Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jaow vs. Cow-- The Beauty of Misunderstanding

On January 7th we arrived at The Mae Kom Bong village, shortly after arriving we were split into groups of four and shuffled off into five different homes.  The woman who brought us into her home didn't speak or understand much English, so she used body language and expressions to show us the bathroom and where we would sleep.  She had the biggest smile and cutest giggle, when she didn't understand us she would just giggle and continue to try to understand what we were saying.  We hadn't been told what the plan was so after we put our bags in our room we came downstairs where she shooed ** us out of the house.  We explored for an hour  before we came back to help make lunch, we asked if we could help and she giggled at us looking confused.  We joined what we think were her two daughters with their two sons (4 and 5 months old) in the open room adjacent the kitchen.  I could have held and played with the babies all day, but soon it was lunch time.  
After lunch we walked to a waterfall and then came back to the house.  Before supper I heard them moving downstairs so I joined the woman and her husband and began helping her cook supper.  She had me crush peppers, and while I was doing this she told me to eat a handful (using gestures) and then made a face like she had just eaten something hot, followed by her cute giggle.  Soon she told us supper was ready and shuffled us out onto her porch.  She served us our food and left us to eat.  She came back about 10 minutes later to check on us and explained that instead of the normal Cop-Coon-Ka (Thank you) said in Bangkok, we must use Cop-Coon-Cow since we were in the north.  When she said this none of us could understand what she was saying for the last word, but decided it sounded similar to Cow so when she went to leave we said Cop-Coon-Cow (to say thank you).  She then turned and offer us rice, we declined as we all had more than enough food already on our plates, we again said Cop-Coon-Cow (thank you) and she offered us rice again.  We were confused and each time she said it we tried to hear what the word was, but none of us were able to conclude what the word was. 
Later in the evening we went to a meeting with the village leader, and on the way down I asked Cathy what the last word in the phrase used in the north for 'thank you' was.  This is when everything began to make sense.  She said that the phrase was Cop-Coon-Jaow, and that Cow meant rice.  We all had a good laugh.
This morning I came down and the woman was making breakfast, she pointed to the counter and Sam asked, "Coffee?"  The woman replied in Thai with a sentence I didn't understand.  Inside I felt myself wanting to laugh thinking, "why would she respond that way, we don't speak Thai..." and that is when I realized I had come into a Thai woman's house and expected her to speak English.  Every time I pointed at something for the last 24 hours I used English words, or phrases.  Slowly I began to feel upset at myself for how I had approached this experience.  Staying with the family was a very humbling and moving experience, I came expecting to learn about them, and left learning so much about myself as well.

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