22 September 2008

Surin Green Market - Community Pride

The corpse sits at my feet. I hover over it, my hands dirty, and wonder how this all happened. I'm a humanist, I think. A vegetarian, even. So how did I get here?

A few days ago, as I struggled to fall asleep during the never-ending drive to Surin, where I would be spending five nights with a rural Thai family, I rummaged through my backpack, until I landed on my copy of the foolproof CIEE Thailand Fall 2008 program guide. If I can't sleep, I thought, I might as well reread the schedule for the Food Unit, and prepare for the week ahead. For Friday afternoon, the schedule reads, "Return to the village and help your family prepare goods for the Green Market." This market, I've learned from readings and lectures, allows for organic farming families in Surin, like the one with which I'd be staying, to sell their home-grown produce and home-made treats to residents of Surin City every Saturday morning.

It is now Friday evening, and here I am, with my host family's "goods" before me, cursing my program guide, which never mentioned sitting around a fire, de-feathering chickens with my new Thai mom, dad, and 14-year-old sister, Jem. With only one month of Thai class under my belt, I'm still not sure how to say, "Listen, guys, I don't even feel comfortable eating chicken, so I feel kinda weird handling dead ones." I conclude that plucking is really my only option. And so, with three fellow CIEE students plucking away alongside me, I decide to take the plunge, and prove myself to my host family.

The following morning, having washed my hands post-plucking with only cool rain water and something that might have been dish soap, I wake up at four, and catch a ride to the market in a neighbor's pick-up truck, while my host dad stays behind at the house to work, and my host sister and mom drive the family's motorbike. When I am reunited with the women at the Green Market, I see that we'll be selling much more than chicken, passion fruit, ginger and beans.
Apparently I was deemed worthy enough to de-feather chickens, but was left in the dark when the family picked the guava, peppers, bananas and leafy greens that are now on display at my host family's stall. Seeing all this produce, and the fish and chicken my host mom is busy grilling on location, I realize just how much work my host family must put into this market week after week. And, of course, they do it all with a smile, eager to sell their organic, fresh, and delicious goods to their middle-class, health-conscious neighbors in Surin City.

As I watch Jem sell her family's produce, while my host mom sits by the grill, trusting that her young daughter is capable of handling the business end of the operation, I discover that the Green Market is about much more than just extra pocket money for my family, chemical-free produce for urban consumers, and the cultural edification of timid, vegetarian foreigners. This market is about pride, community, and tradition. I see this in the way my family works together to prepare each Friday, and in the way the next-door neighbor sees me as a friend who needs a ride, not as competition. And, finally, I see this in the way my host mom glows, as she tells me (with the help of a translator, of course), that when she grows up, "Jem will be an organic farmer, too." Dee mahg, I think. Very good.

Ari Kiener - Carleton College

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

I love what you said about the community aspect, and neighbors not feeling the need to compete with eachother but rather to be unified under a common goal. It puts into perspective how beneficial and necessary community is. In Surin, I noticed that because of the way villagers lives are so intertwined, they are able to help eachother improve their quality of life. "Carpooling" on the way to the Green Market, for example, is just a small way that the value of community and cooperation is manifested. Even in light of organic farming and its benefits, these farmers seem to be aware that together than can accomplish more to bring about awareness of the health benefits, financial benefits, etc. Even the Kids Love Nature club, run by a few of the women in the village, indicates to me that they enjoy living life together and that it heightens their quality of life as individuals and as a whole.