A microcosm of life

Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2012

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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Monday, August 1, 2011

In April I returned to England, primarily to see one of my grandmothers who was making her way towards the pavilion after an innings full of poise and gusto.  I feel extremely thankful to have spent some quality time with her doing what she loved best, rambling over the beautiful English countryside on a beautiful summer's day.  

I also took the opportunity to visit and surprise the rest of my family and friends around the country in a road trip covering 2,000 miles in 3 weeks.  With a few exceptions, I managed to see everyone I love and whilst I was wilting towards the end, it was worth every lost wink.

By the time I arrived back in Thailand I was suffering from chronic sleep deprivation.  I was so exhausted from the marathon tour of England that I was unable to doze off for even a second on the flight and resorted to setting a new personal record of 4 and a half (bad) films in a row.  There was no rest on the horizon either, with my return having been timed to coincide with my sister's packing up the house that we'd shared in Chiang Mai.  It was at this point that I began to fully understand the extent of Ella's 'stuff'-magnetizing abilities (a condition that I also suffer from).  Eventually, after a full day of lugging boxes to and fro, I set off back to the project, with a truck full of donated furniture - and an old water-filled oil drum containing the fish and turtles from our house pond.  They were looking forward to a new life in a rain-filled pond at Panya, which I had sealed with a plastic-liner back in March. 

Life was no less hectic at Panya, with a two-week Permaculture Design Course kicking off the day I arrived.  But as it turned out, it was mother nature's hearty welcome back to jungle living, that really put a spanner in my works. 

The rainy season had arrived two months early, catching everyone off-guard and causing serious damage to two of the houses - the house Lala and I presently lived in and the house we were due to move into.  Oh joy!! 

In my absence an attempt had been made to replace the thatch roof of our house, but as was soon discovered, the thatch was laid too thick for the pitch of the roof.  When the rain arrived like a wet slap, the new roof surrendered at once to the unrepenting jabs of water and everything inside got thoroughly soaked, ruining many of our books, possessions and Lala's passport.

By the time I arrived back the sodden thatch roof smelt like a big hamster cage, the plywood floor was bulging and strewn across it were dozens of bowls and cups in a vain attempt to catch the worst of the drops.  It was utter chaos and with downpours most afternoons, the prospect of trying to re-thatch the roof seemed hopeless.

At the Bean house, which I had been working on prior to leaving for England, things were even worse.  Replacing the roof had been among the first jobs planned for my return but when the rains came early, the huge, rotten central beam had snapped in two and the entire roof collapsed down at one end.  Was this a message?

Looking back, it does seem to have been the prelude to what turned out to one of the more turbulent chapters in my life and perhaps that of Panya as a whole. 

In the five months that followed, the Panya community would run six courses, design and implement a new system of long-term management for the entire project, share life-stories with an openness and trust that no-one could possibly have envisaged and take huge strides forward in all areas from infrastructure to gardens and food forest.  This was interspersed with dance nights, fancy dress parties, pizza nights, festivals, no-talent contests, film nights and chill outs.  All the things that Panya stands for and that have made her what she is.  But as has happened in the past, there was a flipside to all this achievement and activity, which in hindsight we should have seen coming...namely burnout.  While exhaustion and stress are displayed differently from one person to the next, the effects are almost always negative and tend to be damaging.  Whilst many become physically sick, others might suffer from mental illness. Where someone might become insular and disconnected, others become aggressive or moody.  Just as anger in one person is displayed as saddness in another.  Well, we witnessed it all.  We ran twelve courses in a year, considerably more than ever before, making a profit for the first time.  I guess we were keen to prove ourselves in our first year of running the project as a collective.  Or perhaps that was just me.  It wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of pushing too hard.  But despite the fact that we didn't get the balance quite right and despite all the difficulties that we as a group faced during those chaotic, hazy months, there is a large part of me that doesn't regret a thing.  I feel proud of what we achieved and blessed to have been able to be a part of it.  Life is just one long lesson after all.  Would we do it differently next time?  Of course, but we'd doubtless make other, new mistakes.  Panya is an amazing place for that sort of thing.  A real playground of learning.  A kindergarden for community and holistic living, where everyone is both teacher and pupil in this microcosmic school of life.  I loved my time at The Panya Project and can honestly say that for the most part, I have never been happier!

But change is the constant state and in November, 18 months after I joined the project, I packed up the last of my things and said goodbye to my friends and to the land and drove up the dusty lane for the last time.  A new adventure beckoned ..although I did leave my battered crocs, floral shorts and a t-shirt in a box with my axe...just in case.

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