To Grandma's house we go!

Alisha receives a  bai see  bracelet from her  yai  (grandma).

Alisha receives a bai see bracelet from her yai (grandma).

I have had the honor and privilege of returning to Na Nong Bong (the village where the Radical Grandmas live) not once, nor twice, but three times to hear their stories, tour the area devastated by the nearby gold mine, and learn about their weaving process.

During one visit I was napping, recovering from a bad bout of food poisoning. I woke up to find four grandmas all huddled around me, kneading my arms and legs and patting me down with a cool cloth. They were offering me all sorts of herbs, tying bai see bracelets on my arms (a ceremony involving tying strings around your wrist to promote health and healing), and just being genuinely concerned about me.

I have found that the depth of the grandmas’ compassion and caring knows no bounds. If they went to such lengths to make sure I, who had known them for a total of three days, was okay, imagine the boundless love they have for their fields and families.

The most amazing part of visiting Na Nong Bong is getting to listen to all the stories that explain why we call our friends and host mothers the “Radical Grandmas.” Once, they all gathered together and sat on the road leading to the gold mine to prevent the mining trucks from bringing ore down from the mountain. The grandmas and the rest of the activists blocking the road were beaten by the police and military for this, but they still remain determined. The mine harmed their fields, their livelihoods, and their health, and the grandmas are working hard to stop the mine’s destructive legacy. Their goals are to stop TKL, the mining company, from getting permission to mine more mountains, to make TKL pay reparations to their village, and to make sure such a tragedy does not happen in any other communities.

CIEE Khon Kaen students tour the soy bean fields to learn about villagers' way of life and the contamination from the gold mine. 

CIEE Khon Kaen students tour the soy bean fields to learn about villagers' way of life and the contamination from the gold mine. 

Driving through Na Nong Bong, you see women sitting on their porch areas, cutting unripe papayas for the favorite snack of som tam (green papaya salad), chatting, and weaving at their looms. You would never guess that these average-looking grandmas are standing up against a big gold mining corporation. The grandmothers embody a hidden determination and strength to protect and cherish what is theirs.

When talking to the grandmothers about their scarves, you can see a glimmer of their determination, strength, and compassion. It’s difficult to get them to talk about their personal lives, their aspirations and dreams, when their lives are consumed by their ongoing struggle. When asked what she likes to do in her free time, Sri Aunasot said, “[the women in the Radical Grandma Collective] eat food together and talk about how to stop the mine.”

Honestly, I don’t think we can ever truly know the strength of the Radical Grandmas. But hearing their stories definitely helps me understand their sheer drive and determination to restore their village.

Paige Organick studies at Whitman College and studied abroad in Spring 2016 with CIEE Khon Kaen Development & Globalization.