|We arrive at Khao Lak early on a Saturday morning. In our absence the Thai government and public works have ripped open both sides of the main thoroughfare, so at first we are bit perplexed at the change of scenerey. However, it is not difficult to find our way to Tiffy's so that we can have the best breakfast sandwiches in South East Asia - not to mention pretty outstanding iced-coffee.
After too much breakfast we try to procure a room for our stay and with only a little wandering and searching are able to get a good price on a big (big), yet hollow room. I estimate the room at eight meters wide by eighteen meters long. Is that an exageration? I don't think so, but then again, I didn't grow up with the metric system. The room is long, big, and empty. Furnished only with one plastic chair, one folding table, one table fan, and the most uncomfortable bed ever invented by the majesty of man. On second thought, we are convinced that this mattress is really a poor version of a box-spring. You can knock on it. Anyway- the bed is hard, but the price is right.
By the evening we have been able to track down the remaining friends who have continued on in their work since we left in late July. Our good friend, DJ, is now the project manager out at Laem Pom, and Paddy, his girlfriend Sarah, are still on board with Sally, Dutch Peter, along with some new folks we are happily introduced to. The crew at Laem Pom is down to just a handful, though, and DJ informs us that the entire project is set to wrap up by week's end. This is great news, although it begins to have us question what else we can do with the two extra weeks we will have once Laem Pom is complete. All of the houses in the village, we learn, are complete and only the community center needs plastering, painting, and a bit of cleaning. Our first night in Khao Lak finds us at the Pakarang Boatyard, where the boatbuilding crew is celebrating the halfway mark for the number of boats they are building. Quite a milestone for them, and the party gives us a chance to catch up with old friends from the volunteer community and begin to meet the personalities of those who have arrived since we left.
After the weekend we are back to the routine of Laem Pom - happily. We meet in the morning, and because now the numbers are so few, we enjoy the comfortable ride in the new truck (this one has benches in the back) out to the village. We meet a soon to be good friend in Sheila as we ride, as well as Damian, who hails from Winnipeg. There is also Bianca, a Peruvian-American who was just arriving when we had last left, Sarah [from righteous Saskatoon], and Paddy[reportedly from Venus].
The village looks the same, but there are differences that materialize as the days past. Certainly the bulk of the house are at a more complete phase, even though most of the work that was done during our absence has been painting and interior work. Overall, though, the village still has the look of a work in progress and is recognizable as a construction site. The community center is the most grand addition, and has come along way since we saw it last. We spend the first week finishing the plastering job, which goes slow with just a handful of us, and slower still considering that the plastering sand needs to be sifted by hand to remove the pebbles within it. The fact that this sand is being used to do the job is one main clue that the work is winding down at Laem Pom. Before, coarse sand like this could be used for some other purpose, but now that all the rough work has been done there is no other use for this stuff than to sift it into acceptable shape for plaster use.
There are other, perhaps hard to grasp, changes in the village. Whereas before we worked along side many of the villagers now we find many of the familiar faces absent. This also is a good sign. Many of the villagers have begun to find work and spend their days either working or doing small jobs around their own houses. The entire village has now moved back to Laem Pom from the relief camps and now you can see their focus is getting their new home in order and their lives back on track. This leaves us farang volunteers to work by ourselves, which even if different, is not so bad. Plastering and painting allow for musical accompaniment and DJ's boombox comes in handy most days as we work. The small crew, compared to the dozens we sometimes had in the summer, also makes it a more intimate work day and Mandy and I have enjoyed getting to know the small group.
Khao Lak and Laem Pom have certainly been the most provocative places of our trip thus far. Laem Pom has a special place in our hearts as I'm sure we have now articulated countless times. We are happy to see the construction phase complete, and it was a very nice day when we cleaned up our paint brushes, stepped back, and saw the community center complete. We hope that the it stands for a long time and can help the village as it continues to find its feet and make its way toward renewal. It was clear that their battle is far from over, but with the houses finished, people working, and things in court going well- we can only wish them the best of luck. It appears that the Tsunami Volunteer Center will continue to support them in the future, and hopefully that will include an environmental restoration project in and around village, a playground for the village kids, and support for them as they continue their fight for basic water, electricity, and services.
The challenges of relief work I know little about, but it is certainly more complex than I would have given previous credit for. Let us hope that the good intentions and goodwill of so many kind and generous volunteers, not to mention the heart and spirit of the victims and survivors, is enough to see prosperity and serenity restored to this special place. After all they have lost, they deserve nothing else.
After three weeks back in Khao Lak we are again in a place where it feels good to be going. The community center took two weeks, not one, and on the final weekend we had a special day when we took the photographs out to hang in the community center. We hung about twelve and the rest were given to the respective family. It was a small gesture on our part, but it felt very nice to do and we hope they enjoy them.
We spent the following week doing a few small projects around Khao Lak and taking care of some personal business. With generous help from friends and family back home we decided to sponsor a tsunami-effected child living the area through the 4Kali non-profit organization. The sponsorship will help a young boy, who lost his home and all his possessions in the tsunami, with his healthcare, living, and education costs. If anyone is interested in learning more about his organization you go to www.4kali.org It is a wonderful and committed organization.
So we leave Laem Pom and Khao Lak, and it will be more than another two months before we'll get the chance to return. But we will go back someday, and its a day we look forward to.