The winding branches of the cashew trees extended and intermingled overhead as we sped along the tiny dirt road. As Willem navigated the potholes and patches of slippery muck, I would lean back, carefully lifting my face to the trees and to the infinite blue sky beyond them. Streaks of sunlight glittered through gecko-laden branches. Our tiny – and always faithful – motorbike carried us along these everchanging paths daily. When the weather was permitting, we were exploring. When the weather was not so lenient, we remained indoors. We stayed away from the fragile windows. We counted the quiet leaks in the ceiling. We exchanged glances and words to reassure each other that the house would protect us from the enraged elements while thunder crashed and wind roared just outside.
Our house survived, but not all structures on Koh Phayam island were so lucky. On mornings after storms, we would ride to town, mouths hung ajar as we passed by structure after feeble structure that had been knocked down. As we passed men, young and old, working in the unfaltering sun to take away fallen trees and rebuild homes, we were greeted with the same generous smiles that would abound on any other day on the small island. There was not a moment when people perceived themselves as individuals before seeing themselves as a member of a community – everyone is family.
This was most apparent for me when we attended a young man’s two-day-long monk initiation ceremony on the island. As soon as we arrived, we were guided by kind hands to sit around a small circular table with a young family we did not know. As we greeted them and introduced ourselves, arms rushed in from everywhere at once – arms that brought a million plates of food and bottles of drinks to our tiny table. The whole night was decorated with a level of familiarity that will stay with me forever. Through the eating, the music, the dancing, and the encounters, there was never a moment where we felt like tourists intruding on a beautiful community’s ceremony. We were accepted among the hardworking people without hesitation.
Koh Phayam, as we were told by many locals, is named after the Thai word “Phayayam”, meaning ‘effort’. The running joke on Koh Phayam (or, as locals sometimes joked, Koh “Phayayayayam”), is that the island still requires you to make a true effort if you wish to stay there. In my case, the effort constituted a 40-hour journey to the island and a 46-hour journey back to Montreal at the end of the month. As a whole-food plant-based and zero-waste couple, that journey was hard. How Willem and I survived the journey, though, I will have to tell in another post.
Until next time,