It’s amazing how quickly we get used to new situations and find them ordinary. Take, for example, my current life situation which I stumbled into quite unplanned. The past several days, I have been living and volunteering at an eco resort and spa on the south coast of Thailand, not the disco, gulf of Thailand, booze cruise, sun sea sex side of Thailand, but the peaceful tranquility of Chanthaburi, a town approximately 100km away from the border with Cambodia, ripe with fruit and sparkling sea and tinkling cow bells and Thai families holidaying.
I came to see a fellow New Zealander, the lovely owner, who invited me to visit and offered for me to stay longer and work for my keep. I abandoned vague plans to go island hopping and decided to get back to my farming roots, perform some manual labour, catch up on sleep, and enjoy some peace and quiet outside of Bangkok. The city was awesome but also drained me of energy and of funds, and probably gave my liver a slight green tinge.
Now I’m staying in my own lovely little bungalow with attached bathroom and a real flushing toilet that one can plant ones peachy bum on (for many, this goes without saying, but it’s not a guarantee in this part of the world, no sirree), eating eggs from their chickens, rambutan and mangosteen from the trees, vegetables from the garden. It is just like Little House on the Prairie, my childhood fantasy (no Potter, I haven’t forgotten about you – this was before your time).
My days so far have involved rising early before the heat of the sun is overwhelming, watering the plants, raking leaves, or bicycling down to the farm to harvest the peanuts. Who knew peanuts grew in the ground? It’s one of those things I’ve never really thought about, like, where do nuts come from? I just eat them and know they are expensive and full of fats but mostly the good kinds of fats but don’t eat your body weight in roasted cashews cos that’s too much of a good thing. But now we KNOW! Peanuts grow in the ground, with big leafy green leaves protruding out of the surface, giving away their location.
She is Asian squatting in the peanut field, her big colourful hat shielding her from the savage sun, steadily hoisting bunches of peanuts out of the dry soil, hiffing them on the pile, sweat pouring down her face and darkening her grey tracksuit top, and she doesn’t breathe a word of complaint or “poor me”.
I am, meanwhile, just taking a small breather in the shade, my stupid fluorescent running shoes sticking out like a sore thumb, sweat running like a river through all of my crevasses. I feel a little woozy, as though all the liquid inside of me has exited through my sweat glands and all that is left inside is a dry, prune like mass. My hamstrings ache from bending over, my arms and back are protesting at the repetitive peanut-wrenching motion, my shins are scratched from the creepy little vines that have wrapped themselves around the peanuts in attempt to strangle them to death. I am pooped.
But I quite love it. There’s something very satisfying about pure physical labour. You demolish a row of peanuts and weeds, sit back for a moment and admire the neatness of your work, then continue. You don’t have to think too much – just get on with it. Maybe you think about the word ‘peanuts’ and say it over and over again in your head until it sounds naughty and you giggle out loud. I like the three cows because they eat all the weeds and peanut shoots that I throw over the fence to them. They’re not fussy. The little things become the most important things – a cup of ice appears and I rejoice! I give up any attempts to stay clean or even to wipe the sweat off my face. How liberating!
I speak no Thai and have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, ever. One thing, however, that crosses language barriers is physical comedy! When myself and a more elderly Thai man were working together (me bundling together shoots of peanuts, him sawing off the leafy ends with a “Scream” shaped scythe), he pretended to saw off my entire hand with said scythe and then laughed uproariously, beaming a toothless smile and turning around to the others to see if they had seen. We laughed, oh how we laughed. These moments become even more hilarious because you’re desperate for something to connect with the other person over – when you can’t say words, you have to find other ways to giggle.
The same with the kids – they speak to me as if I understand what they are saying – bless their souls. I obviously do not understand, I am a fool. So instead of talking to each other, we have established relationship through laughing at the cows, imitating animals noises, doing high fives and feeding the cows big bunches of leaves then running away screaming before they can get us with their big nasty horns. These are fulfilling and educational relationships that reach me on my level.
When the work is done, I return, panting, to my room, drink 1.5 litres of water, and shower away the filth. I have a newfound respect for these Thai people – day in, day out, working hard in the heat, smiles on their faces, no complaint. If they do complain, I don’t catch it, cos I don’t speak Thai.
For now, this is my new normal. “Nut” so bad.
Peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts (say it with me now)