I had been a City Boy for 16 years, apart from three years on an 800 acre farm which was The Monastery in Galong, NSW. i moved there to enter the Minor Seminary of the Redemptorist Fathers to study for the Priesthood. Situated in the Riverina District, it was a self supporting farm. All of our food was grown on the land and the outside world was remote. Animals were slaughtered, bread was baked and cows were milked.
It was not till I reached the age of 55 that I returned to a rural village where Samran, my loving partner grew up. He asked me to visit his home as his grandmother was dying and he wanted me to be there with him. I was apprehensive having spent 5 years in the second largest city in Thailand, Chiangmai. We travelled from Hua Hin to Song Meow, the village where he was born in the North East of Thailand which is known as Isaan. We went by taxi, yes an unknown journey in a country like Australia, I still remember the cost of the taxi, 200 dollars. I had no idea of what to expect. I knew he was the middle son of rural farmers. Not only was I going to his place of birth but it was a time of sadness as his grandmother, who had brought him up was dying and I felt that my support was important to him. The taxi, driven by a relative, traversed the Rice Bowl of Thailand. Flat rice fields, nothing like the touristic brochures of paddy fields one so often sees in Asian countries.
The village was 25 kilometres outside of the Capital of the Province of Roi Et, literally translated as 101…We virtually drove to the front door of the house which like so many houses, was built on stilts. The roads in the village were concrete but the driveway was dry earth, no gates, no fences. I remember getting out of the taxi and taking huge breaths of mixed emotions. A population of around 1000 people, many of whom were related to him.
Kids were playing in the yard, laughter and rural calm amidst the imminent death of a 72 year old woman. There was no time for anything but to climb the stairs to the room where Yai lay on a mat in the last hours of her life. The room was full of her children, grandchildren and other assorted relatives. This was my first meeting with his parents and other family members. I was not the only gay in the village, but the only white one.
Watching Sammy leaning over his dying grandmother as he moistened her lips with cotton buds. He spoke to her with such loving compassion and devotion. The room was crowded with people all squatting on the harsh wooden floor. There was no reverential silence, they were talking among themselves, taking turns to comfort Yai. There were no tubes, no white coats, no IV drips…it seemed so natural to me, compared with watching my father die in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne some months before.
These were the rural poor. People rich with their Buddhist beliefs in death and dying. It was not my first experience at being with someone dying, I had already been through this with both my parents. I kissed the dying woman and then withdrew to allow the family the proximity that was their right.
I had received a moderate inheritance from my father and was in a position to make some contribution to the welfare of the family. I bought his father a motor bike, a pair of glasses, a washing machine for mum and a gas stove. She had fed her family cooking in a clay pot filled with charcoal which she used to light with pieces of rubber thongs. Beyond toxic. A year later I had a house built for Sammy which was a mansion compared with the wooden structures that village people lived in.
I was embraced by Mum and Dad who accepted our same sex relationship as natural, something my own parents found very hard to accept or even understand. I needed to return home to Hua Hin for other reasons. I left Sammy at his birth home, his village and his family.
This was one of the greatest gifts that I have received in my lifetime.
A day later when I had arrived home I received a phone call from Sammy. His cries of pain came across the phone line like a high pitched wail, Yai had passed and I was not with him. Ten years later we are still together.
I thank him for this gift he gave me and continue to do so…