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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why am I not in Thailand?

Good question. It's a long story.

As I've mentioned in other posts I have a grant this summer and a fellowship with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. I applied for the grant to go back to one of the communities I had stayed in in Thailand and report for English-speaking news sources about the untold stories of this small village in northeastern Thailand.

I was all set to return and 6 days before I left the Thai military declared marshall law across Thailand. The military stepped in to ¨mediate¨ the tense political situation that had flared up since November. A caretaker Prime Minsiter was appointed. My friends and contacts in Thailand still felt it was safe enough for me to be there after the military stepped in (I hesistate to call it a coup) because all that had changed was that there was a curfew and no one could be out after 10pm. Every morning I woke up to see every news article about Thailand that my dad could find sitting at my spot at the family dinner table and countless more in my inbox from The Pulitzer Center. We were all well informed.

However, I woke up the morning of the day I was supposed to leave for Bangkok (May 27th) to multiple emails, skype messages and texts from friends in Thailand and Thai friends in the U.S. saying don't go, just wait a few weeks, the situation has gotten worse. While I had been asleep, General Prayuth, the commander of the army was asked at a press conference if he would become the new prime minister himself, and he aknowledged that it was in the plan. When journalists asked when an election would be held Prayuth replied: "[An election] depends on the situation. [There is] no deadline. That's enough," before walking out of the conference room. The following day, two journalists were summoned by the NCPO on grounds of "giving questions that lessen public confidence in the ruler".

While for many travelers in Thailand this was not an issue, where I was planning on living in Northeastern Thailand people were angry. The elected prime minister, Yinglick Shinawart, who was removed by the military, had been elected by them, poor rural farmers, the majority of the Thai population. That night the military presence in Khon Kaen, the largest city in the northeast, noticably increased.

I wasn´t going to Thailand any more. The situation had become too unpredicatable, and no longer ¨safe enough¨. I am so grateful to all of the people who were constantly updating me from Thailand or reading everything they could find to try to keep me safe. I take more risks than most, but safety is still very important and I take it very seriously.

I am still very passionate about Na Nong Bong, the community I had intended to live in this summer and share their stories. So keep an eye out for posts with updates I come across about Na Nong Bong.

Photo taken in Na Nong Bong at the site of the protest last November

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