CURLS 2017 Journey Memo

When I first saw the advertisement about the summer school programme on Right Livelihoods I was drawn into the caption, ‘People Planet Partnership’. After series of emails on my interest for this programme, I was granted a partial scholarship from the organisers at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, Royal University of Bhutan and…..I was elated to be part of an international summer school programme. It was indeed a moment of achievement at a stage in life when everything else seemed like a missed chance. For researchers in North East India, such opportunities are very rare. We have to struggle hard to find resources to support ourselves to be able to participate in such programme. With great difficulty, I managed to get some resources for travel, insurance, visa fees and local living cost for a few days through friends and family. I began my journey on July 17, 2017 from Guwahati to Bangkok via Kolkata. I had requested for Visa on arrival as India is listed in the category of the countries which were meant for 30-15 days visa on arrival along with 18 other countries. After reaching the Kolkata airport international section, I was asked to prepone my travel dates as the visa was scheduled to be granted only for 15 days. Airlines authorities didn’t listen to any of my appeals for 2 days of extension. They kept saying that I will be deported back from Thailand the moment I reach there and they will be charged with fines from the Government of India. My travel plan was fixed and people were waiting at the airport to receive me at Bangkok. With a heavy heart I rescheduled my return journey to accommodate the 15 day period and paid another amount of money to the airlines for change of dates of return. Once I reached Thailand I was relieved to find one of the organisers Ms. Mon waiting for me at the arrival gate. She guided me to the taxi stand and I reached the Chulalongkorn University International House on time. After checking into the room with a Burmese roommate Ms. Thi Thi, I was at peace. By evening we went to the SASA Cuisine for the welcome dinner. Here I met some more new people from India and other countries of the world. My Burmese friend had 2 more colleagues from Myanmar who attended this programme. I enjoyed their company throughout the journey of 2 weeks. After the first day of introductions where eminent livelihood activists and social intellectuals from Malaysia , Philippines, Thailand and Netherlands gave their views on this programme we were introduced to the physical activities by Mr. Alok Ulfat Theatre Director from India.  It was a phase of knowing each other through one-to-one interaction, group games and vigorous physical activities. By evening we all went out to visit some of the local malls in Bangkok for food and entertainment. The enormity of city life was fascinating and very new for me. Urbanisation had its charms and glamour which enveloped the city dwellers into a mesmerising enigma. I was also drawn into such glitter and managed to pose for some group pictures and managed to have some local food.

Next day morning we had breakfast together and went for our theory sessions on diverse topics like earth trusteeship, artificial intelligence and neo-liberalism. Ajan Sulak Sivaraksa spoke about the Buddhist way of life, consciousness and the importance of breathing which is the ultimate goal of being conscious of one’s surroundings. Nicanor Perlas spoke on the emergence of artificial intelligence which is gripping the world in today’s era. His appeal to all of us was to understand the difference between being dependant on AI and being aware of its effectiveness. Hans shared about efforts across the world which has enabled earth trusteeship and not ownership of the earth. Prof. Surat made us aware of neoliberalism which has devastating impact on the local economies of a fast growing country like Thailand. His hard hitting examples of finding baby skulls in the outskirts of Bangkok city, loss of Grandma-Grandpa shops due to 7-11 stores, consistent dependence on technological gizmos have impacted the young people adversely. It is indeed a very difficult overturn of the century where the machines are slowly replacing human touch. We were also taken to two different field locations for insight building, experiential learning and group building. I went with the younger lot which went for Bang ka Jao community level eco-tourism project. We hired cycles after reaching the river bank through a local boat ride. We cycled through the viewpoints and the cycle track which took us through the rain forest. We sighted some water lizards, birds, beautiful landscapes. Our cycle ride was around 15 kms which was quite exhaustive for me but I enjoyed it with great company from CURLS team. We checked on each other and kept the spirits high. The best part was to relax for a while at Bangkok Tree House which was a forest resort in the middle of the rain forest. We also visited a home based mushroom production centre which served us fresh mushrooms and water as refreshments. More than anything we realised the importance of coexistence with nature and supporting local communities in subsistence livelihoods which have sustainable practices. Such initiatives can surely restore lost habitats of natural rainforests and strengthen people’s efforts towards finding a balance between consumption and conservation.

We headed to Chiangmai in Northern Thailand after 4 days of classroom sessions at the Chulalongkorn University. Our journey to Chiangmai was by overnight bus with all modern facilities like air-conditioning, toilet, audio-visual screen in every seat and meals on the way. We refreshed ourselves at the bus station toilets which were spotlessly clean and well maintained. Once we reached Chiangmai, we were given a free day to explore Chiangmai on our own. Somehow we made our own groups and started exploring. First we went to a hill side tourist spot and then to some Buddhist temples. Later we were supposed to go for elephant zoo but couldn’t manage it. After a short break for rest, food and bath we went out in the evening to the Saturday night market. It was a memorable experience. There were more than 1000 stalls on the streets where people sold everything that was hand-made or machine finished. Products were affordable, attractive and light weight for tourists to carry as a memory of Chiangmai. Markets can sell memories. Old young, families, brothers, sisters, children all tried their hand at selling diverse emotions. One little girl in a school uniform stood in the middle of the street singing songs in Thai and strumming her tiny guitar. In front of her laid a plastic box which said scholarship to study. She earned her education through her singing. Wonder what could be her story of survival in such a glittering world of market, magic and madness. Local food stalls, international and national cuisines, refreshing herbal drinks of all kinds were thriving and luring customers. In some corners people were seated in long queues for foot massages also. Indeed this market catered to all possible needs to satisfy human need, desires, happiness, curiosity, excitement and thrill. It was a night market which could hardly be forgotten by all those who managed to visit it. People were walking all along without any AC, without any fan, without cars and without any major infrastructure. Everything was under the open sky and on the street. Urbanisation can open avenues for all those who would like to showcase their talents. We can see such street fairs only during some festivals in India but wonder whether such hand crafted and creative fairs should be available to people on a weekly or bi monthly basis to keep the creativity alive. Sometimes the packaging of the products was attractive, sometimes the quality was adequate and in most of the products people were selling their dreams, hopes and happiness.

After Chiangmai we headed to a village named Nong Tao which was located in some distance from Chiangmai city. It was located amidst the hills and the scenic beauty of the village was breath-taking. It was a Karen village with a population of about 600 people. We were introduced to the village chief and our accommodation was also spread across the different homes in the village with 2 people in one house together. There was a common resource centre where we met for the day to attend diverse sessions on community knowledge sharing, deep ecology art workshop and reflection sessions. Our forest walk, common land visit and paddy field visit were guided by the local community leaders along with the organisers of the programme. Story telling workshop was also conducted on the slopes of the hills after forest trek of 5 kms or so. It was a very fulfilling experience. On the last day we were asked to spend our time with our house owners and do whatever they wanted us to do. So my house owners were busy learning about a traditional healing process called Kosa which was taken up by Chinese and Thai doctors. I learnt about the tradition in detail and interacted with the doctors on my own health concerns. Our community experience was very interesting as we were together on various aspects trying to understand issues together, holding on to our concerns and then experiencing new things together. It was a memorable experience.

After the village experience for another 5 days, we proceeded back to Bangkok via an overnight bus. Then we reached Wongsanit Ashram for our last leg of the summer school course. It was a very green, healthy and humid place where nature was abundant and we had to live together. This was a place for reflection, resistance and resilience for all those things which never mattered in life. Somehow we all were part of a process which had some hidden connections towards effective change. I was happy to be part of that process. Somewhere I wished to resist but still could not. Somewhere I wanted to belong but I could not belong due to differences in language, ethnicity, education, age, resources and talent. It was a journey of self discovery which was important for me at a stage where I was crumbling from within as far as my convictions goes. I had to practice detachment as I knew that I could not attend the programme till the end due to visa restrictions. The atmosphere of the ashram was so serene yet so swift that one could melt all worries in here. Its energy was immense and the positive associations which encompassed the realities was heart rendering. I was very contented to unfurl the essence of curls which was to devise alternatives to the linear mainstream yet maintain a clear conscious vision about the linearity. I learnt to accept people, processes and perceptions with tolerance and harmony. My reactions were less violent and my adaptability found its new height. I am indebted to some people whom I can never forget during the entire course of this thrilling journey. It was a journey which strengthened me from within and enabled me to keep the faith alive. I reached back India on August 1, 2017 after such a fulfilling experience.

Samhita Barooah.

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