Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ban Waing

My neighbor, Kathleen Stocking, has joined the Peace Corps this year and is now living in Ban Waing, Thailand.

She wrote that they area used to be a teak forest, but was now treeless and eroded. I didn't really get it until I typed "Ban Waing" into Google Earth and came up with this satellite photo.

Ban Waing is in the center of the photo. To the west looks like healthy forest, to the north are red blotches, fires. Ban Waing itself has the same grey color as photos of the moon. Still, Kathleen writes:
If you look on the map, I'm about 300 kilometers south of Chaing Mai, in the north of Thailnd. It is still hot and now the rains have started. The clothes never dry.

People still farm all around the edges of the village. They live in teak houses, for the most part, with all the bedrooms upstairs and the family room underneath the house. This is where people sit to talk and where villagers can come by to visit. The kitchens are off the back under and awning and they cook there and wash their clothes and dishes there. This prevents the heat of the kitchen from getting into the house and also is a stop-gap for fires. They used to wash their dishes and clothes in the little streams that run through the town and in the big river but now -- except for the very poor -- no one does this because the streams are basically open sewers.

These people know a lot about food and farming. They can and do grow anything and eat anything. One of the ladies in my family compound, Ginseng Lurry, is often out early in the morning digging little holes in the yard (in the rain, wearing a bamboo hat) with a stick. They know how to save and select the best seeds and grow things from them. Their houses are not very clean but all their time and energy -- very successfully -- goes into farming.

The school lunches are very high quality: nutritious, tasty and cheap. Alice Waters -- with her little gardens and kids preparing vegetables in poor Calfifornia schools -- is light years behind these folks who do a lot with a little and do it extraordinarily well.

Unfortunately a lot of the lore of farming and cooking is being lost with the young going to Bangkok to get jobs.
I'm thinking of the recent review of The Worst Hard Time. I had forgotten that the dust storms were a nationwide disaster:
On May 10, 1934, a collection of dust storms moved over the Midwest carrying, Egan says, "three tons of dust for every American alive." It dumped 6,000 tons on Chicago that night. By morning, the storm was 1,800 miles wide -- "a great rectangle of dust" weighing 350 million tons -- and was depositing the surface of the Great Plains on New York City, where commerce stopped in the semi-darkness.
Everyone of my generation grew up with a certain awareness of soil erosion and Smokey the Bear. We are evidence that peoples' attitudes and behavior can change, and do so quickly, in the face os environmental disaster.

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