Halli Benson, 130 TESS
A week before site placement, we were in a training session when we heard the soft “shh” grow to a roar, and I wondered out loud, “What’s that noise?” I ran to the window and saw the water cascading down the glass and took off outside to feel the cool droplets on my skin, thirsty for the feeling as if I hadn’t had a moment of respite from the Thailand sun in the first two months of living here. My first rain in Thailand, far from my last. My boss, the woman who decided to place me in the rainiest province in Thailand, stood watching me with her arms crossed and a grin. “What?” I was thinking she probably just thought I was weird. She said, “Wait until you see your new home.”
Twenty months later, the rain pours down for the third hour today. Thunder intermittently shakes the floor and my body as I stretch and listen to the storm. It’s 1 p.m. on a Saturday in November… Rainy season in Thailand is over, but in Ranong, it’s always rainy. The slogan for Ranong is “foon bpad, deet see” translating to “rain eight, sunshine four” corresponding to the pattern of the seasons here, although more accurately, “foon dtok sumer” which means “rain falls always”, as I’ve never seen a month without rain.
I live in the rainforest. When I first started saying that I felt kind of melodramatic, but I’ve been here long enough to assure you that this is the rainforest. The flora is typical of a tropical rainforest, the green taking over everything if it isn’t trimmed back every two weeks. The seesaw placed in my front yard three months ago is overtaken with ivy and brush, and my students don’t mind. They still play and let the critters crawl out of the plants and play house in their pants. This is what we do here. I used to walk gingerly, watching every step to make sure I wasn’t walking too close to a snake or a beetle with pointy legs and claws or offering up my pasin (traditional Thai skirt) as a jungle gym for the lingering Huntsman spider. Now, I walk confidently, paying no mind. A snake, well that would be bad luck, but the Huntsmans are scaredy cats. If he ended up on my skirt, he’d be less happy than me. We coexist with healthy fear of one another, and I enjoy his company when the nights are especially lonely.
The closest city is two hours away, and even that place is covered in green. There’s no room for a city here because the humans who live here allow the trees and plants to grow and travel freely for the most part. So what is there to do in the rainforest? Everyone goes to work. Sometimes, I’ll help someone make something out of bamboo or cut down fruit with my friends or family. A lot of people fish or make goods, but most days, in our free time, we sit outside of our homes watching people pass by and talking about the weather and what’s going on in the neighborhood and what we want to eat. The market comes once a week, and if I miss it, I walk around town looking for someone who will feed me, which isn’t too hard. Food is survival, but it’s also social, and I guess socializing is survival too since there’s not much else to do out here.
The animals love it here, there are tales of black pumas and tigers and elephants roaming the forest just past the swimming hole that we walk to some Saturdays. Sometimes, I go there to get water and take a bath when the hose doesn’t run at the house, and on those days, I feel closer to the animals than ever, bathing and drinking in the same way, using the same water that they do to fuel their bodies and cool down when the sun is especially hot.
Before I lived here, I lived on the fourth floor of a beautiful apartment building in Denver. I remember I loved the building because there was a common floor with an indoor pool and a ton of plants. The room was so green and beautiful. Most nights, I’d watch TV or do something creative with my roommate. We had lots of options for things to be doing and often took advantage of those opportunities, spending an evening out on the town at a new restaurant we’d been wanting to try or at a bar with live music. We loved getting together with our friends to talk about the universe or go dancing in sweaty clubs with strangers. We made our apartment very colorful, lots of blankets and pillows and tapestries, a lot of white, browns, blues, golds, greens, and splashes of color in art and decorations all over the house. The outer landscape changed with the seasons, but the sunsets were bright orange, purple, pink, and blue year round.
In my rainforest home, everything is green. (Except the sunsets… the sun still has a way of painting the sky with its very own palette.) I have big windows and outside everything is green. I walk out my front door and every direction is green. My bike rides are a show of brilliant and varying shades of green that I’ve never seen before. It’s an experience. Sometimes, I hop on my bike and take a right out of my school and bike up and down the mountains just to breathe in the fresh oxygen from all of the plants and watch the clouds roll low through the valleys. Then, I turn around to make the journey home, and when I reach the top of the last mountain before flying down the hill into my village, I stop and look at the sign welcoming me to my mooban (village). Behind the sign is this beautiful green view of the mountains covered in trees. No buildings or people. Just rainforest. And I remind myself that this is my home. And sometimes, I laugh, or cry, or just smile, but it always make me feel. Some people never leave their hometown or country. Some people always live in the city or the country. Some people never leave the rainforest… but not me. The universe plucked me from my apartment in the center of metropolitan Denver and dropped me deep in the rainforest in Thailand. It used to feel so foreign, but now, it’s home.