By Lina Ehlert – 3 week volunteer
Coming to Ban Naklang Village and the Kindred Elephant Sanctuary is like entering a whole new world. After a 4-5 hour drive from Chiang Mai and several stops at the supermarket, the bumpy road through the village came to an end. I found myself surrounded by the deep green jungle, modest wooden huts, grunting animals and smiling locals welcoming me. I was immediately impressed by how warm and welcoming my homestay family and the local people were. I wanted to know more about these people and immersed myself in their culture during my stay.
The name of my homestay mother is “Nee” which means “smile”. She is truly sunshine, always in a good mood. Although the Karen people live in very basic conditions at Ban Naklang, they always put on a smile. To get to know the women of the village a bit better, I went to a weaving session. The women here make a small income by weaving wonderfully designed t-shirts, skirts, table runners and scarfs. They weave with vibrant colours, each piece is unique and of very high quality.
I was very lucky to get together with them and weave a beautiful bright green scarf. The women taught me how to handle the thread, so that it would work. I didn`t know how complicated the weaving process is. At first, I didn`t get it right and the women were laughing at me because of my clumsiness. But after some time, I got into it and I was able to weave a big part of the scarf. It was impressive the way they were able to explain the weaving process to me using only hand gestures, because their English is limited and so is my Pakinyaw. The weaving is also a gathering for the women of Ban Naklang. They exchanged stories and drank tea together. Some of them also had their kids with them.
Weaving takes a lot of time, but it is also a kind of meditative process. At the end it made me appreciate the garment so much more than when I`d buy it at a market. Staying at Ban Naklang made me realize how tough the women here are. Aiofe, an intern at Kindred Elephant Sanctuary, explained to me that when in labour, the women must drive several hours over the bumpy road to get to the hospital. In Buddhist tradition, there are a few days to avoid when giving birth to a child, because it brings bad luck. That`s why the women try to control their labour day sometimes opting for a cesarean section.
While teaching English at the local school, I became aware that the kids here are much more independent than in Western countries. They have the opportunity roam around and play freely. It is very rare a child is raised by only its parents. The whole village does their bit and raises them. The kids are always truly excited when they see people from the Sanctuary (Westerners or “Golas”). They pick up English quickly and wave at us saying “Hello” with big smiles on their faces, sometimes even asking for high fives. I`ve only been here a week but I am already very impressed at the social life here in Ban Naklang. Ban Naklang and the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary is a wonderful example of how two completely different cultures can come together, learn from each other and help each other. And along the way, we discover that we`re not so different after all.