Published: February 12th 2006February 12th 2006
John and Peter Gliechmann
Peter and I enjoy a little fun...and a German beer in Khao Lak
When Two Worlds Collide Today was special. But let me go back a bit, first.
In November I was honored to meet Peter Gliechmann of Germany, a tall, robust and rough-cut man of his forties and an appetite to match. The near death story he shares of clinging to a taught cable in the tsunami catastrophe and barely surviving is a story no grandpa could tell his grandchildren without complete intense stares into the eyes of the storyteller. Unbelievable, yet true. His wife, Angelika, was also clinging for her life somewhere in the torrent waters and when rescued she would stay in the hospital for one year undergoing over twenty-five micro-surgeries to remove sand deep within the muscle of her legs. She was relesed from the hospital and came home just in time for Christmas 2005.
Peter and I hit it off right from the start. He is a policeman and firefighter in Germany and our relationship as firemen gave us an instant brotherly love. He would only stay for a short time in Khao Lak, his first visit back to the 'scene of the crime'. He would also give back to the Thai people by sponsoring orphaned
children and help other victims of the tsunami. Because he had to return to Germany to be at his wife's side, he intrusted me to give a substantial amount of money to someone I felt needed it on his behalf. A New Adventure?
Today is February 12, 2006. I found the family that needs Peter and Angelika's donation. Tucked far from the beaten path and nearly 10 kilometers from where most of the efforts are taking place for tsunami relief is a family for which I can still not pronounce their names even though I watched their lips move as they told me. But names are not as important as hearts. And Peter and Angelika have large and full hearts.
My day began with meeting up with the orphan camp's staff members and setting off to the village north of Takuapa. Though far from the main beaches, this village was effected by the tsunami as many tributaries spider-vein into these fishing villages enabling them to get to the open seas at high tide. When the tsunami hit, the water rose through these inlets and destroyed their tackle or sunk their boats. As poor as they can possilby
Bang Muang, Thailand
be, they could not rebuild their lives as easily as those receiving help from large organizations. This was a task to seek out the families that needed the help the most and trying to give them a helping hand.
When we arrived at the village we were welcomed from barking, mangy dogs, laughing children, and a table spread of native food in hopes we arrived with a big appetite. We did. And we ate...and ate. All fresh and mostly taken from the village's abundance of natural flaura and waters. Mangos, tea, pineaple, rice, some leafy stuff taken off the branches of a tree, and fresh fish. (I never eat the meat here...I can't take chances).
Then I was being offered a chair. And then a child came up to me and gave me a glass of iced tea. A moment later I looked around and noticed I was being stared at by everyone in the family. My friend, Rotjana, told me that they don't see many foreigners here and my white skin (hey...I think I have a pretty good tan!) and goatee have them curious. But I also knew that it wasn't that I looked like the village
One of the men dived down to the bottom and pulled up some fresh oysters
freak. It was clear the family knew why this strange man (me) was here in their village and I suddenly began to feel a bit embarrassed. Hell, I'm not the special guest! I don't want to be treated as such, either. I'm just the messenger. Try telling someone not to treat you differently when they know you are going to offer them opportunity to rebuild their lives.
There are actually three families here. All of them have longtail boats and fish for a living. They are extremely poor and after the tsunami they lost most of their fishing pots (cages set on the bottom of the sea to entrap fish, squid and crab) and they are desperately trying to get more so they can get larger catches. They both eat and sell their catches in local markets. I don't want to disclose the amount of money that Peter and Angelika is offering them out of respect for the privacy of all involved. But I can assure you, though not as much as you might think, the amount will help the three families buy netting, wood, floats, fish wells and some money to maintain their vessels. I'll paraphrase that old
Heavy Work On Board
Dragging in the Fish Cage
saying: "Give a man a fish, and he'll have a meal. Give him the means to fish and he eats forever". I know, not the real way to say it, but you get the drift.
Oh...and so we went fishing. I remember fishing with my uncle on the Sacramento River in the early 1970's.
We sat there in the boat, in the scortching summer heat, waiting for some stupid Salmon to bite. All day, while I baited my hook, reeled my line, my uncle sat with me and taught me how to fish. And he had a beer or two in the meantime. It was heaven for a young man. But after seeing how these Thai men fish, I wondered if my early days as a fisherman were correct. These men donned a face mask that was tethered to a long airhose. After shutting off the boat's engine, they fired up an air-compressor. Without taking off his shoes or clothing, one of the fishermen jumped into the water and sank like a rock in a gunnysack. The compressor sputtered and hissed as the hoseline was payed out the deeper he went. We could see where he was as the
Back Breaking Work
The work is arduous and the catch not always that much. This time, 15 fish.
bubbles rose to the surface. And we waited. Nearly 5 minutes later he came back up and informed the topside crew that the fish pot is ready to be pulled up. Once it breached the surface it was a real task to get the cage on board. And inside were about 20 fish flopping about, unaware that they were to be tonight's dinner feast.
So, do I get this right? Go out to sea and drop overboard a multitude of fish pots, let them sit at the bottom of the ocean to collect the daily menu, and then go back out to get the catch? Sounds easy, huh? Hardly. Its not only back-breaking work, its also dangerous. The fishermen can sometimes go down 20-60 feet without any qualified equipment other than a positive-pressure mask and a long airhose. You know, I've been inside of many buildings when they are completely engulfed in flames, but going down 10 meters in my clothing and with the aid of an unsophisticated breathing apparatus is not my cup of tea! That would scare the sh*t out of me, even though I'm a diver, too.
All the while I'm not hearing one word
Like My Hat?
The father insisted I wear his cap to keep the sun off the 'foreingers' head. It was pretty hot out there!
of English. With nearly fifteen of us in two longtail boats chattering away, I'm constantly reminded that I'm on the other side of the world. Thailand is like living in the pages of National Geographic magazine. Only with sound and smell.
At one point in the day, we were looking for two bottle-nose dolphins that were known to roam the water. We circled for about thirty minutes hoping they would breach, but we never saw them. The skipper then took us to an jungle island and we disembarked at low tide. The boats couldn't reach the dock, so we had to get out and walk in thigh-high mud for about 1/4 kilometer. You know the kind of mud; the kind that makes that sucking sound every time you life your foot out. It added to the adventure and I was really enjoying myself.
Once out of the water...er, uh..I mean mud, we trekked into the base camp. A frail and aged bungalow on a rubber tree farm was the place to set off into the heart of the jungle. Again, we ate and drank, and then most of the group set off. I want to mention that this
Couldn't they have waited until high tide?
is NOT your typical trek. You won't see any of the tour groups or companies come to this island. Mostly privately owned, no Greyhound bus is going to pull up and unload hoards of tourists. This was to be a special trek on for us. From getting short lessons on the flora to coming across other deeply hidden bunglows where the inhabitants ate what they could. (see cooked rat on a skewer). This was a true adventure and I couldn't wait for the next turn. At one point, they climbed trees to retrieve wild orchids to take back to grow and sell.
After our long trek into the island jungle, we made our way back to the longtail boats for the journey back to the mainland. The sun was beginning to fall behind the mountaintops and the view was spectacular. As we slowly made our way to the wooden docks, I relized that I had experienced a normal day for the locals. But for me it will be etched into my mind as one of the most funfilled days in Thailand, if not anywhere else I've travelled. But the end is not near...
Back at the family home
Mud Trekking 2
Okay, how much more fun could one man have in one day?
in this village, the men stoked a small cooking fire right in the middle of the 'yard'. Along with the seemingly perpetually pregnant dogs and ear-piercing cresadas whistling in the nearby banyan trees, the sounds of the Thai language filled the smokey air. Laughter of small children running about and 'fizzing' as the bottle caps of beer fell onto the dirt below. We had yet one more meal to enjoy, and this time it was the day's catch. And, yes, once again we feasted.
I asked Rotjana, my Thai friend and director of the nearby orphanage, to ask that the immediate family come together in their home away from the others. I wanted to explain to them where this money was coming from and why I'm only the 'farang' courier. The family eagerly sat cross-legged and stared deep into my soul as I proceded to speak to Rotjana in English while she capably translated it into Thai. I witnessed nods of praise, their palms together and a bow of their heads as she told them what I had said: "I want you all to know that it is a privilege and honor to be here in your home. And
These are poor people
You want to cringe, but these are very poor people and you eat what you can find in desperate times.
though I'm only the messenger, Peter and Angelika would be just as honored. I come from a wasteful world away and I wanted to bring you a gift from a couple that nearly lost their lives in the same tsunami you experienced. And that their love for the Thai people that helped them after the tsunami has given them reason to give something in return. They could never repay those enough for helping save their lives. Please accept their gift with love and an understanding that they know you more than you may realize. They have been given another opportunity to life and so they wish to give you that same opportunity."
This was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to say to people in need. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to say it.
***To Peter and Angelika
, from me: You have helped three families get back on their feet with a donation that will last perhaps a lifetime. Now they will have the tools to rebuild their fishing businesses that will ultimately help feed their children. They send their heartfelt gratitude and have extended you a 'wai' in return. Thank you.
There are more photos below