The United Nations should have been taking notes. Today, a HUGE and DIVERSE number of ethnic, racial and indigenous people groups gathered at Mae Jo University here in Chiang Mai, to simply celebrate life, Tribes, culture and diversity. And they came together within Northern Thailand, which has given shelter and harbour and citizenship to so many of them. Seriously, the world needs to be noticing this Buddhist culture of tolerance!
I met my friend, Mimi Saeju, a young Lisu Tribeswoman and a member of the prestigious YSEALI (Young South East Asian Leaders Initiaitve) - having a multi-lingual VIP escort through the Tribes who traditionally speak neither Thai, nor English, was amazing.
Please note Mimi's Montana cowboy boots - the girl has her feet in literally dozens of cultures! Did I mention she speaks Dutch?
Food was the first priority of the day.
Mimi's 'sister' wearing the traditional Burmese-Lisu costume.
What struck me throughout the day was that no one (and I mean, no one) was talking about the hardships of Thai citizenship, the human cost of civil war, the exhaustion of walking to another country for safety, the language challenges, the lack of employment for untrained nomadic or village people nor the relentless cultural devastation caused by the internet and globalization.
Here and there you saw a sword proudly worn:
and there was lots of laughter about traditional hats, 'farang' head sizes and how darn USEFUL these traditional bamboo hats (hand made in Sing Buri) actually are:
What were people talking about (other than food and the amazing costumes?): the young people and their cultural identity:
Young Lisu girl.
and extended family:
Mimi's uncle, aunt and sister hard at work in the Lisu Kitchen.
As always, despite my heighth and the obvious blonde factor, I was welcomed as one of the global extended family. My visit ended with sensational indigenous dishes...
and a deep feeling of shared humanity over stunning indigenous-ethnic food with new friends.
On a sobering note, the young Karen medics I work with (and whom you have seen in my previous Organic Frontiers natural herbal posts) would NOT have been able to attend today's festival, as they don't yet have the Thai immigration documents to allow them to travel out of Mae Hong Son Province. And there are hundreds of thousands of indigenous people living rough in the Thai-Burmese mountains, or languishing in refugee camps along Thailand's borders, who dream of a blanket, a full belly and a mosquito net and who have never had the privilege of wearing their own Tribe's traditional clothes.
There is still such a long way to go, and yet I am hopeful that the spirit of global community I witnessed, and was a part of, today IS possible to be replicated elsewhere. We DO have more than enough to share with those who have less, and their glorious colour and diversity and traditions only enrich us together.
More indigenous food and culture posts to follow! Promise!! Heading back late morning tomorrow for some more amazing food to and feel more of the awesome global vibe.