Friday, February 12, 2010

Personal days: of day markets, potlucks, aeorbics, and court dates

Day Market:
So for our first personal day on Tuesday, Gianna, Becky, and I headed into Khon Kaen city to check out the day market. Despite getting off the songtao much too early, we were able to orient ourselves over sodas served in bags and made it to the market. They sell everything there from fresh fruit and meat to jewelry to used and new clothing. We attempted to check out the used clothing collection (I had been missing Emma and really needed my Salvo fix) but it was a huge unorganized mess and mostly men’s clothing, so we moved onto the new stuff. We sifted through cute shirts, pant-skirtish like bottoms, and each found a dress we loved. I can’t believe I didn’t get any pictures of the craziness of the market, but as it’s open every day, I’m sure some will surface soon.

Liam’s roommate invited us all up to the 3rd floor of our dorm for an amazing dinner party, very much reminiscent of my favorite Bowdoin tradition: pot lucks. His roommate and a bunch of friends had small grills and cookers and made us the most amazing Thai food, including eggplant? tempura, morning glories, some noodle dish, and an amazing soup with vegetables and pork. They had a whole fruit spread with even ripe mango which we haven’t seen but have been craving so intensely since arriving. Gianna’s roommate Sax played Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, and that Oreo commercial song “I’m just a little bit caught in the middle...” and more. She has an amazing singing voice and I can’t wait for her to bring us to karaoke down town. Great night, great food, all around really freaking awesome.

So remind yourself of my trip to the Baw Kaew village where we spent a night with the protestors who got kicked off their land with minimal or no compensation so the Forest Industry could build eucalyptus trees for profit. As these villagers are farmers, without land, they have no livelihood and no access to food or profit. They have been fighting for their land back for 30 years, but until recently, were not aware of the rights they have according to the United Nations Human Rights Report, of which Thailand is a signatory. They have been working closely with NGOs who have educated them about their rights and aided the villagers in securing their land and livelihoods. Currently, the villagers are being sued by the FIO for trespassing, as they set up a protest village on the land that was once theirs and is now covered in a eucalyptus forest. However, if they can prove that the land was taken from them illegally, they eucalyptus project will stop and their land will be returned to them. Granted, in many meetings with multiple committees and subcommittees, the Thai government has already declared that the project should stop and yet it continues. The villagers are hoping that through this court case, they will get their land back for once and for all. As we conveniently had a personal day on the first day of this last part of trial, a group of seven of us decided to go and show our support. Although we could not understand a word that was going on, the villagers were adamant that our presence alone was exceedingly beneficial to them. Having foreigners showed the court that the issue of human rights is an international concern and that this village case is a big concern attracting people from all over the world. We felt like celebrities endorsing a cause. We stayed to watch the first witness (of 31) get questioned by both the defense and the prosecution. According to our translator, they were just going over basic details of the situation, such as dates, number of people affected, rai of land used, etc, things we have already learned through talking with the villagers and reading the Human Rights Report that last semester’s CIEE students created for the village.

My most distinct impressions of the court, besides how western it was, were the immense differences between the two lawyers. I mean take every stereotype you might have about a people’s lawyer vs. a corporate lawyer and it’s all true. The representative of the villagers and the NGO, who was working for free btw, was this thin, tiny man who was swimming in his shirt so much that his pocket was as long as his torso and his tie took up half his width. He was dressed in a suit, but of no special quality, and he wore his silver hair long to his shoulders. When his partner spoke, he asked very open-ended questions, in clear speech, and let the witness speak as much as he felt was necessary to answer the question. The FIO lawyer was quite fat (a Mr. Bumble from Oliver! type), dressed in a beautiful Japanese suit, with a purple pinstriped shirt, and a tie held to his shirt with a sparkling tiepin. He wore a gold watch and two huge gold rings with gemstones, one on each ring finger. He was so loud and abrasive, and asked only yes/no questions, worded in very formal Thai that the witness would never understand. He would only wait for the yes/no answer and wouldn’t allow the villager to say any more. I couldn’t understand any Thai but I could read the dynamics of the room perfectly. I may not have been able to understand the content of each question, but I was able to recognize the question words that were being used by each lawyer. I felt like I was watching some Hollywood version of court, since stereotypes were so blatantly followed.

I was so glad that I went to support the villagers. They thought that the trial was going well, though slowly, and that the FIO wasn’t trying to take advantage of them yet. The NGO lawyer recounted that he didn’t believe that his opponent didn’t have a strong argument as he was using misleading evidence and language. We asked in the court was corrupt and therefore, whether or not the case was already decided before it started. We were assured that the Thai court, especially in more rural areas, tend to be honest. Random fact, but the hardest part about court was not being able to cross my legs as I sat on the benches. It must have something to do with the way your feet are pointing, but I definitely had to make a conscious effort to keep my leg on the ground.

Sarah and Shayne were going to aerobics. Gianna and I decided to join. Best decision. Ever. Besides thinking I was going to collapse for moving for an hour straight in the scorching heat, I had a great time, and realized this is one of the few places where no language barrier is existent. It reminded me of two things: 1) playing DDR as my soul source of exercise and 2) finishing up physical therapy at the hospital in Maine and going downstairs to find my shoes, and instead came across my mother, sister, and Spanish friend Jenny doing water aerobics in the pool with about thirty 80-year old women.

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