“If it were up to me, everyone would strip naked and bathe in the river before crossing that bridge”, she says pointing to the dodgy bamboo bridge that demarks the entrance to Yardfahmadin and over which we crossed just minutes before.
“She” is Nai, Naiyana, Faa (Thai for “sky”) or, for those who have been cared for by her, simply and half-jokingly “mommy”. Faa owns, runs and is the face, soul and life of Yardfahmadin – a place I would describe as a “retreat house placed in the jungle above Chiang Mai, Thailand” for those needing more specifics, and “home” for those that require less words.
The “we” who crossed the shaky bridge are Evelin from Hungary, living in Bangkok, Jojoe and myself – all three destined to spend 3 days in silent introspection and Buddhist meditation, without communicating with each other, yet in witness to each other, and under the caring guidance of Faa.
Jojoe is a beautiful Thai woman who regularly drives guests coming home to Faa’s place – and each and every time she witnesses a transformation in these people, the proverbial before and after mugshots of visitors as they enter and exit the journey of this place.
“What do you do to them?!”, she finally asks Faa. “Come and see”, Faa answers. So she does. And decides to join us for this retreat that spans over the New Year’s celebrations.
As she drives us along the curvy roads, I cannot help but laugh at the irony of her Facebook page. She named it “Jojoe Speed”, yet she drives at the pace of a slow-trotting horse.
We arrive in the early morning hours, the mist having not yet fully retreated, and we are greeted by a scrumptious breakfast. One dog already snuggling up to us as we settle at the table, seated on the floor of the bamboo terrace, while the other pooch barks at us anxiously.
I don’t blame him. It doesn’t take me long to realise where I just came from and what he must be sensing and smelling on me. It is my first time in Thailand, and I come to Yardfahmadin directly from the airport. I just spent 20 hours travelling, picking up along the way all sorts of anxieties. Some of them being mine, some generously handed to me by fellow travellers. My body was wired and wound up, badly fed by airplane food and sleep-deprived for two nights. The dog has every right to exhibit mistrust.
I remembered Faa’s initial sentence of stripping naked in the river. And I recalled reading in the retreat description that we receive clothes from the house. At the time, I found that strange. I was just about to ask Faa why she decided on offering guests her special clothes when I reached for my big backpack to fish something out.
As I came close to the backpack, it was unexpectedly and blaringly clear to me why the “dress code”. My bag suddenly felt contaminated, “loud” with the many influences it picked up flying across the planet, through airports, infused in kerosene and handled by many hands.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a painstakingly clean person. Nothing smelled or was dirty in any visible way. Yet, somehow, handling the bag suddenly felt like stepping ankle-deep in fresh, steaming manure. (You’re welcome for that visual. I hope you flinched.)
No joke. Granted, I slept a total of 5 hours in two nights and wasn’t my brightest self. However, the discrepancy was blindingly obvious in comparison to the pristine and peaceful surroundings I just found myself in.
Despite my dishelved state, the cats cuddle up next to me, clawing at my thighs as if giving me a teeny-tiny Thai massage with one paw after the other (this is Chiang Mai, after all) and purr-meowing for attention. It could be that they like me, though it is just as probable that they are slicking me up to feed them a bit of that delicious breakfast we were heartily devouring.
I’ll never know. And, frankly, don’t care. These cats are allowed all the capriciousness they want. I bow obeyingly to the purr.
(…to be continued…)