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13 Jan 2018
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When the program coordinator at Mirror asked for someone to write an article on our homestay at Jalae Village, I eagerly accepted. Now here I am, sprawled out on our bamboo sleeping arrangements safety tucked away inside the mosquito nets of a new hut, on yet another homestay and I’ve found myself at a complete loss for words. I wouldn’t know where to start or the appropriate arrangement of words to convey that type of experience. There is no way to really do it justice, like trying to explain the Mona Lisa to someone who’s never seen it. In the most raw and unbiased perspective I can offer, this homestay was one of those trips where no detail or event could be forgotten. Every emotion and triumph will forever be preserved in a special place in your heart. 

Our adventure began on a seemingly typical Tuesday, leaving the foundation with packed bags and a head full of questions and curiosity. We arrive to the village, set up our beds and get ourselves situated over lunch. We had been told we would be trekking to and from the worksite everyday and that it was quite far. “Quite” far. We scaled the mountain and maybe a few of us questioned the amount of rice we gorged on just prior to embarking on this hike.

We arrive, dripping in sweat and in awe of the view. It was nothing short of breath taking...or what was left of it. The Thai locals we were working with had already began carving out a path for what would soon become an irrigation system for their rice fields. Few times in my life could I say that a legitimate occupational hazard was slipping off a mountain face, everyone was excited and ready to tackle this incredible feat. We split into two groups, one who would work on hoeing a path wide enough for walking and for the ditch to go. The other group was to carry the concrete bricks to be used as the foundation of the cement water way.  After a long and exhausting day we head immediately to the gorgeous waterfall we pass every morning on our trek. It was an oasis of refreshment and it was a nice place to decompress and hang out. We return to the village for dinner and to get some rest, in intervals of sleep between rooster crawking. 

The next day we arrive, dripping in sweat and still in awe of the view. Today our task is significantly more difficult. We have to navigate down a muddy slip-n-slide to a stream to collect sand and rocks for the cement. Each and every one of us fell a number of times and was drenched in mud and water. We collected sand with hoes, buckets and our bare hands, whatever we could to get every grain possible into these potato sack bags. Being freshly plucked from the stream each bag was weighed down with water and immediately soaked down your back and legs. The bags full of rocks weren’t any lighter and we all were perplexed by how gracefully and seemingly easy the locals were able to carry and maneuver up and down with full loads. We all muscled through it and enjoyed our lunches at the hut just down a ways from the worksite. This is the kind of work we came here for, the real nitty gritty. By the end of the day we’ve all given it our all and are ready to hit the waterfall. Mission accomplished.

 It’s now Thursday and we’re excited to be wrapping up the project. We arrive to our worksite in the usual condition and are amazed to see such progress on a once seemingly implausible undertaking. The sense of accomplishment was unmistakably tangible between all of us who were a part of making this objective a reality. We finished up and headed back to the house for lunch. Having had a solid dose of achievement and rice, I think we were all a little underprepared for what was in store that afternoon.

We crossed the river, frolicking from rock to rock and arrive inquisitive at our new assignment.  It’s a questionably grey/brown river flowing through the outskirt of the field we’ve crossed occupied by water buffalo. The questionable color will soon be explained. If you’ve ever walked over a sewer in a bustling city, or driven past a landfill you can begin to fabricate a similar smell of what we were working with. After a long week trekking, plowing and conjuring up the inner Bear Grills in all of us here we stand, knee deep in not-so-inexplicably greyish brown water. The work was hard and we all felt less than desirable as we scuttled our way back home. When we reach the walking stretch through the village to get back to our house I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t remember the village smelling so bad”! I couldn’t help but giggle at my own naivety when 2 seconds later one of us turned around to so kindly inform the group that we all smell like poop.  I’ve never taken such a glorious bucket shower.

After collective efforts of hard work our group, the village host and all the adorable kids celebrated that night with a barbeque and feasted on a deliciously succulent meal. That night we had a phenomenal time soaking in the enjoyment of each other’s company and genuine gut-heaving laughter. We played with the kids who seemed to get more and more energized the more out of breath we became. It was honestly one of the most whole-heartedly beautiful and carefree times of my entire life. Running around with the kids on our backs, enabling airborne combat and cracking up watching our beloved Pierre-Louis karate fighting three tiny people at once was near tear jerking. That moment of awareness, that we were all suspended in pure bliss, made me realize what it is that really gets you through a demanding day. What allows you to wake up with a smile on your face, regardless of the circumstances.  It was that kind of moment when you’re reminded of what life is really all about.

The homestay at Jalae village was an experience I will be forever grateful for and I think I speak for the group as well. It was an incredible endeavor and opportunity for growth and self-exploration. It was hard work that paid off and memories to last you a lifetime. But don’t take my word for it, all I can do is touch on the complexity and true beauty of any masterpiece, you gotta see it for yourself.

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