Monday, November 12, 2012

The Sunshine After The Rain

Teaching some of the women how to wrap paper strips around toothpicks to make beads
Fa Lang Fon ("The Sunshine After The Rain") is a group of people living with HIV/AIDS and hosts monthly meetings at my site's district hospital. The group consists of about 40 men, women, and children who work on income generation schemes such as making keychains, jewelry, and potpourri. On my site evaluation sheet, one of my program managers writes that while there is no noted stigma in district concerning HIV/AIDS, the support group requested lessons on other methods of income generation.

Two weeks ago, I attended one of  Fa Lang Fon's monthly sessions with a nurse I met at the district hospital. When we arrived at a village health center, I saw three elderly women knitting keychains and stringing plastic beads together to make butterfly shapes. Once the nurse told me that we would wait 30 more minutes for the rest of the members to arrive, I followed suit with the elderly women by taking out a Ziploc bag of my bead-making materials: magazine paper strips, a toothpick, and a glue stick. One of the women at the patio table set aside her knitting needles and asked me, "Tam arai?" (What are you doing?) Once I explained how to wrap a paper strip around the toothpick to make the shape of a bead, the other two women at the table asked the nurse for more toothpicks. As ten more of Fa Lang Fon's female members arrived, we all sat in a circle on the village health center's bamboo mats, with piles of paper strips and toothpicks scattered among us for three hours of recycled jewelry-making.

I stationed myself at a desk to measure and cut strips for the activity, all the while listening in on conversations of Fa Lang Fon. A woman in her 50s pushed her Ray-Bans up to her nose, bragging to two of the members about her husband's recent purchases from Bangkok. Two other women sitting to my left discussed bpuat tong (stomach pains) from taking pills every morning and afternoon after meals. A third woman, as she strung her paper beads together, confidently added that boiling water with mint leaves for five minutes made a drink that would help with bpuat tong problems. To my right was a younger woman, clearly a newcomer, who silently nodded in agreement to the mint tea recipe as she dipped a Q-tip into the glue jar and applied it to the end of a paper strip to seal a bead shut.

Between the flow of conversation and the mass-production of jewelry, I woke up from Fa Lang Fon's thoughts as the nurse announced that she had exercise and recipe sheets to hand out before the session ended in 20 minutes. Several of the women whined that they were yang mai set (not done yet) with their jewelry, but I assured them that I would draw pictures of how to cut magazine paper at home for the beads, with my words followed by sighs of relief from the group and a small smile from the newcomer sitting next to me. Despite my words of encouragement, I was sad to leave a group that made me feel at home within four hours of meeting them. Fortunately, one of Fa Lang Fon's sassiest members strode across the room with her Bangkok-market Ray Bans and necklace of recycled beads, requesting a picture of her new accessories then asking me, "What are we learning to make with trash at the next meeting?" I smiled along with her as I turned on my digital camera, knowing I had something to look forward to in December.

One of the Fa Lang Fon members strings together her catalog paper beads into a necklace
The women were sad when we ran out of strips for bead-making, so I was put on paper-cutting duty
Some of the Fa Lang Fon members laughing over a story concerning Thai food
One of the necklaces made during Friday's crafting session
One of Fa Lang Fon's most stylish members showing off her Bangkok-market Ray Bans with her paper bead necklace

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