In a village lying close to the Mekong River, Weerapon “Golf” Lapchan sits in the centre of a group of Thai elders as they tie white threads around his wrists and chant.
They are literally calling his “kwan” or spirit back to his body, after his narrow escape during the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.
The 34-year-old is one of more than 25,000 Thais who were working on farms and orchards in Israel when the Hamas militants stormed in from Gaza. At least 30 Thais were among the 200 or so foreign nationals who were killed in the attack.
Now the Thai government is helping others, thousands of them, to return home.
Thailand provides almost all the foreign farm labour in Israel. And there have been warnings of dire consequences for the country’s agricultural economy if large numbers of Thais choose to stay away after the Hamas attack. Many of the Thai workers have to borrow money to go to Israel and now they are returning, jobless and in debt.
Yet some like Golf never want to go back.
On the morning of 7 October, when Golf and his co-workers saw rockets being fired, and then intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, he says they were not unduly worried.
Golf had been working at an orange orchard in Yesha, just 5km (three miles) from the border with Gaza, for nearly a year. He had experienced rockets flying overhead before.
When they heard gunfire, however, they realised it was more serious, and hid most of that day. In the evening, says Golf, the Hamas attackers returned, throwing grenades and setting the rooms where they were hiding alight. He and 11 others made a run for it. “We jumped over the wall, and they shot at us from behind. Bang, bang, bang, bang.”
He says he was wearing only a pair of red boxer shorts when he ran to the middle of the orchard. He and the others crouched down, turning off their phones so the attackers couldn’t see the light.
“We were all shocked and kept quiet all night – so quiet that we could hear the falling leaves,” he says.
Golf was brought back to Thailand on a government-organised evacuation flight on 13 October. He has decided he will not go back, no matter what he might be offered. Death was just seconds away that day, he says. All 12 of them have decided that they never want to face that again.
At least 19 Thai workers are believed to have been abducted by Hamas, with many more still missing.
In another village to the north, Narissara Chanthasang has had no news of her husband Nattapong since the morning of the attack. He had phoned her to tell her there was shooting, and that he was running away.
Source : BBC