the three youngest daughters sit on the floor in fixed concentration watching the transfixing fluid movements of the four eldest who gracefully maneuver their way around the big room, accompanied by a traditional instrumental music. one i would instinctively place as indian if it were not for the way their bodies incorporate into the overall melody, a synchronicity that gives it away as something wholly foreign to me. my mah and paw are draped lazily over one another on the floor looking weary while expressing a transcendent feeling of family.
while this moment marks my first night of my hmong village homestay it more importantly illustrates my initiation into a world i couldn't have even dreamed.
the first few hours presented a slew of challenges relating to my ineptitude in thai vocabulary and the insecurities of being placed in a completely foreign situation with a group of about thirty or more hmong relatives with questioning interest. yet somehow the night worked its way into a place of innate comfort, focused in simple actions like teachings of head, shoulders, knees, and toes. little did i know that the initiation of english games was simply the start and that over the course of the next four days i would rattle off every english word for each entity crossing my path or event that occurred. the first night raged past with the clash of warm thundershowers and the sound i've been missing.
day two commenced with the sun and more "gin coows" (eat rice, my family was vegetarian don't worry) than i ever thought possible. i soon learned not to disobey these commands as mah sia's food was by far the best in the course of all my adventures on this side of the world. soon the family and i piled into the truck and trekked our way to shannons families house where we all embarked on our journey to a mountain top hmong village in another district. it was regrettably not mentioned until an hour into the trip that the location was one that rivals the roof of the world. regardless we made it to a place more beautifully isolated than i could have ever imagined and the incorporation of such strong cultural potency i was taken back. a couple of hours spent at our elevation allowed for walks thru bamboo forests and recess time at the local school. the afternoon was spent splashing at the lake and napping, representing the true perks of village existence.
friday started even earlier than the others and allowed for exploring time around my neighborhood of sorts before the group met up for trips to a former refugee camp and the silom waterfall. the pickup ride to each place represented views of virgin forests and immense farm land, both seemingly ever plentiful. the multi-tiered waterfall presented itself as a mini expedition with efforts to traverse the forest and reach the top then slide back down..it ended up quite well i think. swimming through the pools created the perfect afternoon and i returned to make it up to the mango fields at sunset. my family also donned me with a hmong name ganshia; one with a free and open spirit, a boundless heart. the night ended with night time hide and seek and thai tv lounging with the little ones.
saturday morning once again started with trips through the grid like streets of the village. unfortunately, i was particularily aware of the staring. having been paying attention through the course of our stay i was hoping for the long held glances to have subsided. looking back i suppose this is simply the first time i've felt truly uncomfortable with the color of my skin. even with all the awkwardness and discomfort it amounted i feel the experience was immeasurably beneficial to my cultural understanding. later on i made my way to misas families home where a few of us were carted into the depths of the mountain jungle to reach the lychee fields. truly beautiful the trip was long and induced more motion sickness than i care to remember but it was a sight i'm thankful not to have missed. the afternoon was blazing hot and led me to the local silver shops and on adventures with my siblings. who were all busy preparing and adorning themselves in hmong traditional costumes and new years apparel for their dance debut at the farewell dinner. with the youngest boy mong, preparing with intense hula hooping, his contribution along with backflips to the performance. that evening we made our way to the meeting hall with all, including myself, wearing layers upon layers of traditional handmade hmong designs. dinner was good and brought the entire community together with a buzz of anticipation and cultural influence. entertainment included many traditional styles, including my siblings dances, and ended with our rendition of " build me up buttercup". oh to be american. my final night ended as all the others had sprawled out on the floor surrounded by my siblings and the dim flickering of the thai drama overtaking the screen.
sunday morning came far too quickly in my mind and served as the goodbye point for my amazing odyssey, which now resides close to my heart in a category far too unique to pinpoint.