Building a Foundation

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and well, Visitor Village won’t be either.  While we’re not here comparing our quaint community in the hills of Northern Thailand to the iconic city of Rome, it sure does feel like we are building something bigger than ourselves.

When we set off on this journey just a few short months ago, never did we think we would be so lucky to have our project on this pristine hillside, deep in the mountains in Northern Thailand.  This is truly a place where dreams are made, a place where you wake up to the birds joyously singing and where you lay your head on your pillow at night under a sky of a million bright stars, where you can get lost in the absolute, true beauty of Mother Nature, just as intended.  This is a place where you feel rooted to yourself and to a bigger mission and a place that fills you in indescribable ways. It is a place where you feel your best. And it makes you wonder: how on earth did we end up in such a breathtaking spot?

Maria and I first traveled to our village only a few months ago in January and it seemed like quite the task of figuring out where we would build visitor village.  How would we be close enough to the elephants as they roam in the jungle, but at the same time, also be close to the local community? Would we have enough space to have a private area for our guests?  Would we be able to create an area that would allow us to build an intimate gathering place for ourselves with our visitors? It was quite the list of “must haves” that seemed a bit unattainable at the time.  We walked around the village, pointing out different spots and saw why we wouldn’t be able to build in certain areas, so to not disturb nature. We left that visit uncertain of what the future would hold for our site.

Fast forward a few months to my last trip with Holly, which was just a few weeks ago, where we arrived armed with our checklist of items to tackle.  Second to meeting the elephant girls was a very important task where we needed to work with the local community to find a place where we all felt comfortable to lay our foundation, quite literally.  As we walked through the community the first morning we were there, one of the locals pointed his finger to a clearing with a sturdy-looking house with a blue roof, just above us. “There, up on the hillside,” he said in Karen. We jumped in the truck and drove up out of the valley to a spot overlooking the entire village.

The view of the future site of Visitor Village.

The view of the future site of Visitor Village.

After a few minutes of discussion between the locals, Yo came over to me.  “He said we can have this house with the blue roof, and the land, we can have the land and can build visitor village here,” Yo said and motioned with his hands below as we all stood together above a magnificent piece of land looking down through the valley, over to the rolling mountains in the background, as far as the eye could see.  My eyes immediately swelled with tears. I could not find words, which over the past few months, had been an all-too-common occurrence. Was I actually hearing this correctly? This piece of land was really ours? I felt a wave of tremendous gratitude roll through my body and I hugged the villagers, “tab-lu, thank you, tab-lu,” I repeated as I wiped tears from my eyes.  We spent the rest of our time together walking through our future build site in the warm sunshine, planning where each structure would be to best take advantage of the natural landscape of the hillside.

To western standards the villagers may seem like they don’t have much.  But they have everything they need: they have their families, laughter and love.  What has struck me most about these people who have welcomed us in their community is just how little they may have by a materialistic standpoint, but they give so much of themselves, more than anyone I have ever met in my life.  They have welcomed us with a warm, generous embrace. And for that, I will be forever grateful for their genuine kindness.

For the elephants,