I sat next to Andrew, shoulder to shoulder cramped into the tiny pew.
“Hey, do you have any idea what’s going on?”
I whispered to him beneath the repetitive chanting of brilliant orange wrapped cross-legged monks humming on the sidelines of the temple.
“Ummm, no.” he replied.
Well that was helpful.
We sipped our water that we’d been instructed to take upon arrival so as not to insult the deceased and sat bewildered watching the procession proccede.
We stumbled to raise our hands to our heads as everyone else instinctively lifted them and watched out of the corner of our eyes, those that were somehow in the know.
We’d been herded into a large open temple and divided into rows between family and friends of Ajan Jim’s mother as we honored her life and blessed her cremation.
“So, are they like, burning her right now in the back room or something?”
I muttered under my breath to Andrew, keeping my fingers crossed that no one else around me spoke english.
“Ummm, I don’t know.” Andrew replied.
So much for that.
I guess I was on my own, secretly inventing new words in my head to the foreign Thai phrases they were chanting.
Ajan Jim, the Thai teacher at school had invited us all to her mothers cremation ceremony.
The vans had picked us up and driven us an hour away and dropped us off at some intricate temple without much of an explanation at all.
However not a soul had wanted to miss out on this, because there was to be a promised feast at the end, and we are all familiar with Ajan Jim’s cooking.
Several schoolgirls in uniform began to hand out paper flowers down the rows and after layers and layers of chanting and prayers, everyone rose in unison and began to walk up the steps of the temple to a shrine for the deceased, place the flower in a basket, say a prayer and walk down.
Hundreds of people flooded the shrine as I trudged slowly beside them.
Upon reaching the top, I looked into the picture of Ajan Jim’s mother.
She looked nice, with big beautiful eyes and a very pretty smile.
She’d died eight years earlier, and they’d waited to have the cremation ceremony because one of the family members had been abroad.
I tried not to think about what they’d done with the body for eight years.
I quietly blessed my flower, uncertain how to go about doing so, seeing as how I’d never necessarily had that opportunity arise in my life before, and threw it into the basket atop the others.
Three loud firecrackers exploded with booms into the air.
After walking down the steps, we all received souvenirs. I’m hesitant to call them party favors, however evidence suggests…
We were given ummm, I don’t know how to put this any other way, but with all due respect they were handing out fingernail clippers with pictures of elephants on them.
The clippers also transformed into bottle openers.
Pretty darn cool and probably the most useful present I’ve received in Thailand, but I wasn’t too sure about the occasion upon which they were being bestowed.
But, gratefully I took my pair and slipped them into my pocket for later use.
Two baht coins began to hail from the sky as everyone scurried to pick them up.
I felt like I was in some sort of spectacle and I’d never managed to received my copy of the script.
None the less highlight my lines.
Unsure what to expect and which dialogue fit where, I slid into the background as much as my blonde mane would allow.
I managed to grab a couple of coins as they pelted me in the head and I later learned that they bring about luck.
As the ceremony concluded, delicious home-made coconut ice-cream was served as a pre-amble to the feast that we all sat down to and shared in the honor of the deceased.
Plates and plates of papaya salad, roasted pork, pad thai, meat salad, sticky rice, white rice, fried rice, and any fruit you could so much as imagine were all there present before us, just an elbow extension away.
Oh, and if I forgot to mention, in case it wasn’t completely and entirely obvious, when I go, make sure it’s in Thailand.