Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Friday, August 02, 2019

A Lease of Affection

Further adventures with a tiny farm in Northern Thailand.

A Pond To Begin With

In May Clasina and her husband Panya planned a three day weekend to Mae Taeng to oversee the work of a bulldozer man. With this act she had begun to realize our dream of a farmhouse, a pond and a food forest. She had researched extensively on youtube how to make a pond that would best support aquaculture providing shelter at the edges on narrow ledges (about 2 feet wide) for spawning fish, eels and frogs. All food sources of local people in the area. When I asked my cook in Bangkok if she had ever tried the regional frog dish, she said yes, but she really preferred chicken. Heh. The pond was the same size as the footprint of the house so was quite large and deep. I was overwhelmed by the size of it when I first saw it, but realized that once it was full of water it would be just right.

The digging of the pond also provided earth to level the slope to make a flat spot upon which we would build the house. Seeing that she would be short of soil she had even enlarged a pond on the next door neighbor’s land so as to be able to use that soil too. Clasina then invited our potential building teacher Maggie to visit the land. We had already interested many of our mud hut sisters in coming to help build it as soon as this coming winter, but Maggie pointed out that the land needed to settle for at least a season in order to create a firm base upon which to build. This I felt gave us a little breathing room, though Clasina had been eager to start. 

The farm project was a respite for me from American politics (as well as Brexit) and the precarious feeling of the social contract threatening to tear apart at the seams world wide. The Thai news cycle no longer covered such overseas drama. So as not to give the populace any ideas most likely. Thailand was not, however, going to escape the impact of climate change. Though I arrived in what should be the middle of monsoon season, the rains had been scarce this year. A true monsoon season would offer rain every day, but not a drop had I seen. 

Thus having a pond was a good idea to lessen the impact of these periods of drought. It had been foremost on Clasina’s mind. Both ponds were filled by the aqueduct that ran between our lands bringing water direct from the reservoir upstream though government whimsy might close off the aqueduct for maintenance with little notice. The pond would build in resilience to our farm project.

These government built aqueducts fed much of the plots in the region. When the damn—the Mae Ngat dam— was built 30 years ago the displaced farmers were offered plots of land on the periphery of the Sri Lanna National Park. Our farm was one of these plots one kilometer away from the reservoir which was now also a vacation destination complete with floating bungalows. I felt privileged to have land on the edge of a national park. This as Clasina had pointed out would ensure there would be trees bordering our food forest to support our stewardship of the land.

The Lease of Affection

As before our first stop was at the land office for one final formality which was to sign a lease. A lease is what gave Clasina legitimacy on the land—the right to work on it and live on it. A lease also protected me, as my friends and relatives immediately wanted to warn me. By Thai law a squatter who had managed to live on your land for ten years without a lease had earned the right to take possession of it. 

“But I want to leave it to her when I die,” I said. 

“Well don’t tell them that or you will end up dead,” they told me. 

“Too late,” I said wondering what kind of narrative my Thai peers were living in that made them so distrustful. 

The government also wanted to get involved when a lease was signed for if there were payments to be made they wanted their cut. A lease of 30 years or more required government oversight. I preferred that the government not be involved so thought a 15 year lease would be adequate. Thirty years was, after all, the rest of my life. What if Clasina wasn’t able to develop the land as she hoped? Surely we needed to specify for such contingencies, but contingencies tended to spawn more contingencies. How complex would this lease need to be? All I wanted was to be included in the development decisions. I also did not want to be accountable for any business liabilities Clasina might create. I felt overwhelmed by such complexities.

The lease also had to be in Thai so we could not write our own; we would have to find one or hire a lawyer at some expense. My boy cousin had a banana farm that he leased out to tenant farmers so I asked for a copy of his lease. When Clasina got it translated she was taken aback. The lease gave the owner the power to evict the tenants with very little notice for almost no reason plus even the slightest improvements to the land had to be closely approved by the owner. That sounded like the feudal lord that my cousin would make himself out to be. It was how those of my class status operated. I agreed that it was too draconian for our purposes. 

So Clasina asked a business man she knew for advice and he offered a lease that was much more fair to both parties. It was a 30 year lease. A longer lease made her feel better about all the time she was going to be investing she told me. There had been cases of farmers putting in all the work to develop the property only to have the owner come in and say they were going to be evicted because the owner’s family now wanted to live on the land and were going to take it from there as far as farming it. It wasn’t me she was worried about, she told me, it was my relatives should I die and they came to claim my property. I could well see her point. This was exactly what happened to gay couples before marriage equality.

I agreed to the 30 year lease if she would figure out how to do all the paperwork to keep the government happy regarding taxes on payments that I was not even going to collect. What would such paperwork even look like? 
Clasina decided to ask the land office for help with these questions. So on our last trip to Mae Taeng we were relieved to learn that the land office itself had a variety of leases we could use and she had taken them home to study in the interim. 

We also learned that the government did not require that payments be made for a lease to be viable. Such a lease was called a “lease of affection”. “Affection” being the closest word for translation that Clasina could come up with. I was comforted that such a patronage relationship was common in Thailand. That it was common for an owner to want a tenant to be able to make a living from the land while keeping it from being reclaimed by the jungle. This lease did indeed express the relationship I had in mind. I wanted no false intentions to stand in the way of the universe helping us with our farm project. 

I also worried about making a Thai will which would would require a lawyer to navigate. Could we just add a clause to the lease that would leave the land to her upon my passing? 

We told our story to a clerk and were handed up the chain of command until we got to the man who could answer this question. I had met him before when I came to buy the land. He pointed out that even if the land was left to Clasina she wouldn’t be able to take possession of it because she didn’t have a Thai I.D. card. This was a bureaucratic technicality that continued to frustrate Clasina since she had long ago had the right to one with her marriage to a Thai and was still waiting for her application to be processed. The man then suggested that we sign a lease that would give her the right to the land for her entire lifetime. We had now gone from a lease of affection to until death do us part. I was liking this. It was very Gay.

“What are you two to each other,” the man asked us. 

“We are friends together,” I replied in Thai. This was indeed unusual I could see. Family being the usual basis of such patronage. He then asked me if I was single and if I had any children. Perhaps to make sure I had no one else who might object to me entering into such an agreement. Yes I was an unencumbered free agent creating a relationship not often seen outside of family. Not an unusual idea in my life thus far.

It did not take long for the lease to be prepared nor did it cost very much. Before I signed it he asked me to tell him what was now growing on the land just to confirm that I actually knew the land in question. Then he repeated the terms of the lease to make sure I knew what I was signing since it was clear I couldn’t read the document. And he explained that if we want to dissolve the lease we both had to come to this office to do so. Good enough. We signed all the signatures needed. As we walked out the door I told Clasina I felt like we should open a bottle of champagne. 

We went to use the bathroom around the corner of the building. When Clasina came out  of the stall she wanted to give me a hug. 

“I just wanted to acknowledge what a great opportunity this is,” she said hugging me warmly.

“I’m glad you’re up to it,” I said. For I did indeed feel fortunate to have found such a farm partner who was already putting heart and soul into this project while I did nothing more than watch (and give moral support). This entire process having firmed up our trust in each other.

Farm Chores

My role as watcher and not yet a doer would be further enforced the next day when I twisted my ankle walking down the embankment of our new pond in my new rocker sole shoes prescribed by a doctor to cure my toe joint pain. A humiliating event in itself for a shoe maker. A pair of slip on shoes that I had made and worn all winter was I believe the cause of it. They were too loose around the ankle causing my toe to flex with every step to hold the shoe on. This leading to degeneration of the cartilage around the joint from the overwork. (Or it could just be aging, but I was loath to accept such a thing.) At any rate the doc had promised that if I kept the toe from flexing by wearing stiff soled lace up shoes it would heal so I had bought myself the recommended shoes and was dutifully wearing them when I decided to walk down the back of the embankment of our new pond. Which was steep and the ground did not give though it looked soft. And the shoes ran away with me and I tried to outrun them, but my left foot rolled outward. As I felt the pain of my ankle rolling over I fell to the other knee to save it and safely rolled onto my back.

By the time Clasina and the three men with us turned around to see what happened I was on my back like a bug with my feet waving in the air. 

“Well that’s quite a pose,” she said wising to save my pride. I lay there assessing the damage until one of the men came down to give me a hand and I gingerly stood up and determined that I had not broken my ankle and could walk. 

The reason for the three men was that one of them was a farm consultant for the making of Swales. Swales are a classic permaculture technique to direct water through the land by means of curved ditches. The man had come recommended by our friends at Pun Pun (center for self reliance) and another man had driven him to our farm by motorbike. The third man was the caretaker from the farm next door who was interested in all that was going on at ours and would also help out if paid. So all of us were standing on the embankment listening to the consultant talk about water moving through the pond into the field below via a pipe that Clasina had installed through the wall of the pond. After listening long enough to get the gist of it, I decided to walk down into the field below rather than make my way past everyone standing on the embankment. (Would that I had just been a little more patient or assertive, but such was my character.) By the end of the consultation Clasina had learned enough to confirm that her plans were sound and the consultant refused to take any money. He just wanted to know the outcome. Then off he went with his driver while Clasina went to get ice from the village restaurant to ice my now swollen ankle. (The ice helped considerably and I would recover in time to travel home a week later.)

On the final day of our stay Clasina wanted to plant three coconut trees on the banks of the pond. (She and Panya had already planted several banana trees below the embankment of the pond.) She put on her farmers overalls which she had had custom tailored as there were none to be found to fit her. I was impressed by this sartorial commitment and had made note of them when I first worked with her at the adobe building workshop. She completed the outfit with a pair of blue boots and an elegant straw hat with black hatband she had bought at the train station. While she was off buying the plants and a piece of pipe to extend the pond outlet, I finished a drawing of the proposed house which she had urged me to do so I could draw my own room on our floor plan and add my ideas for the kitchen. Then she came back to get me so I could document her planting of the trees. Once at the farm I grabbed a bamboo pole to help me walk. (I used this pole all the way to Bangkok noting that it seemed to stigmatize me as an upcountry peasant, but I was not one to care.)

I made my way to the shade of the remaining Longan fruit tree on the bank of the pond. After planting the trees Clasina then went to the water’s edge halfway inside the pond’s cavity to fetch some water. As I watched her attempt to fill a plastic bag with water and turn around to leave she fell upon her hands for her feet wouldn’t move. She was firmly stuck in the mud and laughing at her predicament. The only way she could free herself was by leaving the boots in the mud which she did. I made my way down to look and it was clear that the boots were indeed stuck. The two boot tops looking like the nostrils of a pig emerging from the mud. 

The next attempt to install a pipe to extend the pond outlet to the surface (so we could fill the pond) didn’t go much better and the pipe slipped into the depths of the pond. 

“Well at least no one will attempt to steal it,” Clasina said and we called it a day leaving pipe and boots where the pond had claimed them. Nothing could be done until a future trip.

A Name For The Farm

A few days later back in Bangkok Clasina came to visit me resting my ankle up on a pillow. She wanted to settle on the name for our farm. We had been searching for one since the day we bought the farm and though several sounded feasible they didn’t really stick or some like “Food Forest Farm”  and nearly everything else so obvious was taken. Clasina suggested Green Joy Farms and I offered Wild Sprout Farms and those both sounded good at first, but didn’t past muster with others and didn’t translate well to Thai. 

“Maybe we should have a competition to name the farm,” Clasina suggested.

“Then people will just want to call it the Amanda and Clasina farm,” I said which made me think of our recent adventures and an idea struck me. 

“I know, we can call it Lost Boots Farm.” We both burst out laughing. Certainly no one would have that name already. Plus it was an intriguing name that promised a story behind it. Objects were popular and boots were an easy concept to grasp. We decided to try it out. A notable graphic designer on my FB feed gave it a heart. It was also the first name that Panya responded favorably to she reported. The word for boots was the same in Thai and this somehow incorporated a Thai English sensibility. Thai people like being able to recognize English words. I could see it had a lot of energy behind it which was important for further inspiration. Clasina asked if I was ok with it. Of course I was ok with it. I had thought of it after all. I also liked my other suggestions, but it didn’t really matter as long as the name had staying power. Soon Clasina had a subtitle “Feel the earth under your feet”. “That’s especially for you,” she said. Now we had a message too. 

The night before I left a storm with thunder and lightening brought rain and filled the air with freshness. Rain in Thai culture is considered a blessing and I did indeed feel blessed. 

(Pictures of our adventures on the farm posted at

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