Nong Pho Thailand



Ni-on’s house being renovated
Events at her school
Wedding at her home
Next day Sports festival
Party with her teachers

I built with a Habitat for Humanity group north of
Chiang Mai Thailand From Jan 4-20. Then I went to
see Ni-on and the fun began.

According to the ancient customs and traditions of
Esan or Isaan (Northeast Thailand), the village of
Nong Pho(pop. 1100) and the Phamujako family, Ni-on
and I were married in her home on the morning of
January 26,2008.

I met Ni-on in 1989 as Petra’s Peace Corp Thailand
teacher housemate. Petra lived with her for 30 months.
Reid later met her in that same setting, saw her
subsequently when she came to the US in May of 2007,
and in Thailand last October. I first recontacted her
in the spring of 2006 following a Habitat build for
Tsunami relief. She came to visit the USA in 2007, and
I went to see her last October.

She is principal of the high school in Nong Pho, and
lives in the house where she was born in 1959. Her
parents are dead; she has 10 living siblings, and has
never been married before.

We have been corresponding for some time, and in late
December as I was firming up travel plans, she
indicated that if I was to stay in her home for some
time it would be appropriate to observe certain “Thai
customs”. What this turned out to mean was that
because of her reputation and position in that small
close-knit community, it would not do for me to be
there without our being married. I was not adverse to
the idea, and we had discussed it before, but it was a
“maybe someday” kind of thing. I remember years ago
anxiously pondering if I should try to learn to ski at
the ripe old age of 38. Then someone said,” If you
don’t learn to ski now, next year you will be 39″.
Well, next July I’ll be 72.

The news was sort of a shock to Reid and Petra, but
they have happily given their blessing. I’m glad they
knew her under different circumstances, and that she
is not a totally unknown quantity. Petra’s
description of Ni-on is that she has “an attractive
sweetness about her, and plenty of brains and moxie”.

Ni-on plans to continue her work for a while, so
travel
and SKYPE will be a large part of our immediate
future. That suits us both just fine.

Generally my role in the wedding itself was to dress
properly, show up, follow directions, and smile a lot
(the normal bridegroom duties). I understood little of
the content but the body language and feelings were
joyously moving.

She was hesitant to talk about this, but early on
Ni-on indicated that there really needed to be a
dowry. It became clear that the money was not
important (she wanted to give it back the following
day; I insisted that she keep it) but the symbolic
meaning was huge in that place. We agreed on an
amount sufficiently larger than average to make clear
to the community my understanding of her value and
position, but not so large as to be obscenely
ostentatious. At the wedding, the amount would be good
naturedly haggled over and the cash visibly displayed
for all to see. Incidentally in a spasm of romantic
exuberance I bought Ni-on a new washing machine as a
wedding gift. It was received with as much delight as
any gift I have given in recent memory.

The process started the day before when a dozen old
women of the village descended on the house bringing
banana leaves and little purple and white flowers
about the size of marbles. For hours they sat on the
floor gossiping and creating an amazing floral
arrangement called “Baay See” used only at weddings
and funerals.

Later in the day relatives began to arrive from near
and far. They would stay two nights in the house. For
meals the whole family sat on thin mats spread out on
the ceramic tile floor, surrounding dozens of savory
selections of curry, vegetables, chicken, shrimp, soup
and both regular and sticky rice all prepared by
neighbors. There were never less than two people
talking at the same time, and a lot of laughing going
on.

Ni-on’s house, built in the early nineteen hundreds,
is a relatively large traditional Thai home with the
first floor raised up on posts leaving an open ground
floor with mature coconut palms on two sides. It has
just gotten a new roof. As part of a rehab, all the
siding is off. There is no insulation or inner walls,
so the only enclosed areas are the bathrooms and the
ground floor kitchen (small refrigerator, microwave,
bottle gas stove, three cabinets, no sink ) which
currently serves as the bedroom.

I had to stay at her brother’s home the night before
the wedding. He was the designated “elder” to
represent and and guide me. His son was my attendant.

We got up and came to Ni-on’s home at 7:00 AM in time
for the chanted blessing of the 12 Buddhist Monks who
were seated on the floor when we arrived. After the
blessing, the monks were given rice in their alms
bowls by many members of the family, all scurrying
around in front of the monks in a half-crouch as a
sign of respect. Then the monks and everyone ate a
huge variety of food. The monks were paid and went on
their way. I asked if we could get a volume “fellow
clergy” discount, but somehow that got lost in
translation.

At 8:45 I had to leave with Ni-on’s brother and put on
a Thai style pure white silk jacket – no shirt. A
dark red and gold stole was draped over my left
shoulder. I had had a white silk shirt made in Chiang
Mai, but that didn’t pass muster.

The weather was sunny and comfortable.

At 9:00 AM I was escorted under a parasol held my my
attendant to Ni-on’s doorway. I removed my shoes,
stood on a flat rock and my feet were washed by a
neighbor, who I had to tip 100 baht in a small
envelope. The entry was then blocked by two children
holding a golden rope. A tip to each got me through
that obstacle. Then two more people barricaded
progress holding a silver rope. Again two envelopes
got me through the “silver door”. I was taken to my
seat.

The proceedings opened with a discussion of the dowry
which took place off to my right. The community(about
40 people) participated with various loudly voiced
comments and observations. This little drama concluded
with the cash being fanned out on the floor in a
circle of bills to the murmurs of approval by all. The
cash was then taken to the kitchen/bedroom where Ni-on
was waiting and given to her.

And then Ni-on emerged from the kitchen looking
magnificent in a long fitted pastel pink dress with
two large pink flowers in her hair.

She sat at my left in front of a “coffee” table. On it
was the Baay See, two boiled eggs, some sticky
rice, a few small saucers of food, a bottle of water,
a bottle of Thai whiskey, two glasses and two candles.
She and I
both had an attendant who sat beside us. Across from
us sat a man in a crisp white military-type suit.

Next the man in the white suit carefully and
ceremoniously arranged the items on the table in their
proper place. He then consulted Ni-on’s brother about
the pronunciation of my name. After several attempts
he settled on something that sounded like Kemat
Slowdel and that was close enough for me. He passed
around a ball of string. Ni-on and I put our hands in
the wai position under our chins with the string
running under our thumbs. Two candles were lit. The
man in white put three dots of rice flour paste on our
foreheads and began to chant. It went on for a while.

While this was in process, there was a varying
number of audible conversations in the gathered group.
Occasionally there would be a comment in a raucous
tone of voice accompanied by laughter. A jolly fat
Buddhist Monk (who looked just like a Buddhist monk
should) was Holding court at a small table off to the
side jabbering and dispersing small gifts to each of
the
relatives in turn. I later discovered that he was an
old family friend, much loved by all, who had made the
trip from Bangkok for the festivities.

And there was movement. Village folk would wander up,
watch for awhile and then go on about their business.
Every so often someone would come up behind us,
reach over our shoulders and tie a loosely woven white
string around our wrists. This was their way of giving
us a personal blessing. I was particularly moved by
glancing down and seeing a pair of ancient, gnarled,
and shaky hands struggling to tie a knot in a piece of
string on my wrist.

Finally the chanting stopped. An Egg and sticky
rice (about the size of a golf ball)was placed in each
of our hands and there was more chanting. Someone
broke and pealed the eggs. The insides were firm,
fresh and properly formed. – a good sign. Some
egg and rice was put into our mouth. We drank a shot
of Thai whiskey. Water was repeatedly
sprinkled over us with more chanting. Then it was
over. She had said nothing. I had said nothing.

We moved to chairs in front of a small table with two
golden pillows. I stood and said what would in my
tradition be called a wedding vow. This was
translated as “He says he loves her”. We rested our
arms on the pillows as the entire retinue of relatives
and friends(including the jolly monk) came and tied
bits of string around our wrists and said words of
congratulations and blessing. They often dropped money
in a bowel which sat between us. Lots of smiles and
eye contact. I heard the words healthy and happy
often, and occasionally something that sounded like
“many children”.

After that I carried Ni-on over the threshold into the
kitchen which had the bed sprinkled with rose petals
in the shape of two entwined hearts. The oldest
member of the clan – a cousin of Ni-on’s mother came
with us and spoke (I assume it was important
advice) while we sat on the bed. Others gathered
around and offered verbal encouragement of one kind or
another.

Then we all went out of the kitchen/bed chamber, sat
on the floor and ate.

It was quite a day.

When these wedding plans were abrewing, a member of
the Habitat build asked,” She is Buddhist: you are
Christian: will that be a problem”? My answer: When I
was young I knew everything. I knew generally what God
had done, what He was going to do and how He was going
to do it. Now I am old and I know a lot less, but I
give God a lot more room to maneuver. I am quite sure
He can handle the situation in the grace filled way
that is His style.

I hope you are as happy as I am right now.

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