The Blessing of Water

After rainy season comes dry season. Gradually the rain peters out, and suddenly you realize that it's been a few weeks since it has rained at all, and then a few months. It may rain once or twice during this season, what we call winter, because it's cool, but not very much.

Then comes hot season. No rain, no cool, just long, hot days, and everything turning brown. Trees shed their leaves and close up shop for a while to survive the heat. At least, trees that aren't indigenous do.

The reservoir at the end of hot season, close to empty.

Into the middle of this long, hot, dry spell comes the New Year Festival called Songkran. It anticipates the coming rains, the shift in the weather, the relief from the heat, with the gift of water.

To an outsider it just looks like a nationwide week long water fight. Everyone gets wet. Many expats party and get drunk and enjoy the epic water fights. That's fine. It is super fun. It's such a relief, in the middle of the heat, to be splashing water around.

But there is more to it than that. To the people here the water is a blessing, something precious that you give and receive.

There is nothing like living from one water delivery to the next, carefully conserving everything in the tanks so that it will last long enough to make it through to the next delivery, to bring this concept home. Ironically, during the water festival, the trucks don't deliver water, because it's a holiday. So with our family, plus 3 guests, we had to make the water last 6 whole days before delivery. You weigh things like shower vs. laundry vs. being able to flush the toilets still.

Enter into this frugality and extremely careful use of water the neighbors extravagantly pouring it out, giving it away to grateful recipients. People slow to receive the blessing. People give it with joy. This is not like a water fight where you throw water on someone and then run away so they can't get you. This is a time of blessing, of receiving the water and welcoming the coming rain with open arms. You stop, you receive, and you pass on the blessing to others.

The Thais are often very gentle, carefully pouring little bits of water on the babies, or smearing their cheeks with wet cooling powder.

Driving down the street, there will be parties, people standing around barrels full of water, and holding hoses, music blasting, dancing, soaking wet. They scoop up their buckets, or water guns, grinning as you close the distance, and then douse the car, and everyone inside of it.

Driving through city center. It did not rain this day. That's just a city wide water celebration.

A few of my drenched passengers after a quick drive through town.
People load up in trucks with barrels of water in the middle, and drive around throwing water on everyone, before going back to refill and do it again.

We decided to take our visiting volunteers out to do some touristy things, since there's no work can be done during Songkran, everyone is holidaying. We passed 2 waterfalls, full, completely full of people, trucks full of people, all throwing water, backed up all the way to the highway.

It's hard to photograph Songkran, because you're camera gets wet if you're not careful.
A truck full of people on holiday, ready to celebrate.
 But then we saw a sign for a waterfall a ways off of the highway. A gorgeous country drive later, we arrived. There were people, but not nearly as many as at the other places. So we found a spot, pulled out our picnic lunch, and got busy exploring and enjoying.

Then we heard thunder, and again, and again. The sky darkened almost immediately.

We packed up everything, in case we needed to make a quick exit, and kept an eye on the sky.

The sun was gone at this point.
 As soon as the first drops hit we grabbed all the stuff and raced up the hill to a little covered area near the road. By the time we got up the, very short, hill, rain was pouring down, drenching everything.

So what did we do? It was the first rain of the season, and it's a waterfall, we went out in it and danced around and explored. The Thais all taking shelter just watched the crazy farangs walking around getting thoroughly soaked. The place where we had our picnic was underwater by then, once more a part of the waterfall.

Then it rained harder, and harder still. We finally had enough of getting soaked, and headed back to the car for the steamy ride into town, where it hadn't rained yet, and people were still throwing water.

The last day of Songkran, when we checked the reserve tanks, there was still water in them, and we knew we would get a delivery the next day. So we decided it was our turn to give out blessings, as we had been receiving them all week. The kids lined up at our gate, and made with the water.

What's fascinating is the way people slowed down, and bowed their heads, in order to receive the blessing. No one passes it by. No one rejects it. They slow down and receive it.

Would that I could always remember to receive blessings in this way.


An Embarrassment of Riches

She carefully hands me the coins she has swept up from the corners of my bedroom, this change I didn't even notice was missing. The way she holds them and places them in my hands tells me that she would notice. Her life is so hardscrabble and close to the edge compared to mine that these few coins would make a difference for her.

I make the girls fold and put away their own clothes, sort out all the tangle that they just stuff onto their shelves repeatedly. There are dirty clothes mixed with clean ones, there are so. many. dresses. Two little girls accumulate.

She walks by the door, looks in on them as they sort it out, laughing a little at the thought of two farang girls sorting their own clothes. I wonder how many clothes are at her house, this tiny little mother who looks no older than a teenager and already has a 2 year old daughter.

I've seen her house: bamboo walls, a single room, maybe a partition, thatched roofs. No electricity. No running water.

I'm embarrassed by my riches. Literally.

The dresses strewn about the room are causing me extreme discomfort. Now I understand the way Aaron used to feel when he came home after his trips here.

I drive into town in our big old car. It was very inexpensive and it's far from perfect, but it carries me to the places I need to go. I pass people walking along the road carrying huge bundles of sticks on their heads. They look up as I pass them and I know how easy it would be to have them tie their load to the roof rack and catch a ride to where they are going.

But I'm not here to give rides.

Because even if you took away all this stuff, the clothes, the car, the money, I'd still be richer than most people here. You'd have to take away what I know, and my ability to analyze and learn, before I was as poor as them. Because it's not just material things that make me wealthy, its the more intangible things, like education and knowledge.

When I remember this my embarrassment eases. Because it's this that I came to share, to give away. My girls don't need so many dresses, and I don't need spare change, but ultimately, it's how well I share the things in my head that will truly close the gap between me, and this young woman with the brilliant smile and the tanaka smeared cheeks reverently handing me the coins she found on my bedroom floor.
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