Monday, November 23, 2015

An Unforgettable Farewell Celebration

On our last day of clinical in Korat, we were honored to be invited to celebrate the evening with the SUT faculty and students, as well as the community members. The celebration took place in the center of the village, and many of the patients we had seen during home visits and in the clinic were in attendance to see us off. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable clinical experience working closely with our Thai sisters and the community. 

During the afternoon leading up to the celebration, we had the opportunity to assist our Thai sisters and the SUT faculty in preparing a meal to bring to the evening celebration. Our Thai sisters showed off their skills cleaning and shredding coconut, and we helped them to make fresh coconut milk for a panang curry dish. 

                                          Michelle and Nar shredding coconut

We all got dressed in our traditional Thai outfits in preparation for the celebration - thank you to the sophomore SUT nursing students who lent us their clothing for the event! We bonded with our Thai sisters as they braided our hair to help us get ready for the event (excluding the guys of course). After two weeks of hard work, it was very fun to see our Thai sisters get a well-deserved break and enjoy the afternoon cooking with us. While we were occupied with coconut shredding contests, hair braiding, and cooking panang, other members of the village were preparing handmade decorations and traditional Thai dishes for our community dinner.


In the evening, we walked to the center of the village together to begin the celebration. The community members had elaborately decorated the bridge and center of the village for the event. Yards of vibrant colored fabric were draped over the bridge, with hanging decorations creating the perfect centerpiece for the party. The older adults in the community lined each side of the bridge, seated in chairs. The first part of the celebration was very special, as we were honored to participate in a Baci ceremony. During a Baci ceremony a white thread of silk or cotton is tied around the wrist of the individual who is being wished well-being and good luck. The white thread symbolizes peace, harmony, good health and fortune, and community. The thread is to be worn for at least three days, and untied or allowed to fall off on its own thereafter. During our Baci ceremony, an elderly community leader (who has often been a Buddhist monk at some stage in his life) performed a blessing and tied a thread of cotton around each our wrists, one at a time.

Baci Ceremony

Following this initial blessing, we moved down the line of elders in the community who each said a personal blessing and offered well-wishes as they tied more threads around our wrists. We cannot describe how meaningful it was to us to look up into the warm, sincere faces of these older adults as they each said a blessing and wished us safe travels. It is something we will never forget. 

Making our way down the line for the Baci ceremony
After we completed the Baci ceremony, we were each presented with a traditional Thai krathong. Loi Krathong is a Thai holiday celebrated on the 12th full moon of the Thai lunar calendar and typically falls in early November. “Loi” means “to float,” while “krathong” is a small wreath-like raft constructed out of intricately folded banana leaves. The krathong typically includes flowers, candles, and incense sticks. The krathongs were all different and very beautiful.

After the candles and incense were lit and a blessing jointly recited, we were instructed to make a wish as we placed the krathongs into the river. The act of floating the krathong is symbolic of letting go of any grudges and anger, allowing one to start life anew on a better footing. 

                                              Clare during Loi Krathong Ceremony                                Community Clinic Nurse Practitioner

Dancing, led by the older adult women of the community, followed the Loi Krathong ceremony. They individually invited us to dance with them and did their best to teach us traditional Thai dance. When the music stopped, we knew it was time for us to perform the dance we had prepared for our Thai sisters’ entertainment. We took the stage and did our best to impress during our short choreographed dance. After we were finished, our Thai sisters performed a variety of songs and dance for us as well. After two weeks of hard community clinical work, they also dedicated themselves to planning and preparing these performances for our farewell. They are truly an amazing group of women and future nurses! 

Our group in traditional Thai outfits with our SUT sisters and faculty

After our group performances, we enjoyed a variety of authentic Thai dishes, including fresh noodles, prepared by the community members. After spending so much time in the community the past two weeks and seeing how much work goes into meal preparation, we cannot thank the SUT faculty, our Thai sisters, and the community members enough for the wonderful authentic Thai food!

Following dinner, the dancing continued into the evening with the older adult women outlasting all of us on the dance floor. I don’t know how they keep it up in the heat and humidity, but we all got some good exercise for sure! The presence of many village members and the sense of community throughout the evening was unbelievable. When the evening came to an end, it was especially difficult to say goodbye to our Thai sisters whom we’d grown to know and trust over the past two weeks. As we drove away, they lined the streets waving and shouting goodbye. It was an emotional yet perfect ending to our final evening among our Thai sisters and the community. 

As we travel back to Michigan, we want to say thank you again to the SUT faculty, our Thai sisters, and all of the community members who made the evening one that we will never forget. It was so meaningful for our group to be able to participate in these Thai cultural traditions with you. We cannot thank you enough for your kindness and for welcoming us into your community during our short time in Thailand.

Saying farewell to SUT before the drive back to Bangkok

-Mary Beth, Hanna, and Clare

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