Sunday February 2, 2014 was here: Election Day. We left the housing complex super early to prevent encountering any street closures on the way to the airport. No incidents and we got there so early that we could not check in for another 30 minutes -but better safe than sorry! The flight was delayed due to dense fog, but we made it safely to our destination. Upon arrival to Mae Sot, we drove to the colorful Rim Mei Market that sits by the Moei river (in the border with Burma) to immerse ourselves in this very multicultural town. Here, Burmese and Thai weavings intertwined in -what seemed to be a somehow- quiet market full of mixed colors and flavors. Some hours later, after exploring and doing some shopping, we were looking to taste the Burmese flavors but failed to find a delicious plate of Mohinga soup -which Iona had described so amazingly on the plane. Instead, had another delicious soup dish very close to the Friendship Bridge (which crosses Thailand to Burma).
That afternoon, after much expectation, I was devastated by the news that we would not be able to access the Mae La Refugee Camp (or “Temporary Shelter Area” -as it’s called by the Thai government). For months, since I first applied to the Fellowship, I had dreamt of being there and helping out providing some service to a community that has been forgotten for decades. Instead, our first day in town included a mere drive-by to the area, to see the camp from the outside. It felt terrible to be there -almost as if we were visiting the zoo. I was embarrassed and upset that they had taken us there just for the show, but I recognize that there were others in our group who wanted to witness this -even in this manner. My hope is that future groups of Rotary Peace Fellows that come out for their field study have better hands-on experience in this regard.
We closed our first day in town with a special reception by the Rotary Club of Maesot Maung Chod (Club RI 3360) -big shout out to the organizers! Everything was memorable: the location, the food and the karaoke! Here’s a picture of the group singing The Rotary Song. Suddenly, while being so far away from our loved ones and exhausted from a day that had started at 4 AM we felt welcome to the city and part of their big Rotary family.