Nin offered her hand. I waited, arms at my sides, until she looked up at me. I wanted her to see how I felt. She did not speak English. I smiled to express my gratitude then covered her hand with mine. She pulled my arm and coached me through the bumpy trough in the Surin rice paddy.
Most of Surin province in Thailand is rural. Families grow jasmine rice, corn, beans, and pick fruits from trees that stand on the fringes of the fields. They sell some of the harvest and keep the rest for meals. They collect water in giant earthen jars to drink and wash. Their children walk to school on dirt trails, hardened by the sun in dry months, muddied during rainy season. Water buffaloes graze on grassy patches near the crops and along roadsides. It is a rugged land of sweeping panoramas, flat tracts of arid lumpy dirt in March, rectangular pools of water soaking bright green strands of rice in summer.
I rode to the rice paddies in a two seat compartment fitted to the back of a motorcycle. The driver stopped beside a field where a farmer tilled the earth with a tractor that let out uneven groans as it ground up sections of the paddy. We left the road and stepped into the farm.
I walked on top of four feet mounds of dirt that trap water in the paddy fields in rainy season. Nin followed her aunt who led the walk. I trailed Nin and watched her glide across the uneven walls. At the corners of field near where the walls meet at right angles, Nin moved down and up the troughs like a videogame hedgehog. I babied the maneuver like a novice skier on a patch of ice. The distance between us widened as we passed these dugouts. I tried to catch up on the straight-away.
I saw Nin’s head disappear into one of the troughs. It popped up in a second. I pressed to keep up as I did at the first two dips in the route. I saw Nin stop. She halted her march, swiveled a half-turn, and reached back to take my hand. At each obstacle, she stopped, reached, and coaxed me on for the rest of the visit. She did not say a word.
In late afternoon, nature gave a virtuoso performance to cap my visit to the farm. The air cooled at sunset. The sinking sun backlite granite tone swatches of reds, blues, and yellows in the evening sky. The colors swapped positions behind streaks and puffs of clouds. The silhouettes of trees blotted dark leafy textures on the surface of the Surin sky.
My half day’s visit to the rice fields scored many memories. The sights and sounds and smells are unforgettable. But, if the capacity to store my Surin memories were limited and I had to pare some to accommodate the rest, it is the one of Nin that will be untouchable. I can go to many places to watch a sun and sky show; I can gaze across the flat fields of farms and country-sides, I can smell the hint of fruit on the limb in autumn air; I can hear the din of trucks and tractors travel over and through the soil. I will visit places and meet its people and continue to explore.
The marvel of spontaneity is its unscripted character. It charges the moment with surprise and discovery, and when the stars align, pleasure. On a stroll along the banks of the Surin rice paddies, four year old Nin’s gesture was a mature and generous offer of assistance and care.
I held her outstretched hand for a few seconds to get down and up the embankments. When she knew I had reached the top again, she released my hand and led on. At each challenge, I took her hand when she offered it. I let it go when she knew I was alright. It is my favorite memory of the rugged land in Surin. And I am not letting it go.