The following is an excerpt from Gab’s journal.
March 9, 2017. Day 115.
En Route; Ang Thong to Chai Yo.
“Megan! There’s a toilet!” I point excitedly. We take off our heavy packs for a quick break. Almost immediately we are called over by a cafe proprietor to sit down and rest. It’s early morning and she and her elderly mother are starting their day. I sit down and order an iced coffee whilst Megan goes to the bathroom. Fortunately the lady, Ping, speaks a bit of English, as our Thai is exhausted in the first few sentences.
The elderly woman asks where we are going and we explain that we are walking through South-East Asia. “Just two girls?” Her daughter translates. “Ca” Yes, I say. “But it’s so hot!” She takes my hand in two of hers, pats the back of it and nods with approval. She asks why my hair is so short, I mimic cutting my hair short and shake my head to imitate freedom, “It’s easier,” I explain, “Besides it’s too hot! Rorn mak (very hot)!” She laughs and agrees and gives me a thumbs up with her wrinkled hands, as she combs her own long steel grey hair.
The ladies talk with us and we talk in broken Thai and English, chatting about our lives and the local area. As we exchange conversation we make wild gestures and laugh with earnest. The rising sun reminds us that we have to continue, and Grandma asks “Do you have enough food? Water? Make sure you stay out of the sun, put on your hat.” We nod and laugh at her chiding us like children “Go to Wat Chaiyo, (the Chaiyo Temple) it’s very nice.” We grasp our new Aunt and Grandma’s hands and thank them, then we head on our way.
It’s just after 9 o’clock in the morning and the sun is starting to heat up, it’s going to hit 37 in the afternoon so we want to reach our destination by midday. We’ve been walking for 3 hours already and my clothes are drenched with sweat, I drink and drink but I can’t quench my thirst in this damn heat.
Megan and I have been on our adventure now for 115 days. We have been walking hard to promote ethical fashion. Fashion that respects workers and the planet. In this time, my life has changed forever.
As we walk along the Chao Phaya River, or as the Thai say “Mae Nam” – which translates literally to “Mother Water”, I let my thoughts meander as gently as the water below. We have met so many people fighting to protect human rights and others creating innovative ideas to limit waste in the fashion industry. I think back on the people we have met and their words of wisdom, it helps me get through the day and to place one foot in front of the other.
Sokny’s voice comes to me loud and clear. “We are trying to help people, and what does the government do? They kill us!” Her colleagues were assassinated during a vocal campaign for workers rights in the early 2000s (the most public being that of Chea Vichea), today she still advocates for thousands of garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her job with the Fairtrade Workers Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia is risky and I worry about her frequently, ““It’s a dangerous job, but if one person can help thousands then it’s worth it. There’s honour in that. I’m not afraid of dying,” Sokny’s words echo in my mind… “I’m not afraid of dying”.
I think of Mahon, who worked for a Thai garment factory that had a contract with Nike in the 90s. The factory boss made the workers take amphetamines in order to finish quotas. Many women miscarried and more took their own lives. He protested against this treatment and started a business called Dignity Returns with his colleagues; helping abused workers to heal and be treated as human again, hence the apt name. When speaking with Mahon in Bangkok, he said “All I ask is that people in the West think about what they are buying. To you it might just be a t-shirt. But to us, it’s our lives.”
Every dollar I spend is a vote for the world I want to live in. I’m going to make my vote count. There are so many ethical alternatives out there, you just need to care enough to look. Some days I feel so helpless but then I remember what Linda Mai Fung said to us on the second day of our journey, “We all have tiny little voices, but all together we can sing a great song and change the industry.”
A dog barking startles me back into the present and I look to Megan fending it off with her pink selfie stick. “Bai, bai!” she says, “Go, go”. I smile and shrug my shoulders, just an occupational hazard we have on the walk. I click my tongue at the dog and ask him if he wants to come with us to Chiang Mai; eventually he retreats back home deciding that it’s too hot to be bothered with the “Farang” (foreigners).
I again drift back to thoughts of the people we have met working in the fashion industry, I let them seep into my consciousness. Oudom’s bright smile shines at me, “Cambodia is not just about Angkor Wat…we have a great community and rich heritage, I wish people could see that more.” He is working with the Goel Community to bring together a group of weavers and sewers to create traditionally crafted textiles from the province of Takeo. His sheer joyfulness is infectious and I find myself grinning as my feet kick up dust from the ground below.
We make it to some cabins nearby the large Chaiyo Buddhist temple, the owner is surprised to see us in his small town. We communicate in simple Thai that we are walking through Thailand, he is shocked and settles us in a room. Half an hour later he knocks on the door with some Pad Thai, “Very strong, girls, very good.” Megan and I look at each other, if only he knew how strong the people are that we’ve met on our way; there would be noodles raining down upon everyone.
I massage my feet after I step out of the cold shower and reach for the laptop. How can we do these stories justice? The world needs to know the stories behind their clothes, even if we only reach one person, we have to try.
1,324 kms down. 2,176 to go.