Ahead of the long weekend that signified the start of Buddhist lent and the welcoming of new Monks to the monasteries, a school temple tour was to commence on Wednesday afternoon.
Ever since my first day of school, Usana spoke frequently of dressing me up in a traditional Thai dress. I did not however, expect to be stripped naked at my desk whilst eating my lunch to be put into said dress by three teachers. Had I known that my clothes would be removed so abruptly and publically I would have prepared and dressed accordingly, to avoid the awkwardness of displaying my lace Gillys to the office.
To add to my embarrassment, the corset that was intended to strap me in didn’t even make it past side boob, and my seamstress had no option but to conjure up an ill fitting bodice from a length of spare material. Once I’d just about squeezed myself into the skirt, and had my hair and makeup readjusted Thai style, I waddled awkwardly down the stairs for my photoshoot conducted by the school secretary.
I was to pose with three enormous candles that the school had been preparing and decorating all week to take to the temples. It wasn’t long before the teachers and students all joined in too, hoping to make it into the shots that I’d send to my mum.
Anticlimactically, I was told to change out of my Thai Disney princess dress as the teachers bundled the students into the back of pick up trucks in preparation for departing for the first temple. The atmosphere was carnivelesque, with loud music and local people chatting and dancing. Buddhist tradition has the crowd walk around the temple three times, before entering to present the candle to the monks.
We followed the same ritual around another temple, before finally returning to the one situated in the grounds of Watnongtakae.
Life at Watnongkhae is one great big harvest festival. Unlike my primary school days where Mama J would have a last minute rummage in the back of the larder to see what she could pass off as a donation, it is I who is on the receiving end. Instead of unwanted and out of date tins however, my desk is piled high everyday with bags and boxes of home grown fruit, dried bananas, Thai sweets, various coconut juices and foods that I wouldn’t even know where to being describing. I am gifted so much food everyday, despite breakfast being the only meal I need to provide for myself, that my both my stomach and my apartment is overflowing with it all.
Before I came to Thailand, I relished in the fact that I was inevitably going to lose all of my exam season library snack weight purely just by not eating the Thai staples of rice and noodles. I half expected to have lost a stone the moment I landed on Thai soil, and for the weight to drop off purely just by being here. It’s not that what I’m eating isn’t healthy, as I live off fruit and vegetables. The sheer volume of food and the persistent wishfulness of the giver that I consume it straight away is turning me into a bloated mess and extinguishing my chances of being Victoria Secret material by the time I return to London.
Watnongtakae is a free government school in a village where the majority of the students are incredibly poor. Often at the end of the day, a group of children arrive at the staff office door to collect food that teachers such as Usana prepare and donate to those whose families can’t afford to feed them. The overwhelming sense of guilt and injustice i feel at receiving so much food myself is a feeling I’ll never get used to, or shake off. I am undoubtably one of the wealthiest people at Watnongtakae, yet I am gifted more food individually than all of those who desperately need it.
There is so much injustice in my being one of the wealthiest people at Watnongkhae, yet it is I who receives the most.