Saturday, December 19, 2009

Give Us Our Monthly ...

Three days ago, Duang and I went to Tahsang Village to assist one of her Aunts. Duang's Aunt needed to go to the Amphur Offices in Kumphawapi to register to receive year monthly allotments during 2010 or 2553 of the Buddhist calendar here in Thailand.

In Thailand, as part of one of the King's programs, the government gives 500 Baht ($15.11 USD) each month for Thai citizens who are 60 years and older. Government officials go out into the villages on the first Monday of each month to hand out the money to qualified recipients. The people of the village go to the village community building or community pavilion, present their National ID card, and collect their money once their identity is cross checked against the master list. The process is very similar to going to the polls in the USA to vote in an election or referendum.

In addition to people over 60 years old getting a monthly allowance, people with disabilities also receive 500 bahts a month. Elderly people who also are found to have disabilities receive an additional 500 bahts per month allowance. Duang's Aunt is blind and over 60 years old so she gets $30.22 USD a month - her only income. This is her only income. In perspective, a 50 kilogram sack of rice costs 500 baht or $15.11 USD. Elderly Lao Loum people continue to work as long as they physically can after which they rely upon their children, typically their youngest daughter to provide for their basic needs. In the Isaan culture people readily and freely share their food which is good given the lack of resources available to elderly people. After Monks have taken their food offered by people, the remaining offerings are available for lay people to consume.

Duang's Mother had called the previous day to ask us to take care of the Aunt. We drove her to the Amphur Offices and Duang ensured that she was properly registered in order for she would receive her 1,000 bahts each month during the upcoming new year.

The parking lot of the Amphur offices was set up to process all the registrants of the amphur. Canopies and tables were erected at the edge of the parking lot parallel to the city street. People at the tables were passing out prepared lunches in Styrofoam containers and plastic cups filled with a special iced drink to the applicants. As I was photographing the food line, some of the workers called out and motioned to me.

They gave me a cup of the special beverage to drink. They told me that it was a special Isaan drink. The drink, called "Kongwan" was very cold and was a version of what I am accustomed to drinking called "cha menow" (ice tea with lemon. Cha Menow is made with tea, sweetened condensed milk and lemon flavoring. However the special drink that I was presented with also had Chinese noodles in it. Very different. Rather unusual in my experience but very refreshing. I drank and chewed some of the drink and brought the rest over to Duang and her Aunt to drink as they stood in line waiting to register.

Other pavilions were set up in the parking lot to shelter the applicants and workers processing the required paperwork. People of all ages and various disabilities along with their caretakers, waited in organized confusion under the late morning sun to complete their application. I use the term "organized confusion" because I saw no lanes, signs, or structure to the process. Some people awaiting their turn had set up plastic chairs scattered amongst the people standing. It was a very fluid process with no clear traffic lanes set up or maintained. I had no idea what was going on but some how it seemed to work. It worked fine for the people. There were no fights, confrontations, arguements or disputes. There was one incident where some people set up chairs that blocked the progress of an old man being moved in a wheelchair. They apparently could not hear so there was an awkward stand off. I got involved and helped to let the people know that they needed to move their chairs to let him and his attendant pass. I then pretended to be a Policeman, like the one in the parking lot, and pantomimed blowing a whistle as I gave them hand motions to return their chairs to their original locations. Since it was going to be awhile before it would be the Aunt's turn, I took her to another pavilion that had plastic chairs set up for people to wait sheltered from the sun. There were a couple leather couches under the canopy, but I have lived long enough in Isaan to know that they were reserved for Monks or Officials. Around us some Amphur workers were organizing and supervising games for entertaining the people. I also found it entertaining - teams building long poles out of plastic straws, teams doing relay races in passing an egg between themselves using only a metal spoon in their mouths.

After an hour and one half, Duang's Aunt had her turn at the registration table. Some people had books similar to passbooks or Thai House Registration Books that identified them as "PWD" (Person With Disability). Duang's Aunt did not have one for some unknown reason. It did not seem to matter. Each person was interviewed and after stating their disability, they were checked by an offical who was filling out their papers. Duang's Aunt is blind apparently from cataracts. The pupils of both eyes are white and no responsive. The official shined a flashlight in each of her eyes and satisfied himself that she was indeed blind. Her papers were completed and stamped for submittal as well as processing by another official. Duang told me to return to our home and she would return later in the afternoon with her son.

When Duang returned home later in the afternoon she told me that it took another 2 hours to complete the process. despite the time and effort, I felt good that we were able to help someone who needed the help.

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