The Road Not Taken: My reflection on field studies trip or Robert Frost’s journey?
During our field studies trip in Chiang Khong, we visited the Thai Lue village after almost three hours Cruise on the majestic Mekong River. What is unique about this village is that they grow cotton and use it to weave products, such as tablecloths, sauces, napkins, sue pat, which is a kind of a long – sleeved shirt with no buttons. This group of women working on the cotton fabrics was formed by Mrs. Sukhawadee Tiyatha in B.E 2527. The knowledge has been transferred from mothers to children over the years. They have been doing their job ‘professionally’ by producing clothes that no one can resist to buy. The combination of different colours brings energy and positive thinking when you wear them.
But what strikes me the most is the transfer of cotton fabric knowledge from the older generation to the next generation. I noticed that the job is mainly done by women and most of them are aging. When my mind was wrestling on the knowledge transfer, the poem ‘the Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost popped in my brain. The poem is about choices in life. Whether it is legitimate or not for the next generation to go with the mainstream or take another direction – it is all about the choice to be made. Yes indeed, from B.E 2527 to date, it has been a long journey. And my worry is how long the journey is going to last. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler…
I took the one less traveled by… This combined stanza kept resonating in my brain for the few hours I spent in that village. Frost talks about the choice that was not taken. But to me, I am looking at the road that probably will not be taken by the next generations in that specific village. The Thai Lue Village has been travelling one road over generations and now the road is about to diverge. Why I am saying this? Well, that day, after having a wonderful meal, the Thai Lue young and beautiful girls performed euphonious traditional songs. After the performance, everyone was approaching them – kind of running to a movie or a song star with a pen and a pad to get an autograph, or a pose for a picture, or just have a cozy conversation with the stars of the day. And I was not left behind. I was among those who approached them to get a snap shot with them.
During my conversation with them, I happen to ask them what they will do after completing high school.
Unfortunately or fortunately, all of the seven girls aspire to attend college – majoring specifically in Maths and Science and only one – mentioned language studies. From their answers, again a dozen of questions flooded my brain like: what about the cotton fabric legacy? Who will continue to work on the cotton? Are their mothers going to be buried with the knowledge? Etc.
The choice that these young girls are likely to take or have taken will affect the core value of their village that has attracted thousands of tourists who visited the village to appreciate the amazing traditional culture of making attire in a particular way. Franz Fanon once said: ‘sometimes people hold a core value that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that value, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core value, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core value.’ Frantz’s citation translates the oomph that has kept the Thai Lue village to work on the cotton for generations and I do believe they resisted changes on several occasions.
Furthermore, the same Frantz argues that: ‘each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity. By saying so, Frantz opens a leeway for the new generation of the Thai Lue girls to make a new choice.
Putting together the two quotes of Frantz Fanon, it can arguably be said that the Thai Lue village has reached a point where the road is about to diverge. And being one traveler (the next generation) – it cannot travel both.
In conclusion, following Robert Frost’s poem – if life is a journey, then during the course choices are inevitable. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Thai Lue girls are on the verge of taking the road that is off the beaten track or only they do so because they don’t fancy the road with bend in it. It means that making cotton attire is time consuming and needs a lot of attention and care to mingle the patterns in an accurate way. Let me put it that way.
And here is the question for you my readers and I would like you to make up your own mind about my emotional state on knowledge transfer between generations in Thai Lue village: is the choice of the road less travelled a positive one for the girls?
John Mugisa – Democratic Republic of Congo
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28