Beu Poong – the Peanut Lady
She sits cross-legged, safety glasses on her nose, with a colorful Karen skirt on and bamboo dish in front of her. Her old and worn hands work quickly. She shifts the peanuts into piles of the same size, throwing a few out that aren’t good enough for peanut butter. The chickens know what’s coming and quickly peck their little treat before they continue somewhere else in their everlasting search for food. The peanut lady is intriguing, because her face is marked with lines of stories and her body, her dress and her voice speak of stories that are equally impressive.
Her name is Beu Poong and she is one strong woman. She might be 53, but she works like she is 35. She comes across as a resolute lady, one who knows what she wants and then gets it. Perhaps that’s because life has not always given her what she wants. A few years back, she had a nasty car accident. ‘We were in a car and we were going up a mountain. The car couldn’t get up the mountain and started to drive backwards. I fell of and broke my back.’ Since then she can’t lift anything or do any heavy work, which is the reason she is working at Silaa Coffee. She protects her back with a brace and sometimes shifts position to find a better spot on the wooden floor.
Before she worked at Silaa Coffee she was a weaver, a demanding job and physically exhausting. It’s too hard now to work long hours sitting behind a loom, with a straight back, pulling the threads, weaving in the brightest colors. Weaving is a respected skill in the Karen tribe, as they make the most beautiful skirts, bags and shirts. They use vibrant colors like red and blue, white and yellow to create patterns that range from simple to very exclusive. Some say weavers have the intelligence of a university student. At least they need the patience, the endurance and insights of a saint to complete these pieces of art.
Beu Poong sells her pieces, even to the royal family. ‘A few years ago, there was a market in Hot [a city nearby] where the princess [a member of the Thai Royal family] came and looked at all the women’s products and selected some that she liked. Only five from our village were selected. Now we get assignments when I want to.’ She adds proudly: ‘everything I send in they buy.’ Sadly, since the accident she is forced to limit her weaving to a few hours per week. She traded the loom for the peanut butter maker, the yarn for peanuts and the vibrant colors for the brown color of organic peanut butter. The stories that are shown in her face speak of character, patience and perseverance. She tells me about her mother, her family and her hopes as a girl.
Although she misses the daily weaving, she continues to weave her life story, now with the help of Silaa Coffee. ‘When I was young I would dream of enough food to eat. Now there aren’t so many people anymore who are hungry and I am happy I can still work. But my hope for the future now is that I will not be in pain every day.’