Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rural Development – A Naïve Gestation of Terrorism

A Sunday.  Sitting at my desk at the field crops research station, back to the window, rain falling in sheets for days.  Nothing at my house.  No one venturing in the downpour.  So I skipped to the office and let myself in.  Coffee.  Letter from the mom waiting.  So much, so many things happening back home.  A friend's wife is having a baby (is it my friend's also?).   World tumbles on.
The agricultural tour.  Three old farts well into their sixties changing their ways of farming to systems more suited to the environment of the Esan, Northeastern Thailand.  Mixed farming, water ponds for fish, a fruit tree forest, mulched rice fields.   The three farmers say they are a bit isolated from all their neighbours.  Persons of change.  Shrugs of shoulders. What do they care.  They are changing for themselves.
The second day a day of drunkenness.  The villagers and the monks in one of the poorest villages brought the homemade rice wine.  Holding hands with the men and talking about farming and water.  A huge reservoir of 13 or 14 hectares, lots of water problems, flooding backing up into the next village, inadequate holding capacity during the dry season.  Three or four different varieties of rice wine.  Dancing along the bunds of rice paddy.  That night to the Grass Roots Integrated Development (GRID) project, run by Thai nationals.  An argument with Charlie from Australia, because, he said, I am argumentative for the sake of argument rather than the resolution of a question.  The rich fat cats know what they are doing, he said.  I figured that a rich fat cat guy about my age who grew up with nice cars probably did not think much past the car and the girls.  A very late night.
Next morning off to visit a community forest.  They had planted thousands of trees.  A great happening.  Who owned the land?  There seemed to be some question about this.  And sly smiles, too.  Laughter and winks and invitations: when the government comes to give them trouble we may come and fight too.  It was the first mention of the word fight, of which I was to hear more.  Better translated as war.
To a village where we had supper. To a house where I bought a traditional pakama, for sleeping.  Then to the home in the darkness, upstairs and I crawled under a mosquito net.  A black pig lounging about below, snuffling, loose to go where it pleased but wandering nowhere.  A dog trotting past in the dark, a growl, gone.  Ducks tucked away in a corner, gentle sing-song gurgles.  A calf, also loose, stirrings of straw as it turned in small circles looking to lie down.  A breathy humpf from the water buffalo, glassed eyes watching from behind his gate.  Silkworms knitting cocoons in a wire cage suspended from the ceiling beneath me, a whisper of mulberry leaves shuffling as the worms fed.  Each of us all keeping  company in the silence of night.
Fourth day on tour.  More of the usual.  A failed fish nursery.  Pretty much brand new, but disused because the concrete was poured poorly and the fish tank split.  A water pump display.  More like a bicycle pump bolted to the earth.  Pump, pump, pump out comes a trickle of water, fun for five minutes, slave labour by ten. I took notice of a pig in a harness, harness attached to a rope, rope to a bar, bar stretched between two trees.  Pig jogs happily back and forth with that odd grin they have on their face.
Back to the GRID project office.  There was Khun Nat.  Maybe twenty eight years old.  A moustache.  Deeply tanned brown face already wrinkled around the eyes.  Nat was leaving the organization in two months.  His story was that he would be going to Khorat, north of Bangkok, to work for a friend who makes hydraulic components and ships these to Canada.  Nat kept saying that his friend just needs help so he is going.  Nat knows nothing about what he will do or what he can do to help.  It was Nat who talked about the war.
We sat down with a guitar and a bottle of whisky and we sang and Nat sang about the war - about the students and people who died during and after the Thammasat University uprising.  War as an economic war, a war of poverty, farmers fighting literally for their land.  GRID was a political base, a nucleus of communication.  Workers and farmers who will fight the war, the violence inevitable.  Nat said a losing war.  The government has the guns.  But, what can you do, the war is already being waged against the people.  It was not our choice, said Nat.  A young woman came and filled our whiskey glasses.  She spoke angrily to Nat, looked with stillness at him, dark eyes, for just a brief moment, and left. 
Nothing more to the tour after this.  A meeting.  An evaluation.  Plans for next year.  We white people slipped away from the villages and fields, back to our jobs, our projects, back to our plans and our organizing and busyness.  Really, who among us would turn our backs on our wealth and to join a war?  Who among us could imagine that environmentally sustainable and economically subsistent agriculture was a weapon?  No, no, no… everyone, of course, has the best of intentions.
It was strange to return to the agricultural research station.  It was like a cul-de-sac in a suburb, a place that turns in on itself leading nowhere, lined by houses in which people live without relation to each other except their work and allegiance to their salaries.  I knew people there.  People with titles and objectives and mandates.
Khun Nat disappeared a month later.  I contacted the woman with still, dark eyes.  She said she did not know.  Things happen, she said.  So they were closing down their Grass Roots office.  Nat was never heard from again. 
I looked at the empty desks of my government colleagues while the rain continued to pour down outside.
Hollow space in an imploding world.

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