from each group raced towards the board to circle the correct number. I also made up a drawing game and they really enjoyed that. As i teach them words in English they tell them to me in Thai. I cannot explain to you the laughter that is generated by my poor attempts in speaking Thai. In fact, i even suck in knowing their names. And when i ask them they give me nicknames, and then their names, and then something else, or just repeat what i am saying, or just say yes to whatever i said, which makes it impossible for me to know. When they say something to me in Thai which i don't understand they think that by repeating it very slowly i might. If that doesn't seem to work they try very loud. Then i go for help to year 5 and 6 to get Non Nan or Tangnoi. They come smiling and are very very helpful and always sort it out. Then i had to move to year 5 and 6, which were also left alone in school this morning, and they were also willing to teach me new games.
Lunchtime is also much better lately. Apart from the first day there was never again any hitting of the kids, and as i bring my own vegetarian food it is all fine. I never stay and eat with the teachers, i always go and play with the kids. So lunchtime is basically spent inside the classroom, where there is a fan, playing boardgames, singing games, clapping games, or just simply laying on the floor. Oh, i am also taking lots of pictures, and they love posing for them. In fact, so far, lunchtime and schooltime don't seem to differ all that much. During the whole day in school there are kids who are not from our school, but always pop up to visit. ANd adults seem to come from everywhere, and teachers seem to disappear all the time. As you can see it is not at all what you would might think of an Asian style school. The whole day there is lots and lots of laughter.

South East Asia 10

Today i was once again left alone in school. By now this is not even remotely surprising anymore. During the morning i divide my time between years 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. And as usual we play games. One of their favourites is having me write words (ball, book, fan) on the board, dividing the class in two groups and call out the word while one person from each group races towards the board in order to circle the correct one. Just like the number game i played yesterday, but way more difficult for them as i realized they can't actually read English. They just memorize what it sounds like, scribble a map of the board in their notebook with the Thai spelling of the words and when they have to find a word it is mayhem, and completely random. It actually took me a while to realize they couldn't read English, and to understand how difficult it actually is for them to play this game. Year 5 and 6 understand a bit better how our alphabet works, so it becomes much easier for them to play the game. But my very megalomaniac dreams of teaching them grammar is gone down the drain.

The reason why i was left alone again today was because 4 principles from neighbouring rural schools had come to have a meeting with Horm, to organize an English camp next week for about 200 students in the area. It is not really what you would expect from a camp, basically all students of the surrounding area come to our little school to learn English with me! I have no idea how this is going to work out. But Horm, who is always very kind, told me not to worry, it's just good for them to meet farang. So i did not have lunch with the kids today, but instead with the principles and teachers of the visiting schools. It was quite an interesting lunch. They all wanted to take pictures with me, commented on my beauty, the shape of my body, and other things that i couldn't understand... To celebrate the end of this promising camp they will take me to karaoke next week. Judging by how much they love Thai pop music around here this will be quite an event. I am now taking a break while Horm is teaching Thai to the kids. She told me that the teachers are quite happy about running the camp. And then she said something that i thought was really nice: 'Look Non Ju, how they are very happy to study wih you'. The other principles were really impressed seeing the kids playing unafraid of a farang. She continued: 'You know, they don't have to know a lot and be at the top. I just want them to be happy'. And i had to think how much other schools could learn from this little, tiny, poor school here in the Tahi countryside.
As some of you have asked me whether you could send something to the school, here follows the address:

Ban Nonpho School
206 Moo 15 Ban Nongarm
Naphiang Sub-district
Chum Phae District
Khon Kaen Province
Thailand 40130

Please, don't send anything big or expensive, because here everything is very simple. If you want you can send pencils, colour pencils, pictures, or a little book or maps (there are no maps in the school at all). But nothing much, they will appreciate anything. If you do, just write 'from a friend of Kun Kru Ju', and put your name as well.
I better go back to the class room, i am already behaving like a Thai school teacher (just leaving..:)

South East Asia 11

I know this will sound repetitive, but today was the hottest day ever! I thought that yesterday was already too hot and that a storm was about to break out. But to my surprise the day started with no clouds in the sky, and by 10am the temperature was absolutely unbearable. I did not move and still could not stop sweating. As i was letargically laying down on the wooden divan/sofa outside, i couldn't help but feel like i was in a movie of those westerners who go to the east and "picturesquely" try to survive the heat by doing nothing while outside they still can see the farmers, the countrymen going about their work just naturally. As i was laying down on my wooden couch Oye, a 7 year old little girl who was visiting, came to check what i was doing. As usual she just started speaking Thai to me, completely oblivious to the fact that i do not understand Thai. She eventually pointed at my ipod and i understood that she wanted to hear what i was listening to. I chose a song by Monica Salmaso with many clarinets, which i thought was quite child-like and that she might appreciate. She put one earplug in and then laid down next to me, so that we could listen to the music together. She was so cute, because she was very tiny and i could even notice when she liked one song more than another. Not that she said anything, she just paid more attention. She like Monica and she liked Debussy.

When it is that hot there is literally nothing that you can do around here. Even the garden bungalow, which is usually quite cool, was extremely hot. So i just alternated between the wooden couch on the porch and the bungalow trying to practice equanimity while just looking at the very slow pace of life around here. At some point it was actually quite enjoyable. And then of course when i gave up on fighting the heat a storm broke out. Horm was sitting in the hammock while the carpenter was building a swing and Non Nen was watering the plants. As they all moved into the bungalow to not get wet i went out wishing that the storm left me entirely soaked. It was just sooo wonderful!

Non Nen was really worried about me in the rain. In fact she is always very puzzled by my farang behaviour. For instance i always Way everybody. She explained me many times that i cannot Way her because she is a student. I can only Way people older than me. I tell her i like Way-ing everybody, but she just doesn't understand. Yesterday, I finally gave her the little book about Brazil. On the cover i wrote 'from Kun Kru Ju to Non Nen'. It actually took her a while to understand that i was giving the book to her. And when she did she was extremely thankful and happy. A few minutes later she came to me with two laminated pictures. There was a very young couple in both of them. She said "my father, my mother". As i knew from Horm that her mother had disappeared and her father had left her to be taken care of by an older lady in the village who used to hit her and not care for her at all, when i saw the laminated pictures my heart shrank. I did not know what to say... All i could say was "they are beautiful". She said "thank you", smiling. Really sad...
There are always many people stopping by at the house. I don't think i have actually told you who lives here and who comes by every day. Well, there is of course Horm, her two sons whose nicknames are 'Book' and 'Brain' (she explained me that it was because she's a teacher that she chose those nicknames), Hans (the Danish guy) and Non Nen and me. Book and Brain are 17 and 18, and are very very shy. I rarely see them and when i do they avoid talking to me. Also here on a daily basis are Oom (Horm's secretary, which is the lady that is married and that is having an affair with Hans), her two daughters, the carpenter, and Oh, the masseuse. One hour of massage costs 100 Thai Bhat, which is less than £2, and which basically means we're having massages almost every day.

Oh came today to give me a 2 hours massage. While she was massaging me the storm that had subsided broke out again more violently than ever. With the storm the power went down. So i actually had a massage by candlelight and amazing lightning outside. I would love to tell you guys about how much i learned from Oh about Thai culture, Thai men, Thai prostitution, but as the power is down, and it is Haiko who is kindly writing down what i am dictating to him over the phone i cannot elaborate much more.
Lots of love form a completely dark house in South East Asia

South East Asia 12

The time in rural Thailand passes slow. It is nice. The "littlest" things gain such an importance. Like observing the clouds pass, or the webbing of a spider, or the sounds of the rain. Slowly even a person coming from an enormous concrete city with millions of inhabitants suddenly feels at ease with life around. It is strange how we from big cities are so used to other people, but so afraid of other creatures. Now I am no longer frightened of the geckos, or beetles, or spiders, if I do not want to share room with them, i take them out. That is all.

This weekend, had a very slow pace. I could say I did nothing really, but it felt like so many things happened. No light when the storm broke out, many stars in the sky when there was no rain, and the eternal passing clouds. Brain ( Horm's 17 year old son), brought his girlfriend over, and I could only tell she was his girlfriend because he combed her hair. The Thai are very very discrete in love matters. Brain usually avoids talking to me all together, this weekend he brought me sweets. He did not give them to me, he gave them to Non Nan who was in front of me, and she passed them on to me. But he had bought them for me! So when I later said "thank you" and he replied " you are welcome" I was bewildered. Then I said I was hot, and he brought me the fan. I was not saying it to him, of to anyone, just saying something to Non Nan, something she could understand. I was surprised again. He understood me, and was relating to me. See the little things in rural Thailand suddenly mean much more. And in fact it is not so little. It is huge, it is getting closer to someone who is there, and is shy and takes his time, but in fact is always very aware of you. It is huge :) We from the big cities have lost that.

Sunday night ended with Hom, Oh ( masseuse) and I laughing in the porch. Horm and I were having massage, and talking about the silliest things. Laying down on the floor, looking at the sky. They were laughing at my shaved legs. Thais do not shave. Th'e like their hair. "Well, Asians barely have hair" I replied. They laughed! Oh shared with us the details of shaving practices of all countries she had worked in. Those were Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Korea, and Hungary. It was hilarious. She told us about all situations a masseuse can get into. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Today in school I was left alone the whole day. Horm was enormously busy planning for the English Camp. Most of the day went fine. I even joined the kids in cleaning the school. Can you believe that ? I have the most beautiful pictures ever of Ben washing up plates. I will hopefully post them soon. I have not mentioned before, but Thai kids hit each other a lot!!! I tried to implement the "no hitting" policy in my class, but it was piratically a complete loss of time. They are simply soooo used to hitting each other, and kicking, and using the ruler over each others head, and screaming that even while I was saying no hitting, not nice to one, someone else was already kicking someone else. Well... again no one cries....So one side of me, who wants to respect their cultural ways feels I should say nothing, but when I see a kid with an enormous ruler smashing someone else s head, I cant take it. So I spent enormous time just stopping hitting. And being me, I did it in a totally calm, pacifist and eventually dismayed way.

Then there was game time, which was a total disaster, as Pai started crying, and I could not figure out why. And obviously she could not explain me even if she wanted to. This 12 year old, who is usually super helpful, just sat down, lowered her head, and did not want to play, or lift her head up. I sat next to her, asking " why are you crying ?" and caressing her for about 10 minutes to no avail. In the end, Non Nan was able to explain me it was because she did not want to be in Tawit's ( a little fat boy who is hipper active) team. When things were finally resolved Horm, showed up to invite me to come talk to the supervisor ( or as she calls it " the super advisor") of the region. He wanted to meet me, and take pictures and ask me questions such as " What do yo think about Thailand? ANd how about Thai Culture? Thai students? Thai teachers?" and so on. He also had more elaborate questions which his very poor English made it impossible for me to understand, and even harder for me to answer. You have to remember, all of this is happening with people understanding only a few words of what you say. And you having to speak slowly, and clearly and simply. And lots of what they are saying is just lost. Lost in translation, in pronounciation, in smiles. It is lot of guessing. But he was kind, he told me he would like to take me to visit the region, and that when i return to Thailand he would show me all around. He said he could see in the eyes of the kids how happy they were. I "way-ed" saying "kop kum ka" ( thank you)

The principal of my school, who wants to take me to karaoke this week, decided to make a garden behind the volleyball court. Horm was super unhappy about it, as she thinks it not only reduces the playing area for the kids ( being therefore a bad idea), but also that no flowers would grow being hit by balls all the time. And let me tell you Horm has a beautiful garden and loves plants!!! I agreed with her, but as I was invited to plant, I did. The gardeners were completely amused at my farang performance:) They were nice thought. And they took cell pictures of me -planting :). Horm, said to me in English " what a stupid idea, don't u think?" She was delighted she could curse their plan in a language they cant understand. We laughed. And then we rode home. We stopped by the rice fields, the market, and as everybody knows me now, and as I know them as well, time passes slow, but I notice much more things then ever.

South East Asia 13

As a complete tiger balm lover ( that little camphor mentol ointment) I could not be in a better place. Thais love that stuff even more than I do. They use it for it all. So I can totally indulge myself on it without being frowned upon like back home. I use it for headaches, muscles aches, sinusitis, to relax and even to cool of when it is too hot. As I have been feeling a bit "flu-ish" I have been using tiger balm more than ever. I dont feel anything severe or serious, just mild flue symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and a bit of sinus irritation. Enough for Horm to want to take me to the doctor in case I have swine flu! I of course completely reject the idea, as I am sure if that is a place I could get swine flue that might be the hospital.

Today I was left alone again with year 3 and 4. But now it is lots of fun. I actually came up with a way to FINALLY learn their nicknames. Yesterday I did it with year 5 and 6. Basically I ask them to tell me their nicknames, I write it down as it phonetically sounds to me, and I ask them to hold the paper while I take a picture of their faces and name. It was great by today I knew everybody in year 5 and 6! Today I decided to do the same with year 3 and 4 and it was soooooooo funny... because I realized they actually were copying from me what their names were. As obviously they write their names in Thai, they dont really know how to spell them in English... and I who was writing them down in a mixture of portuguese and french had to half way change them to what it would sound in English.... For instance AI in portuguese had to become EYE while Aí had to become AEE!

It was not long before Horm came by saying we had to go back home to prepare for the camp. The camp will be this Thursday and Friday so we spent the whole day doing an worksheet with games, and exercises for the camp. Apparently even schools from the other district want to come to our camp! There are already 7 schools coming and Horm is having to reject all others. Too many people for our little school!

As usual the day finishes with OH coming for massage. Her daughter who is 1,5 has an allergy since I arrived here. I have no idea how many times she has been to the doctor in vain. Sometimes I wish I was a doctor and could help her, or take her to a good doctor. So much I like Oh. But the doctor just makes her wait and wait. This little 1,5 who cries in agony with this spots in her skin can barely sleep!, Oh does not even know what they are. Today as she massaged me she gave me a gentle kiss on my back. She said she would miss me. So will I. It is amazing how we can become fond of people who we barely understand and who are sooo different but at the same time just soo alike. When my massage finished I decided to giver one. This lady works like 10 hours a day giving massages she deserves one the most I thought!. It was a bold thing to do, to give a massage to an internationally trained masseuse. I just meant to help. She said I was very good, that I must have learned from receiving massages. She is kind, and tired I guess.

I must go now, apparently we are having vegetarian vietnamese food!

South East Asia 14

Thailand is known as the land of smiles and I have never seen as many smiles together as I did yesterday during the first day of the English Camp. I was sooooooooooooo tired when i came back home that I had to really work hard to remain awake till 8pm, then I subsided to my fatigue and slept till this morning. The camp was really a big deal, not only the principals of the neighbouring schools came by, and the education supervisor, but even the director of education of the Kon Khaen province. And as you might imagine that meant me being on hundreds of pictures :)

First the kids arrived, being brought by their own principals in the back of pick up trucks. Just imagine the sight, many pick ups driving inside the school, with tons of 10, 11, and 12 year old kids in the back, suddenly jumping out on the football field behind our school, and walking towards us like little ants. Tables were put on the volleyball court for the kids to sign in and after a bit of mess, excitement, and confusion all kids were led to sit on the floor, in front of the stage built for the Opening ceremony.

Nothing starts here before paying respect to the Buddha, a little prayer, and a short mediation. So that is what happened. Then there were the speeches by the Principal of my school, and the provincial director of Education. Both written by me, and far too complicated for their level of ENglish. It was not that the speeches were difficult, simply that they could not read English! As yo might be used by now, as nothing here is never to strict, during both speeches piratically no one but me paid attention.

And then the camp started. First every siingle kid stood in line to shake hands with me and Hans ( who was there just for that moment then left :( and say " Hello my name is Kunkru Tchu, Hello my name is.... nice to meet you! ". The kids from my school were naturally super fine with that, but the others were quite shy. Apart from one or another more extroverted kid, they almost all spoke quite softly. I always said very good. Perfect, and helped the ones who couldnt but never insisting to much on the ones evidently too nervous. I could notice that these kids were also very poor. Some had some injuries like sacrs, a blind eye, some were wearing masks afraid of contracting the swine flue :)

There were 8 bases. Myself, my family, my school, culture, weather etc... I was allocated to Culture abnd was supposed to teach them about X-mas and Valentine's day. The bases were located in the garden, around the football field, under huge trees to protect us from the blasting sun. The kids were separated in different groups, with different colours, and had to move from base to base. Each base had about 3 teachers, and 40 students. In my base no one but me spoke English. So I had to count in the enormous help of Ban Nonpho ( my little school) students! And quite proudly and "bias-ly" I thought they were by far the best :) Well, they also know me and are not shy.

I had myself written this little texts about X-mas and Valentines day. How can I still be so removed from reality? I had written it was a Christian Holiday, and that it celebrated the birth of Jesus. And of course about Santa Claus and trees. As my first group arrived and I started explaining and looking at their completely blank faces.... I realized "of course they have no idea.." So by group 4 we were only learning to say X-mas, 25th of December. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and making them draw which ever holiday they liked best. Yes it was way more fun and realistic!

Between groups I was made to sing in a Karaoke machine songs I had never never heard. It was hilarious. Little by little the other kids who do not know me, the less shy ones came by, we played, I asked them questions, they giggled and hid and laughed, but had lots of fun. HOrm is without a question the life of the whole event. She dances, and sings, and screams, and it just completely mazing to see how much eenrgy she has.

Anyway, I have to go now as one more camp day awaits me. And then I bid farewell to my very dear kids. I will definitely miss them. Year 3 was not there as the camp was supposedly for years 4,5,6 but Tangmo, and Neen, and Ta and many others from year 3 hung around the whole day. I played with them too.

My next stop is Nong Khai. From there I shall finally cross into Laos. With my heart still here. It is amazing It takes a while to feel entirely in place ... and then it is time

South East Asia 15

Latin Americans are known for being emotional people. Well, I even by Brazilian standards am considered "melted butter" (someone who gets emotional very, and I mean very very easily). So you can just begin to imagine how it was for me the end of the English Camp, and also my stay here at my little lovely Ban Nonpho school. I will start by telling about how the camp finished and then move to 3 episodes where I felt enormous pure joy during the camp.

This is going to be difficult to explain but I will try. In the end of them camp we all went to the big football field and made a circle. Not sure how to say that in English, in portuguese it is a "roda" ciranda. Anyway, basically everyone who was in the school joined this circle. And then the circle broke away next to me, so that this new beginning could "redo the way of the circle by greeting everyone. Which means that every single person was able to see everyone. As I was in the beginning I stood still while every single kid "way ed" me, shook my hand, and said good-bye. This was all happening while three teachers were singing a very sad tune with lyrics saying " goodbye my friends". I can say that I was fully present in every single hand I shoook. I looked attentively to each face. I observed the shy ones who avoided my look, the extroverted ones who shook my hand intensively, the smily ones who added kunkru Tchu after the goodbye, and I was doing quite well, for as long as no one from Ban Nonpho, my little school had arrived. But then the first one did, it was lovely Guem, and when I looked at him, with the same profound observation I had looked at the others my eyes started to overflow. I tried really hard not to cry and I was successful as the next kids were unknown to me. But then the kind teacher (who s mother had died), "Way ed" me and looked into my eyes for longer and with more kindness than I could take... and I started crying. I who had already cried in the funeral of her mother! So most of the time I was controlling my tears, trying to be present, but everytime I was fully present, and thought about the beauty of waying to everysingle kid, and especially saying goodbye to "my kids" I cried.

For lunch as usual I joined the kids. So much more fun than being with the adults. And most of Ban Nonpho students were inside of one classroom. They were playing so I joined in. And as they were turning upside down, I could not feel more at ease. I joined them in all kinds of acrobatics I knew. and they had sooooooooo much fun that the room got entirely packed from students from all of the other schoools. There were kids looking from the window outside, at the door, there was no room left whatsoever... which made it sliglhly dangerous... but well, these kids are so used to falling... and to playing and getting sometimes hurt... that it made me again think about how overly worried, and obsessive most of western countries have become... so we played........ getting hit sometimes by falling bums and legs. They showed things they could do like putting legs behind their heads, and we tried it all. They laughed, and clapped, and fell, and giggled, and it was soooooooo much fun then when lunch was over they all came to me to say. "Kunkru Tchu thank you very much!!!."

The day of camp itself was hilarious I had asked Non Nan to teach me a song in Thai the night before and I actually sang it to the whole school. In a microphone, while they all looked at me in total surprise ( just imagine how wrongly I probably sounded). They clapped in ecstasy! I was then made to dance with them, while the speakers played Thai pop music! we went wild!

As everything here begins with a meditation, so it ends. And to my complete surprise as all teachers know I am planning to go for vipassana, they ask ME to seat in meditation position in front of the kids. I first refused and said I would seat with them. But then as they were all so curious as to see how I was seating, i followed HOrn's request and sat on the stage. I sat in lotus position, as I am quite used to it, and realized the kids were amazed. They copied me. And then to my complete surprise I close my eyes amidst enormous noise from teachers and kids, and suddenly the place went silent, and I felt totally in peace. When I opened my eyes much later and I saw all these little kids, 200 of them meditating, I felt so much happiness. I could not really place it. It felt totally surreal to be me a westerner meditating in front of Buddhist Thais, but there I was, and I felt so much love for these kids.

And then time to go came. And I being Brazilian went to hug everyone. Tanoy said to me " I sad you are going" it was her way. They did not know very well the hugging thing. Ta, a little fat boy from year 4 gave me a kiss on the face. Most hugs were awkward. But they hang around and said bye many times, many, many times.... And then Tangmo who was not officially in the camp came, and she ran into me and totally hugged me. A real hug! A very strong hug... and then I being melted butter... well then I really cried....

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Colours

The change in weather here is just fantastic! I am very sensible to light, so with no curtains in my room I wake up very very very early. Sometimes i cover my face and go back to sleep. But the first light is just "unmissable" as the sky goes red, and pink, and golden, and it is just sooooooooooo beautiful! Out of my window I see anything but green fields, and trees and the occasional buffalo. Then the sun goes up, while the temperature rises, the sky becomes completely blue, everything is bathed by light and then suddenly the wind blows, and the dark, heavy, clouds seem to appear from nowhere, and they suddenly burst, strongly, washing it almost feels like a painter painting a picture on a canvas, shade by shade, tone by tone, detail by detail and then when it reaches perfection the painter tired with so much beauty just pours water all over it, and then starts all over again.

Everything seems more alive here. The storms, the sun, the clouds, and the animals. I sat today in the little straw hut in the garden, i was supposedly going to do some yoga but as I sat the wind blew, and I decided to instead pay attention to the sounds. the birds were just so lovely, that I dozed off. And when I woke up the sky was dark, not because it was night, it was just the "painter" tired again.

Have I told you about the geckos? They are "GINmormous!!!" And they make the funniest noise ever. And they are actually sooo beautiful. When i first asked what is that? as I was hearing a loud and strange noise, Non Nan ( Oh I go back to explain who she is in a second, in fact I will explain the name thing, which i finally get it!) took me by hand to show me... I followed her till she pointed to the wall, I looked and saw nothing, she placed my head in the correct position, and when I saw the size of the gecko I almost fainted.. it was at least 40cm. Do they bite? I asked? She said yes. Well, after one fell in my foot one of these days i lost part of my fear, and could observe from up close how beautiful they actually look. Nature that lively and noisy is not a total surprise to a brazilian, but geckos that loud, and big, and fat are :) (at least to a Brazilian from Sao Paulo)

Non Nan lives here in our house. Her mother abandoned her when she was born, and her father does not care about her, so Horm ( I have all this time been misspelling her name it is with a M and not N) took her in. She lives here, goes to the same school where I volunteer and is quite lovely. Before I came to Thailand, one of my very dear friends in England, who is actually Polish, gave me two little books with pictures from Brazil, when I showed my surprise he explained me it was to show the Thai "nothing better than pictures when you cant communicate!". I have written about how moved I was in my Blog, but only now can I actually understand how right he was! Only Maciek could think about that. I showed Non Nan as we can barely communicate, and you know what she looked at the most? Not the cities, not the people, not the beaches, but the fruits and animals. We have so many alike. I thought it was just beautiful to look at her looking so attentively to the herbs, and fruits, and animals, from such a distant continent and smiling when recognizing them. Non Nan is 12 and is in the last year of our primary school, she is the one who teaches PE. In Thailand parents are obliged to send their kids to school from when they are 4 till 15. School provides meals, and i guess a somehow nationalistic feeling, and some Buddhist teaching as we do go to temple and do a short meditation before school starts. I am in a part of Thailand called Isaan. It is in the northeastern part of Thailand, and I just learned that what they speak home is actually something much closer to Laos than to Thai. In school they learn Thai and English.

They have names and nicknames. And the calling thing goes as folllow: everyone who is younger than you you should call Non and then nickname. So for instance older people call me Non Ju ( sounding more like Non tchu) Everyone that is older you should call Pi. Non means little sister, and Pi older. So that basically means people always ask your age when they first meet you. If you are the same age you just say the nickname. I have been by the way been given a longer name : Kunkrun Ju ( Tchu) LaiArat, which literally means teacher Ju the lovely lady :)

The sky is going pink again, the sun is setting. I should not miss that.

Thai Dancing

The rainy season is usually frowned upon by many prospective travellers to South-East Asia. Only now however, do i understand how great an enormous storm in the middle of the day can feel. The weather cools off, the stuffiness of the air disappears, and it feels like you're starting anew. The storms themselves are just great. Rain pouring down, blasting thunders, lightning that seems to divide the sky into a million different pieces. unfortunately, however, even now during the rainy season these storms do not happen that often. In fact, this weekend the Hae Tian (a candle parade) is going to be celebrated. A Buddhist holiday marking the commencement of the rain's retreat. That is why yesterday in class we spent half of the day practicing Thai traditional dancing. It was mayhem in school. Out of the 4 teachers there were only 2. One had missed school because of the funeral of her mother, while the other had a wedding of his son. So instead of teaching 2 classes we had 4. It was quite nice to see how caring Thai kids are. A couple of older kids took care of the kindergarden class, while Horn and i stayed with grade 1, 2, 5 and 6.

As it was sports day everbody was dressed in blue pants and red shirts. I realised this time that in the beginning of the day, apart from the little meditation and Buddhist prayer, they also sing the national anthem while the flag is being raised. The PE class was taught to the whole school by three 12-year-olds. It was basically some kind of dancing aerobics. In fact they are crazy about music. At some point during the day Horn made them all sing different songs. It was surreal, and i wish i had had my camera with me to record everything. Inside of a little classroom, with lots of echo, grade 1, 2, 5 and 6 were singing on the top of their lungs, drumming on everything that was around. Horn sometimes even conducted them so that one side of the class, grade 1 and 2, would compete against the other side of the class, to see who sang louder. I cannot describe how loud this was! All i could think of was about the very cranky teacher in the English primary school where i volunteered. Not allowing the children to sing loud. Here the kids had lots of fun.

We also played games, and i was invited to play chess and checkers, and even a very modified version of monopoly where nobody ever gets too rich, and the bank is always paying you money whenever you stop at a place. When i had to pay 4000 Bhat and didn't have it, a litle Thai girl paid it for me. When i had more money i paid her back, even though she didn't want to accept it. Thai dancing was defintely the highlight of the day. Most kids sucked at it. But the few girls that were really good spent an enormous amount of time teaching me. The other highlight was when during lunch time the cook brought me two large turtles to show me what they were going to eat for lunch. I seriously almost fainted... My heart raced, and i felt the blood drain from my face, and i could not contain my shock. I obviously did not eat the turtle! As they all know by now i am 'farang' and 'Te' (vegetarian). On the way back home (did i tell you guys we ride a little motorbike with sometimes 4 people on it) we had to stop by the teachers house to Way her dead mother. In a big room there was a very shiny coffin looking like a big box wrapped with golden paper. There were 'Christmas' lights all around it that twinkled the whole time. There were candles, flowers, insence, and i was taught how to Way the dead person. I knelt by the coffin, lit a big stick of insence, held it in my hand in a Way position, said a little prayer, put the insence stick in a pot full of other insence sticks, and bowed my head on a little cushion put there for that purpose. It was actually quite nice. As i wasn't feeling entirely good at night i didn't make it to the Thai wedding, which was a pitty. Today, there is going to be a Hae Tian ceremony in the temple here. And this weekend Horn is taking me to Ubon Ratchatani to watch the biggest Hae Tian ceremony on the whole world! I will let you guys know how that goes.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Today i was quite homesick for a moment. I am not sure if it is the enormous heat, the lethargic state i am in, the difference in food and habits, or what is probably just referred to as the culture shock :) These lows come and go and i hope this one will pass soon...

My village, my very rural village, has according to "horn" (my Thai hostess) about 100 houses. From my house i can't see any of those. I can see rice fields, a garden, a dirt road, and many different kinds of fruits and flowers. The school has 50 students all together. Every morning they stand in the patio while first the elder kids say some things in Thai, which is followed by Horn giving other instructions. Then standing up they put their hands one over the other with the palms up in front of their bodies. They turn towards the Buddha in the school and they silently make a little meditation in thankfulness to those who helped them. I was quite moved when i first participated in this little ritual. It is all very informal, not like you would maybe think of an Asian country. Apart from the meditation moment the kids move about all the time. After that they all go to their rooms and are told to clean them before the teachers come in.

The school is really very very simple. It has almost nothing, is quite old, but absolutely spotless. There is a very intricate system for calling each other, it depends on your age, your social role, your family status, and combining with my lack of knowledge of Thai it becomes almost impossible for me to remember how to call each person. I am for instance Kru Krum Tchu. Kru Krum means teacher, and Tchu is what they can make out of my name. There are 4 teachers in the school and each class has two grades, with no more than 10 students. Again, everything is very informal, kids run around, talk, sing, walk out, come back. The teachers answer their phones in class, walk out and leave for a long period of time. And i not surprisingly love this informality, as the kids seem very happy, even though they are very poor and mainly live with a grandparent, as the parents have either left, died or live and work in some other city.

Lunch time for me is nightmare... This is due to mainly two factors. First, i absolutely am not used at all to the food. I have in fact been eating very little lately. Secondly, it is the most shocking time for me, as my host who is most of the time friendly and laughing, and kind grabs a broomstick and walks around shouting orders and hitting kids for faults such as forgetting to bring sticky rice, not having their shirts tucked in, not having had their hair cut, and other minor things. I must say that she hits them very softly, and they don't cry and don't seem to have any real pain. But i being a total pacifist and completely against physical or emotional violence can't help but feel shocked, and personally against it. Noticing my discomfort Horn explained me that it is the job of a teacher to teach her students. I didn't say anything, as it is absolutely clear to me that she loves these kids beyond anything, and even has a couple of them living in her house. And after all who am I to judge their ways?

Most of my first day in school was destined to help two little Thai girls (Tangmo, 9 years old, and Tangnoi, 12 years old), prepare English speeches for the provincial English speech competition the next day. I spent most of the time with Tangmo who is the brightest and cutest girl ever! I was exhausted, and knowing very little Thai i could not figure out whether she kept going just because i was there or because she wanted it. I decided eventually to go check on Horn and Tangnoi and when i found them laying down on the floor laughing a lot i just joined them in a non-stopable exhausted laughter. Later on, the two girls came over to sleep at Horns place. They were thrilled about it! And we practiced even more.

The day after we went to the competition which was held in a big public school. Students from all villages around came to the competition. I was invited to be photographed with every government offical that was around. Being the only 'farang' (foreigner) around i felt every move i made was being observed. Everybody was enormously kind and friendly, and somehow puzzled that i was staying in such a little school. I should note here that my school is so little that it is not even in the Thai rankings. To the principal and Horn and my enormous delight Tangmo (the 9 year old) came second in the competition! The first girl came from the first/best school of the province. So, being second in the competition was for that little poor Thai girl and for our school the equivalent to a Nigerian getting a silver medal in the Winter Olympics. And i, thanks to Horn's enormous kindness, got my own Thai certificate as an English Trainer for Tangmo! I must say, her success has much more to do with her brightness and amazing personality and Horn's work throughout the years than my couple of hours of help.

So this is what life here in my little village has been like lately. I must confess it is not always easy for me to get adapted to the different lifestyle. I eat too little, can never figure out whether i have a fever or if it is just very hot outside. As i have said in the beginning I sometimes feel homesick, and have even become comfortably aquainted with Filomena, Genevieve, and Isabella, the spiders that permanently live in my room and bathroom :) But even those lonely moments seem unimportant when i realise the profoundness of my learning, the kindness of my host, and the loveliness of the children. So every day when i 'Way' (the way the Thai great each other by putting their hands in prayer form and bowing their head) and i am 'Way-ed' back by always smiling people i feel enormous gratitude for being here.

My Rural Life

I am finally in my rural village and let me tell you it is indeed quite rural (with gigantic geckoes, and other quite loud insects). I was picked up in the bus station by my host mother, who immidiately hugged me and told me to call her "thai moma". With her was a danish older guy who wants to live forever in thailand, a lady in her 40s who i later learned is a lawyer and the cutest 15 year old girl i have ever seen in my life. Before that, I almost missed the bus stop as the driver totally forgot to let me know we were in the right place. Lucklily i had asked a thai lady to write in thai the name of where i had to get off and my neighbour said it was there when i randomly asked about it.

Horm my thai hostess seems to be plugged in electricity. She NEVER stops! She took me around a quite simple market, and quite apauled by my vegetarianism tried to figure out what to buy. I felt slightly bad for it, but only till later as they had the famous bugs as snack when we were visiting a lake. She then took me for lunch and ordered an unusual vegetarian pad thai. The water is served in cups full of ice and I had no courage to tell them I wanted to buy mineral water. I just didnt drink. I thought of all vaccinations i did not take, I didnt not want to be impolite and silently wanted to kiss the lady in london who convinced me to take at least the vaccination agaisnt hepatatites A. "A least to avoid paranoia" she had said. It is quite esy to watch out what you eat as a tourist, as a guest, it is another story!

After lunch I was taken to visit this lake, i in my naivite put my bikini on, only to realize that they all bathe in full clothes. The lake was nice, the highlight were the buffaloes bathing on it, the thai kids with their motrocylce, and it reminded me somehow kusturica "white cat black cat" in its mess. I loved it!

After that they took me to an even more surreal place, a DINOSSAUR park. Seriously, i could not figure out really what it was all about, tons of concrete dinossaurs .I could not understand as my guest 's english is for me very difficult to understand. I think there was a dinossaur found there, and it became this strange park after.

From the park we went to a Thai Buddhist Temple. It was gorgeous, and silent, and clean place. We visited all of its corners, until another paranoia hit me. I was being bitten, and I am not taking malaria pills, and I had forgotten my repellent. Well, not really forgotten, just had no idea we were going to be gone for soooooo long.

In sum it was a fantastic day. My host is kind of crazy :) she speaks and eats non stop, and is doing everything to keep me happy and well adjusted. For those of you who know how much I love a burning hot shower you would be happy to know i had my first ever bucket brownish ice cold shower :) It was not that bad, at least not until I noticed the strange looking like insect in the bathroom. I remembered a dear friend who had told me to carefully "swing" my cltohes before putting them on, and thanks to him I was saved from close contact with some other strange thai creature. Apart from the adrenaline releases in my body I kept calm and did not utter a sooound. Again it easier to be a tourist then a guest :)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

On my way to Thailand

I am once again travelling, and I am therefore once more sending collective e-mails... I mainly included here those of you who asked me to be included, and those who are usually interested in my travel reports :P If you do not wish to read about my wanderings in South East Asia please let me know.

For those of you who do not even know what I am talking about, well, I am in Thailand (finally), and I am going to be spending the next 3 months here in South-East Asia.

The plan goes as follows: for the first month I will be volunteering in a little rural village teaching English to Thai kids. I know, many of you are probably wandering how could I possibly teach English? Well, I guess they do not speak English well enough to realize I am not qualified :) After that I will cross the border into Laos, travel around, then make my way into Cambodia to visit Ankor, fly to Bali, back to Thailand and the beaches of the south, and finally finish my trip doing a Vipassana Retreat ( 11 days meditating) in Chiang Mai. This is the plan, which does not necessarily mean I will stick to it ;)

I obviously have almost nothing to tell so far as I have just arrived a couple hours ago. It was however already an interesting trip. I flew via UAE and got to be in a bathroom full of older muslim ladies dressed exactly alike doing "ablutions" ( not sure how to spell tat). They were from Indonesia and had quite flowery dresses. It was so surreal the scene. Tones of oler women all wet, throwing water all over, the bathroom lilke a pool, a lot of noise... I wish I could have taken a picture but I guess that would be quite strange and maybe offensive. There was also an western blond lady quite angry with the commotion in the bathroom. Seriously the woman is in MUSLIM airport and was acting like she was above it all....

Another highlight was being screened through UAE customs. It was a kind of XRay to see if you have the swine Flu ??? everybody had to go through while some employees wearing masks wacthed the video. I was greeted by a UAE officer who looked like Sayid ( from Lost) and actually said " Hello Love!!" . It is my second time in this airport, I stopped there when I went to India last year. The airport is entirely different. I could not figure out whether I was in a new place or whether they are just addicted to renewing. Probably the latter. It is a great place though you get to see those Saudi in full white "djelabas?", and women in all kind of different muslim attire, as well, as westerns in mini skirt. To add to the surrealism of it all, the ablutions, the prayer room, the westerns, the police, I had to also fill in a form stating whether i had been or not in contact with mexicans :( americans or canadians in the past month!

At the airport in Bangkok, in fact it was not that different.. there were tones of Asians wearing those hospital masks, and all the staff as well, just us the threat were unmasked :) It is incredibly hot here, and at 7 am I was already burning. I am exhausted, so i guess I ll try to nap during the hottest hours, and then I have to go actually buy appropriate clothes to volunteer.....

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Full Circle :)

I leave Istanbul in a few hours, and even harder to make it here, is to go away. I arrived almost 2 weeks ago, and exhausted as I was I ended up in Nesli's b-day party in a little cafe nearby Nese's house. Last night we went back there, so that I could meet my new friends and say goodbye. It felt like a full circle, there I had my first turkish coffeee read to me, and there I had my last. Lonely Planet would probably not agree that I have been to Istanbul as I have not gone to a Turksih Bath, or to the Grand Bazar, or even to the Souleimane Mosque (it was closed), or many of the other Turkish experience "essentials". I did do some touristic things, I visited the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Sistern, Sulthanmet. But what I enjoyed most however was walking the random streets and learning about the life of the people I encountered here.

Not the life as we sometimes imagine abroad. Not the veiled and conservative life. I met the activistists, the gay community, the artists, the architects, the painters, the yogis, the musicians. I participated in a body awareness and dance workshop and not understanding the language made me so much more aware of it all. All the while listening to the traditional turkish music and observing how diferently bodies from other cultures move than mine.

I was in numerous cafes and bars. The coziest places I have ever been to. Places like those that you only find if you know someone who knows the secrets of the city. As they are always hidden in little streets, behind staircases, taking an elevator. These places are magical, as behind mysterious doors they exist just a few steps from your awareness. So making it to these places, following those who know them is an adventure in itself. It's like being given the chance to see other worlds that exist without you knowing about them. And there seem to be so many different worlds co-existing here.

I will write more later. Now i would just like to say that Istanbul for me are the people I encountered. And in this crazy interaction of people making the place, and the place making the people, I found out a lot about me. As when far from what is known looking inside is easier. So amidst a lot of smoke, an enornous human warmth, a contradictory tolerance to difference lies Istanbul. Like that, divided between eurpe and the Middle East. Between the liberal and modern, and the conservative and religious. And by crossing from one side to the other, observing, enchanting, keeping to itself so much of those that pass by here this crazy city creates itself. And I feel that in this incoherent, dichotomous place and space I exist.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Henrique's Farewell

Last night I went to the farewell party of a dear friend. One of those people who modify the world around. Someone who causes conflicts, intrigues, conversation, controversy, and for that reason will not go unnoticed. I didn’t even meet him that many times while he was in London. Our conversations were most of the time political. The two of us fighting for an ideal of justice.

Yesterday, at his farewell party, I cried. Not a sobbing cry of despair, but just tears that overflowed at seeing time passing by. A light crying, touched by seeing the world change. And the world, of course, changes all the time. Some events, however, make it more evident. Looking at our discussion forum, and not having seen Henrique’s well-written opinions lately, already anticipated what London would be without Henrique, an emptier London. Even if Henrique was not part of my daily life.

And last night, as I looked at the dozens of people that went to say goodbye to him, I couldn’t help but think about the life of all of us travellers, immigrants, and wanderers of the world. I could not help but think about how difficult this process of saying goodbye is. How difficult it is to restart in every single place, of becoming someone in relation to the other, and then having to leave, or see him/her leave. It made me remember when my flatmates, Leila and Joss, left the house and I was left alone in an empty apartment in New York. It was the same feeling, the feeling of the end of an era. Life as we lived did not exist anymore.

I always run away from these feelings, from these rituals. I didn’t go to graduation parties. I did not care about weddings. Moved countries when my friends were graduating. Not that I was not able to understand the functions of a ritual. But maybe I thought that because I thought I understood, I was beyond them. Yesterday, however, looking at Henrique leave, watching him moved saying goodbye to the people who were his life here, I knew how important these rituals were. Important for all of us. And I allowed myself to cry, because to say goodbye is not easy. Not for the ones who stay, nor for the ones that go. And the beauty might even lie in there: that it is not easy. If we were to leave countries where we lived for years untouched, without a drop of suffering, that would be quite strange. On the other hand, the end of an era always marks the beginning of new times. Resisting this is an enormous waste of time. But to pretend that we do not suffer is also silly. The importance of the ritual is exactly that: of marking. Marking this transition that is not easy, not insignificant, to mark it symbolically.

Last night it was marked. In a bowling lane full of Henrique’s friends it became evident how many people he touched while he was here. How many people transformed him with their ideas, their presence, and their behaviour. And I confess, I thought about not going. I dislike farewell parties. It is much easier when a person leaves without us noticing it , at least it seems easier. But I did go. And today, when I woke up, I thought about Leila and Joss. We should have made a party, a farewell party. Because a farewell party does not celebrate leaving, but our encounter with the other.

Published in Portuguese January the 17th 2009.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Europe or Middle East ?

Last week was really fascinating. I did so many things that I don’t know where to start. My only English friend Andrew (the one who took me to yoga) is the son of a Lord. And so I ended up going to see the Parliament with him last week. We had the privelege to see the House of Lords in session, learned about a million rituals, histories and stories, and even had a drink in the ‘Peer’s room’. The following day, following up with the ‘fabuleux destin de Julieta Falavina’ (as a friend of mine would say), I went to do something completely different. I posed for a Russian painter. This was an experience that should be told in more detail, as for someone who has taken a million classes in (post-)feminism, orientalism, to be suddenly on the other side of the coin, was quite revealing… As I said before, this is worthy of another post.

In this post I would like to talk about my dear friend Nese. My Turkish friend, who studied with me in Holland, appeared unexpectedly in London last week. It had been years since I last saw her. And encountering her was without a doubt the nicest thing that happened to me lately. Her visit was brief, as she had to go somewhere else as well. But it was just amazing to have someone over who had actual informed opinions about all the texts and books that were lying around in my house. It made me remember how I met her.

On my first day in Amsterdam I went to register for the university, and as I queued up the first person that caught my attention was Nese. She was radiating and beautiful, and she seemed like a little bee flying around all over the place. She laughed, speaking French to one, English to another, and in a language I didn’t recognize to a third person. I watched her for a long time, because Nese is like that, captivating. I remember thinking that I wanted to meet her, as she seemed a very nice person.

So when a couple of days later she appeared in my civil war class, I was very happy. I even became more enthusiastic when I heard her speak. She had very well constructed and original ideas. I heard then that she was not officially in my class. She was just joining it out of her own interest. But even so, she was the person who read the most, participated the most, and had the most interesting questions. One day we were told we had to do a presentation, and even though she was not officially part of the class, she decided to do it. And she chose to do it about the same organisation as me. I was ecstatic, as I would finally get to meet her. We set up a meeting, and when she arrived and started to talk, I felt she knew more about the organisation than the president of the organisation himself. And I who already thought I knew too much for the 15 minute presentation was dazzled by how much she knew about the organisation, its projects, and even the countries where the projects were. In sum, she knew all there was to know. When she told me she didn’t feel quite prepared, I could not hold my laughter, and we became friends immediately. I told her that I had wanted to meet her since the first day of school. And she told me that the only reason she chose that organisation was so that she could meet me. We laughed!

We did a million things together, while we were in Amsterdam. Well, in fact, she did billions of things, and I followed her in a few. I tried to calm her down every time she was delirious not feeling prepared for something. I got amazed at seeing how many activities she was involved in, and I learned a lot about Turkey. Since then I have been trying to go to Istanbul, but for some odd reason there was always something that kept me from going. So when I got a call from Nese this Thursday at the painter’s studio saying she was at the airport, I couldn’t contain my joy.

We met close to my house, and she was the same. Thinner, but with the same joyous face. We hugged, just as if we had met the day before. It was all the same, even if everything in my life had changed since we last saw each other. All the same, even if she had been through depressions, diseases, difficult relationships, desperate thesis, annoying jobs, it was all the same, even if she lost her enthusiasm about her PhD, about academic life, about art. As we hugged nothing mattered, and all of this didn’t make a difference.

She enters my house and sees Abu-Lughod on the couch, and starts talking about the ethnography of the Bedouins. She looks at my Bourdieu book and tells me I should read it in French: the English translation makes almost no sense… I become hyper, just like that; I, who don’t even care reading about Bourdieu, I who have not even read about the Bedouins. I do know however, that when Abu-Lughod sets out to study the Bedouins and finds them living a ‘slum-like life’ she becomes disappointed, feeling that they are not real Bedouins anymore. She then realises that for them what makes them Bedouin is their blood. That everything around them can change, if only they are able to preserve their ‘essence’, all that is external does not matter. It touches me enormously to think about that. It is the metaphorical ‘internal’ that matters.

Nese invites me to come to Istanbul. I tell her I am afraid, as every time I have a ticket something goes wrong. Haiko tells me to go, at least to end the superstition. I agree. After all, it is not difficult to convince me to go on a trip. I agree. After all, I have never been to the Middle East. I say that out loud, already anticipating Nese’s response:

“But Jules, you know we are Europeans, right?”

We laugh. We laugh a lot! Let it all change. Let all concepts change. All the frontiers, all the continents, all the countries, all the categories. Let me visit the Lords one day, and pose for a Russian painter the other. Let me study social science, do yoga, meditate, or wander around South-East Asia. Let me travel the Middle East in some people minds, while being in Europe to others. Let’s change it all, but let’s keep the essence, let’s find the essence, and when we do, let’s celebrate it.