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Simplicity and Community

Almost 2 weeks after my Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, I was glad to receive a positive answer to the volunteering application I had sent to an organic farm where they teach sustainable development and permaculture.

I don't know how people can travel for a long time and remain simple tourists... For my part, I was growing tired of being a tourist! I was eager to participate in an exciting project and do something closer to my values... Also, I think I was looking forward to meeting people in a different context, where people have no commercial interest in me as a client and instead, treat me like a team member.

Since the start of this trip, I've often wondered what I'm doing here... I feel grateful, and yet, something feels off and uncomfortable, being among people who can't afford the luxury of travelling and think we are so rich (and in comparison, we are!!!). It's almost like being in a zoo: I don't feel comfortable snapping pictures of the locals and sometimes I get mad seeing other tourists take portraits without even asking for permission...

 

Proudly equipped with a new hat, a bottle of mosquito repellent and "new" old clothes that I wouldn't mind getting dirty, I got on a truck full of fried bananas, dried fish and Amazon orders to be delivered in the middle of nowhere. I was on the road to PunPun Organic Farm, an hour and a half North of Chiang Mai! This region, the Thai Highlands, can be considered the foothills of the Himalaya (hills that are 2,600 meters high are pretty impressive to me!) It's beautiful, wild and... DRY! When you picture rice crops, you think of postcard-perfect green fields, but they're not green at the end of January when there has been no rain for 4 months! The ground is hard and crackled, and the landscape ranges from green to completely yellowed... But it has a certain charm and a dry 35 degrees is not so bad.

In the middle of the afternoon, I arrived at the farm and was greeted by a woman with her baby. Everybody else was off to enjoy their "chillday" of the week. The woman first asked me if I had eaten because there was a lot of good food to eat: “eat food, will show room later!”

I put my backpack down, helped myself to some noodles, vegetables and fresh greenery that I had never seen before and I ate alone, a little shy (why?). In this large and deserted common room, I sat down on bamboo mats and savored the meal, while listening to a cicada (they sound like a concrete saw, over here!) and with just geckos and impressive lines of ants for company. The food was extra spicy! I cried and blew my nose 10 times in 15 minutes, while admiring the view over the fields and valleys, on the land where I was about to spend the next 3 weeks...

It was beautiful, but deep down, I was still feeling the same discomfort, which makes me vaguely nervous, upsets my stomach and seems to come up as soon as I face the unknown or when I'm transitioning from one project to another. 

Nang, my hostess showed me to my room: a roof without real walls but with mosquito nets above a pile of mattresses (luxury camping!). That's when I noticed the 1-2-3-4-5-6…7 (SEVEN!) blankets on the bed. My hostess explained that the temperature drops during the night, from 32-35 to 12-15 °C. The Nordic side of me was pleased.

I unpacked, alone again, and still felt this discomfort. I think I have the tendency to resist change and become scared of some situations (fitting in with a new group, for instance). They say it's good to step out of your comfort zone... Well, here I am!

This landscape inspired me to meditate, breathe and stretch but as I was unrolling my yoga mat, my new volunteering roommates got back from their swim in the nearby lake (yessssss!!!), all excited to greet me: “Hi! I’m Tracey from China, where are you from (no time to answer, she went on when she saw my yoga mat) Oh… You do yoga? I do yoga too! I even brought my mat! We can do it together! (Still no time to reply, she didn't breathe between her sentences!) But for now, come, I will show you around and we have to go water our zones in the garden!” Without missing a beat, this 21-year-old Chinese woman grabbed me by the hand (which I thought was pretty funny) and started introducing me to everyone and explaining EVERY SINGLE THING we saw! 

Wow… Okay, Véro, hang on and breathe.

 

In no time, I was introduced to almost every volunteer and official member of the farm: Everyone was kind and warm. During the following weeks, I asked the permanent members of the community how they maintained such a welcoming and open organization, despite having to share their daily lives with new faces all the time. They smiled kindly and said: “we chose the right people”! 

 

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Many of you have met Véronique Laplante during her 3 years and more as Lotus Palm administrator and massage therapist. She is a dear member of the Lotus Palm family and we follow her journey with great pride and love.

She has graciously agreed to share with us her thoughts, experiences and photos while she is traveling through Southeast Asia.

We will publish her story over the next few months. Follow the guide!