I was going to split the details of my trip over two posts but when I sat down to write day 2 I discovered that to do it justice, and to share my impressions of the place (and some of the stories of the people who live there), the village of Mae Jong needed a post all to itself!!
The lovely Lane mentioned in her comment on the previous post that she was curious as to why the people are known as The Karen Hill Tribe so I thought I would try and give you a brief history.
If your not interested in the history you can skip this bit :-)
The Karen people are originally from Burma. There are roughly 7,000,000 Karen People in Burma and around 400,000 in Thailand. When the current Government came into power in Burma the Karen people aspired to have the areas where they were the majority formed into a 'region' within Burma similar to what the Shan, Kachin and Chin peoples had been given but, due to the fact that they boycotted the elections (This was because their people had been massacred by both the Japanese and the Burmese Army during World War II and had received no justice), they were not included in the 1947 constitution (The Karen were not the only ones...the Mon People got no consideration as well). I don't know what their name was originally but when Burma was carved up into different regions by the Government the Karen people took their name from the land on which they had lived. The Burmese Goverment (I should probably say Myanmar but I can't get used to calling it that) refuse to recognise them as Burmese citizens and the Thai Government don't recognise them either!! (They are known for their weaving and hand crafts hence the pictures). So, back to the village.
We were dragged from our peaceful slumber at 6am by the Princess's anthem being blasted out of speakers across the hillside. We were then lulled into a false sense of security by a few moments silence, when we thought we might be able to get a few more minutes shut eye, before the Kings anthem started!!! (No-one had warned us about that but I have to say that it's a very good alarm system....there is no way you could sleep through it!!). I dragged my carcass out of my sleeping bag and was shocked to discover that it was actually cold....proper cold!! Do you remember me telling you that the water for showering was in a concrete bath and that you had to scoop it up and pour it over yourself?.....well, I had to use all my powers of persuasion to convince myself to pour the second lot of water over my skin. The first one was bad but the second one.....holy crap it was freeeeeeeezzzzing!!!!! Then it dawned on me that that was how these people lived....how they washed themselves and their hair every single day. We had breakfast outside looking over the valley and then it was time for us go into the village itself.
I have never seen anything like it!!! The village consisted of about 40 houses all made of wood and bamboo (which had been built by the villagers themselves!!) and had a large clearing in the middle of it which was obviously used as the village meeting area. The whole place just bustled with life...there were little pigs (and I mean tiny wee things) that snuffled around your feet making very cute little snorting noises as you walked, cattle lowing as they were moved from one area to another, chickens scratching in the earth and people going about their daily lives. Traditionally this was one of the villages that farmed poppies which were then used for opium but some time ago the Thai King requested that they swap poppies for cabbages so as well as the rice paddies there were also tiers of cabbages growing up the mountainside.
Life is not easy for this community.....if you look closely at the photo you will see a little track leading from the top of the hill to the huts at the bottom....the family who's land that is walk along the ridge, down the hill, work in the fields, walk back up the hill and then back along the ridge to their home......and they do that every day!!!
This is a picture of a man in the process of slaughtering one of his cows....every single scrap will be used in some way or other. I don't know if you can see it clearly in the picture but he has spread a bamboo mat on the ground just next to his house which he is using to keep the carcass out the dirt. The woman here is being helped by her neighbours to wash the entrails and other bits (bits is the technical term obviously!!)
We stopped and had a chat with this woman using one of the teachers as an interpreter. Her husband passed away a number of years before so she was out chopping her own wood for a fire later in the evening. She told us that the bracelets on her arms give her strength which is why she is still able to chop wood, cook and be a help to the community. She wasn't sure just how old she was but she knew that she was over 80.
Some of the villagers had got together and were sitting chatting in the meeting area of the village. I have to say that the number of people smoking was really surprising....I'm not sure why I found that so surprising but I did!! It was here that I met a woman who told me that her son was one of the first kids to go through the school and that he's now studying to be a Doctor in Chaing Mai. She earns two thousand baht a year (That's about £35) and she gives one thousand five hundred of it to her son....she was so proud of him!!! I tried to take some pictures of the villagers surreptitiously.....I hope I've managed to capture something of the place and it's people.