Saturday, September 20, 2014

Life is suffering ...some people suffer much more than others.


Luang Por Pohm Likit Administering to the Afflicted

Today I did not have anything specifically planned other than to bake two banana breads and to continue editing recent photographs.  Early this morning my wife, Duangchan, informed me that she was going out to Baan Mat to make merit by offering food to the forest Monk, Luang Por Pohm Likit.  After he had completed his meal, she was going to go with him as he went to bring food to an old woman who had no legs and was very poor.  She asked if I wanted to go and I declined.  She then called our friend to pick her up on her way to the Wat.

It could not have been more than twenty minutes later when Duang received a phone call.  It was Luang Por Pohm Likit inviting me to accompany him on his visit and to take photographs. He wanted me to take pictures that I could put on the Internet.  I gratefully accepted his invitation.  Duang and I drove out to participate in the daily merit making ritual of offering the Monks food for their only meal of the day.  Monks?  Yes.  A young poor local boy has left his home and become a semana (novice Monk) with Lunag Por Pohm Likit.  The Sanga (Buddhist religious community) even today offers refuge and education for poor boys.

After the morning ritual, Luang Por Pohm Likit joined us in our pickup truck for the drive out to the small village where the woman lives.  Two other vehicles filled with people from Baan Mat followed us.  We stopped at a market, a series of booths in a field, along the way.  Luang Por Pohm Likit went to buy two bags of rice. Duang compassionately paid for the rice rather than having the Monk do it.  One of the things that first impressed me about her was her devotion to her beliefs and her compassion for others.  She remains consistent and committed to both to this day

We headed north on Hwy 2 headed for the border town of Nong Khai situated on the mighty Mekong River.  We took a left hand turn on to Hwy 2021 and shortly afterwards a right to the small village.

I was shocked upon arrival in the village.  The narrow streets were made even more narrow by parked vehicles through the village.  The streets were also filled with people.  When we drove past the local Wat, there was a stage, music, people singing, and many women dressed up in fancy local ethnic clothing.

I started to think that this old woman was a very special person.

This was Luang Por Pohm Likit's third visit to the woman.  One day, two years ago, when he was meditating, he had a vision of a very poor young woman who could not walk and needed help.  He did not now who the woman was or where she lived.  He told people of his vision.

Here in Isaan dreams and visions are very important as well as powerful omens - communications from the spirits. They also link us to other worlds.  Some people from Baan Dum Nam Muang heard of Luang Por Pohm Likit's vision and told him that they knew of such a person.  They brought him to the village to meet the young woman.

Young woman?  What about the old lady without any legs?  Well sometimes, perhaps many times, things get lost in translation around here.  At times this can be frustrating to me; having worked as an engineer for 36 years, but it does make life interesting all the time.  Duang had gotten the story mixed up.

We came upon the home, I dropped the Monk off in front of the house where the other members of our group had already seated themselves on sahts, woven reed mats.  After parking a little further down the street, we walked back to the house, me carrying a bag of rice on each shoulder and Duang carrying my backpack of camera gear.

Still expecting to see an old lady without any legs, I was shocked, when after setting up my camera I entered the home, to find Luang Por Pohm Likit at the bedside of a beautiful young woman who had legs.

After asking Duang several questions which  she had to translate back and forth, I learned that the beautiful woman that I was photographing was 30 years old, a mother of two boys, and a shooting victim.

Five and one-half years ago she attended a large Morlam show with her female friend. Both of them ended up being shot that night.  Both women were paralyzed.  Duang told me that the woman's friend could afford a 200,000 Baht operation and can now walk.  This woman, whom we were visiting, is too poor for such an operation.  I told Duang that perhaps the other woman was not as severely injured as this woman and that after 5 and one-half years I did not think that any operation would allow her to walk again.

I have written several times about attending these shows and leaving when the first fight broke out.  We have attended many of these shows over the past 6 years, and it has been only two or three times when there has not been violence - typically alcohol fueled machismo or lady-boy fistfights.  At one show the police had confiscated two hand guns and at one show, as we were leaving, we came upon a group of young men who appeared to be hiding a weapon.  A couple years ago, two hand grenades were tossed at a show killing a couple of people.  When captured, the perpetrators apologized and explained that they were throwing the grenades at some rivals and did not intend to kill the victims.

There is no real social safety net or welfare here in Thailand.  The woman receives 500 Baht a month (the current minimum wage for one day's labor) from the government - in a region where the 20 kilograms that we brought costs 640 Baht.  The young woman was catheterized with her urine being collected in a plastic bag attached to the bottom of her hospital bed located in the front room of the house. Medical supplies were located across the narrow aisle of the small room.  I learned from Duang that the woman receives free medical supplies from the local small hospital. Assistance, and support, when necessary, comes from one's family and community.

I learned that the paralyzed woman is cared for by her sister who owned the house.  I was very impressed with the care that the woman had received.  The woman was clean, dressed very nicely, had no odors from the catheterization and the bed linens were also fresh.  These were poor people but they maintained their dignity and personal appearance despite many challenges. Sometimes I describe my wife as a survivor.  I suspect that most people here in Isaan are survivors - people were persevere despite many challenges and willing to do what is necessary to move on with their lives.  Upon leaving the home, I made sure that Duang told the caregiver how I was impressed with the good job that she was doing.

The paralyzed woman had a husband but he left to be with his girlfriend three years ago.  He contributes nothing to support his wife or children,  He does not even visit them.  The woman and the children live with her sister and her father.  They get some support from their family and neighbors.

Luang Por Pohm Likit is a special Monk in my opinion.  He went in and spoke to the young woman.  He reached into his Monk's bag and pulled out a wad of money and gave it to her.  I have written many times about the way things are supposed to be and the way they actually are.  This was just such an example.  Monks are not supposed to have money.  Monks are not even supposed to touch money.  People offer money and money is collected many times during the year to support the Wat - i.e. water, electricity, and maintenance.  Money is also offered to the Monks during funeral rituals, Monk ordinations, as well as for the blessing of motor vehicles and motorbikes.  Monks, as best I have observed, do not go about and initiate works of charity.  I confirmed this with my wife.  However you can go to the temples and eat the food that the Monks have not chosen for their meal of the day.  If you are a young boy you can enter the Wat, become a novice Monk and be given shelter, and an education.  At some Wats. if you are poor, you can go to the Wats and buy donated rice at a lower price. Note that in the above instances it is the responsibility of the individual to go to the Monks. Luang Por Pohm Likit was taking the imitative to help someone in need something that I respect even if it is not the way it is supposed to be.  Sometimes following the rules is not always the best way to live.

Luang Por Pohm Likit Has Completed His Donation
Luang Por Pohm Likit gave the woman some words of comfort and encouragement.  He told her that he would return when she ran out of food.  After he left the room the other people in our group came in to visit and offer food to the family.  The family made sure to thank the people for their offerings.  It was at this point that I left everyone to chat away in Lao while I went off to check out what the big event was that was taking place a couple of blocks away - but that will be the subject of another blog.

Listening to the Visitors from Baan Mat
To Buddhists, life is suffering.  We all suffer in this life from many things. It is truly tragic when our suffering is caused by others.

Today was a special day, a day that I am grateful for.  Today I witnessed compassion and charity, given not for personal gain, but because they are the right things to do. I have said that my wife makes me a better person and now it seems like Luang Por Pohm Likit is also working on that too.

There is the way that things are supposed to be and the way that they actually are.  It is up to us, as individuals, to ensure that our actions are always the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.

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