Home-Stay Experience- Back to the nature :)

October 2011

It was flooding in Bangkok during our Preparatory course; one of the worst cases Thailand had seen. Since, Fk Preparatory courses mandatorily need the participants to stay at local homes for at least two nights, our course organizers at AIT were in awe to find homes because of the flooding incidents. The purpose of home-stay in the preparatory course is to make the participants have the experience of living in the worst situation with minimal facilities; exposed to foreign food, foreign culture with minimal or nil English. All participants had to stay with a Thai family and would not be allowed to contact other participants during the period. I had heard earlier participants complaining that the home-stay experience during the prep course was tougher than their whole stay in their respective host countries.
Now, the usual villages for the home-stay were flooded, our organizers selected a village in Chochaengsao Province for our home-stay experience; only this time all it was not a home we were heading to and all the participants were going to be together. 🙂 So, all the participants got into two vans as we travelled to Chocheangsao Province. It was an amazing drive as we left the concrete Bangkok behind and into the green Thai Countryside. Wanakaset learning Center situated at Sanam Chaiket Chaochengsao is actually the name of the agro-forest and a network of agroforest practitioners . So, we were heading into a forest, private but still a forest. When we arrived there, we were awestruck. As we moved inside the forest, through a narrow track, we could see a modest bamboo hut perched into the wild and a stream flowing right below it. So perfectly in harmony with nature!
As we dropped our bags and looked around we saw that this was more like a camp, with two spaces to sleep (no doors or barred windows); all built with bamboo sticks and the amazing stream flowing right below you. Mosquitoes were there and we were warned about the leeches but well it was all part of this broad “into the wild” experience. The owner then welcomed us and briefed us on the basic rules. We were supposed to cook in shifts, there would be local help and we had to do our own dishes. We were also requested not to use our shampoo, soap, detergents and even toothpaste and were provided with more organic, non-foaming, eco-friendly alternatives. We were then shown around the land; the huge expanse where many tress, herbs and crops of ecological and medicinal values were conserved sustainably. Later in the evening, we were briefed by the owner and introduced to the story behind Wanakaset. Wanakaset actually means “forest agriculture” and it also refers to the farming concept which goes beyond agricultural production to look at self-sufficiency and the relationship between man and his natural environment and resources. The idea was practiced and preached by Pooyai Viboon Khemchalerm. A farmer by profession, he had been attracted to the cash crop production and chemical farming and its preliminary gains once upon a time only to be plunged into loss of fertilityof his land and severe debts. Then, he had accepted and submitted to the power of nature. He had then switched to sustainable farming practices or Wanakaset. The current owner, his son is also abiding by his father’s doctrine “if you take care of the nature, nature will take care of you.” A simple, yet vital idea! An inspiration for all!
The experience of the home-stay or rather forest-stay was amazing. It was raining all nights then keeping the mosquitoes was at bay. With the creek gurgling below and rain above; the moments were simply magical for a rain lover like me. We cooked with the locals, or rather helped them cooking. Simple food, genuine smiles and sheer good times with friends; karaoke, games, chatters filled our nights; all in a perfectly natural setting :). The food was simple and homely. We were also taken to a nearby temple where on the first visit we helped the locals prepare traditional sweets for monks. It was a good cultural interaction. The next day, we participated in the Buddhist lent festival, during which the local community presents food and grains (lent) to the monks, who have just broken their fast. The celebration was huge and colorful with people bringing in different foods and offering them to monks. There were many pretty ladies and kids dressed in traditional carnival dresses. Then, they all sat and prayed and feasted on the collected perishable food. Oil lamps were lit and the whole worshipping and praying ceremony was very much similar to the ones we have in Nepali Bihars.
We also visited the house cum farm of Mr. Michael B. Commons, an Earth Net member and an organic farmer. He showed us his farm and nursery, which he and his Thai wife were working on to make it a fertile land. Earlier, it was a wasteland. It was a good experience and Commons family was quite generous to us with their food, herbal drinks and hospitality. Later we also made natural shampoo with Kaffir limes and facepacks. It was a wonderful experience, cutting the limes, cooking and filtering with a cloth, nothing wasted, all sustainable and natural. And the fun part was we were applying in on our friends’ faces and clicking pictures. 21 people from different countries in Asia, from different age groups, speaking different languages, driven there due to bangkok floodings and applying facepack, they just made onto each other and posing to take pictures . I am sure this is one of the strongest memories of the prep course which will bind us all together. Pure joy, sheer bliss!
Home-stay s were supposed to be difficult, but our batch got lucky! We had the time of our lives then ! 😀

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