Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pom Mahakan Update

A resident of Pom Mahakan packs up her home on the day she moved out of the old fort

I've been to the old fort at Pom Mahakan a few times since the city tried to evict residents earlier this month. Most of the residents are hoping to stay in the fort, which is their ancestral home, but their legal status is questionable. The city owns the title to the land and has plans to build a public park on the site. But more and more community activists, urban planners, and Thai academics are lining up on the side of the residents. Even the Prime Minister has hinted that he thinks the residents should be allowed to stay in the old fort.
A partly demolished home in Pom Mahakan.

The residents are becoming more proactive about protecting their community. They are doing outreach. They host school field trips to the community. University students walk through the community and talk to residents about their life in the fort. 

The residents' "living history museum" is drawing more and more tourists, both Thai and foreign, to the old fort. When I started going to the fort, six months ago, I was usually the only nonresident in the fort. Now I see Thai and foreign visitors almost every time. The foreigners (unless they're with a Thai speaker) usually just walk through the fort, clutching their Lonely Planet books. But the Thai visitors spend time talking to residents. 

The residents sponsor community wide events on weekends. Hundreds of people come to see what it's like to live in the fort. 
Children hang paper flowers during a community wide event to spur interest in the fort
People line up on the city wall that is the outer boundary of the fort during a community event to support the residents. 

There's a sense of optimism in the fort now. When I started going to the fort, in March, people were vowing to stay and said over and over again that they would fight to the death to keep their homes. Now they vow to stay but are relying less on fight to the death rhetoric and more on the living history museum and tourist attraction the residents have created.
A demolished home in Pom Mahakan. 

There are scars from the recent struggles in the fort though. At least 12 homes were destroyed during the city's eviction effort on September 3. Those home sites are now open wounds in the community. Scavengers still pick through some of the rubble. 
A woman wipes her brow while scavenging through demolished homes in the park. 
A demolished home site in the community

I hope to keep visiting the fort until the situation is resolved, one way or another. In the meantime, city officials have announced plans to evict communities from other parts of Bangkok, especially along the Chao Phraya River. The beat goes on. 

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