Peace Corps compares life as a volunteer to living in a fish bowl. From day one I decided this wasn’t a good analogy because I’ve never seen anyone pay much attention to a fish bowl. After five months I’ve finally found a more appropriate comparison: a parade!
Last month I was invited to practice dancing, and then dance in a parade with the other women in my host family’s village.
The parade was part of the ‘Bun Bang Fai Festival’ (tour books call it the Rocket Festival) that marks the beginning of the rainy season. The festival is a plea for a rainy rainy season (among other things).
I spent the weekend of the festival with my host family (I had moved into a rental house at the beginning of May). On the morning of the parade, my host mother woke me up, saying ‘Jeannine, Jeannine, my friend will do your hair.’ I felt very tired and very confused. (What time is it anyways? Did I sleep at all? Did I oversleep?). I could hear the sounds of drunk men. (Had they been up all night or was this round 2?) I pushed my confusion aside and I agreed to getting ready to go get my hair done. Then looked at my phone. It was 5:03 a.m. Could it be possible that someone’s going to do my hair at 5 a.m.? Maybe my host mother had joined in on the drinking and didn’t know what time of day it was?
By 6 a.m. my hair was done and villagers where walking and riding down the street. One of my grandmas told me there was a wedding party in the village. ‘Want to go?’ she asked. Sure, why not. I’m already awake. So I went and ate at someone’s wedding party with my grandmas.
It took five hours to get everyone’s makeup done. Meanwhile we just sat. And sat. And sat. While we were sitting, the mayor of my sub-district came by to give the beauticians (I hesitate to call them that, but it’s all relative) more beer. The mayor also spent quite a bit of time making sure that I would not wear my glasses while dancing in the parade. Finally, someone decided it was time to get dressed.
It took oh, I don’t know, 40 minutes of dressing me and undressing me before all of the women in the dance group were satisfied with my appearance. Everyone had a slightly different idea about how high my belts should be arranged, or where the flower should be pinned on my shirt.
Around 2:30 p.m. it was finally time to line up for the parade. Each section of each village had a section in the parade. This sign announces my section. It was hot, even relative to other days in Thailand (or maybe it was just the hairspray).
My host cousin took my camera and darted around the villages (two) to take pictures of different parts of the parade. He took most of the pictures in this post. I appreciated his creativity (Until this point the only pictures I’ve been able to get people to take are the awkward posed kind).
During the parade I felt less conspicuous that I’ve felt in six months. People didn’t start shouting ‘farang!’ (white foreigner) until I was right in front of them. (Normally I hear ‘farang!’ shouted down streets and across markets) When I showed up at school the following Monday, my co-teacher told me that people had been talking about the farang dancing in the parade at her husband’s restaurant, about nine miles away. And a few even got in/on their vehicles to come watch.
The parade ended in a clearing by the village temple. A stage and all the trimmings and the mayor and large groups of villagers were there to greet us. Each group of dancers (from the different sections of the village) performed a dance. I’m somewhere off to the left side of this picture. I was mentioned in several speeches by several important men, which made the women who’d been rather cold all day suddenly start smiling at me.