Monday, June 18, 2012


In my last post I described a visit to the Southwest suburb of Soweto. For interested readers, here is an overview of Soweto as published by Wikipedia:

The history of African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities. Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that were established after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg, such as Brickfields (Newtown). In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an "evacuation camp" at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague. Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935.

World War I

Industrialisation during World War I drew thousands of black workers to the Reef. They were also propelled by legislation that rendered many rural Black Africans landless. Informal settlements developed to meet the growing lack of housing. The Sofasonke squatter's movement of James Mpanza in 1944 organised the occupation of vacant land in the area, at what became known as Masakeng (Orlando West). Partly as a result of Mpanza's actions, the city council was forced to set up emergency camps in Orlando and Moroka, and later in Central Western Jabavu.

Baragwanath Hospital

The Imperial Military Hospital Baragwanath, named after Cornishman John Albert Baragwanath, was built in 1941 during the Second World War to serve as a British Military Hospital. John Albert Baragwanath initially owned the situated site as a hostel, The Wayside Inn, until the British Government paid £328,000 to make it a hospital. Field-Marshal Jan Smuts noted during the opening ceremonies that the facility would be used for the area's black population after the war. In 1947 King George VI visited and presented medals to the troops there. From this start grew Baragwanath Hospital (as it became known after 1948), reputedly the world's largest hospital. In 1997 another name change followed, with the sprawling facility now known as Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in honour of the South African Communist Party leader who was assassinated in 1993 by white extremists.

Government policy from 1948
After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained power in 1948 and began to implement apartheid, the pace of forced removals and the creation of townships outside legally designated white areas increased. The Johannesburg council established new townships to the southwest for black Africans evicted from the city's freehold areas of Martindale, Sophiatown, and Alexandra. Some townships were basic site and service plots (Tladi, Zondi, Dhlamini, Chiawelo, Senaoane, 1954), while at Dube middle-class residents built their own houses. The first hostel to accommodate migrant workers evicted from the inner city in 1955 was built at Dube. The following year houses were built in the newly proclaimed townships of Meadowlands and Diepkloof.
In 1956 townships were laid out for particular ethnic groups as part of the state's strategy to sift black Africans into groupings that would later form the building blocks of the so-called "independent homelands". Spurred by a donation of R6 million to the state by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1956 for housing in the area, Naledi, Mapetla, Tladi, Moletsane and Phiri were created to house Sotho- and Tswana-speakers. Zulu- and Xhosa-speakers were accommodated in Dhlamini, Senaoane, Zola, Zondi, Jabulani, Emdeni and White City. Chiawelo was established for Tsonga- and Venda-speaking residents.
In 1963, the name Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) was officially adopted for the sprawling township that now occupied what had been the farms of Doornkop, Klipriviersoog, Diepkloof, Klipspruit and Vogelstruisfontein.

Soweto Uprising

Soweto came to the world's attention on 16 June 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium, The rioting continued and 200 people, including two white people, died on the first day in Soweto. The first to be killed was Hector Pieterson, who was 12 years old, when the police began to open fire on the students. Another among the killed was Dr. Melville Edelstein, who had devoted his life to social welfare among blacks. He was stoned to death by the mob and left with a sign around his neck proclaiming "Beware Afrikaaners". The impact of the Soweto protests reverberated through the country and across the world. In their aftermath, economic and cultural sanctions were introduced from abroad. Political activists left the country to train for guerrilla resistance. Soweto and other townships became the stage for violent state repression. Since 1991 this date and the schoolchildren have been commemorated by the International Day of the African Child.


In response, the apartheid state started providing electricity to more Soweto homes, yet phased out financial support for building additional housing.
Soweto became an independent municipality with elected black councilors in 1983, in line with the Black Local Authorities Act. Previously the townships were governed by the Johannesburg council, but from the 1970s the state took control.
Soweto's black African councilors were not provided by the apartheid state with the finances to address housing and infrastructural problems. Township residents opposed the black councilors as puppet collaborators who personally benefited financially from an oppressive regime. Resistance was spurred by the exclusion of blacks from the newly formed tricameral Parliament (which did include Whites, Asians and Coloreds). Municipal elections in black, coloured, and Indian areas were subsequently widely boycotted, returning extremely low voting figures for years. Popular resistance to state structures dates back to the Advisory Boards (1950) that co-opted black residents to advise whites who managed the townships.

Further popular resistance: incorporation into the City

In Soweto, popular resistance to apartheid emerged in various forms during the 1980s. Educational and economic boycotts were initiated, and student bodies were organized. Street committees were formed, and civic organizations were established as alternatives to state-imposed structures. One of the most well-known "civics" was Soweto's Committee of Ten, started in 1978 in the offices of The Bantu World newspaper. Such actions were strengthened by the call issued by African National Congress's 1985 Kabwe congress in Zambia to make South Africa ungovernable. As the state forbade public gatherings, church buildings like Regina Mundi were sometimes used for political gatherings.
In 1995, Soweto became part of the Southern Metropolitan Transitional Local Council, and in 2002 was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg. A series of bomb explosions rocked Soweto in October 2002. The explosions, believed to be the work of the Boeremag, a right wing extremist group, damaged buildings and railway lines, and killed one person.


As Soweto was counted as part of Johannesburg in South Africa's 2008 census, Soweto's population is 1,3 million [ recent demographic statistics are not readily It has been estimated that 40% of Johannesburg's residents live in Soweto. However, the 2008 Census put its population at 1,3 million  (2010) or about one-third of the city's total population. Soweto's population is predominantly black. All eleven of the country's official languages are spoken, and the main linguistic groups (in descending order of size) are Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Venda, and Tsonga.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recent Activities

Well, another week has come and gone here in the winter of South Africa. Unfortunately, due to limited bandwidth here at my cottage I cannot use Skype and therefore cannot upload any new pictures to include in my blog entries.

The days are starting to pass more quickly, but I wouldn’t say that I am busy or having the time of my life. I am very cognizant of the fact that this summer is part of my graduate school degree, well frankly, because it feels like it. It’s just something I have to do. Fortunately, my past experiences, thought processes, and general attitude towards life have trained me well to deal with this type of lifestyle, and each morning I generally awake feeling positive, and each night when I go to bed I am thankful for a warm home and the chance to learn about another place.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will spare you readers any more emotional discussion and describe a few activities and events that I have experienced in the past week.

Last Saturday, my lovely supervisor picked up so that I could accompany her on her errands for the day so I could see more of the city. I was pleased to do this, as running errands with my mom at home has always been a favorite activity of mine, even though I know most people find it boring. We headed straight out of town to an industrial part of the city that was apparently home to a fancy cheese and wine shop. Everyone in the shop reflected the diversity of this place, but all were there in the pursuit of imports from France and Italy. As we waited in line, my supervisor encouraged me to shop, but I just laughed and said I couldn’t imagine giving my university a meal receipt from this particular shop. Our next destination was Chinatown. As soon as we got out the car, I immediately felt at home, as I felt I was in Asia. There was no sign of Africa to be found! Actually it was rather bizarre. After purchasing some cheap vegetables at the Chinese stalls, we stumbled along a Thai Supermarket. Wow, talk about feeling at home, it was like I had reentered the shops in my nearest city during Peace Corps. Immediately, I started speaking in Thai with the shopkeepers and grabbing all the snacks and drinks I could fit in my basket. I also picked up some fresh spring rolls for dinner that night. Delicious! Moving on with the day, we sat down to lunch at a dim sum restaurant and had great conversations about Peace Corps (my supervisor is a returned volunteer and also used to work for PC South Africa). Never slowing down we headed to a few shopping malls to do grocery shopping and again I felt like there was no way I could be in Africa. The prices are almost the same as at home, and the only thing I was missing in my cart was sliced turkey!

The next few days passed uneventfully as I am now quite used to my commute, my cottage, and other aspects of my daily life here. When Friday finally rolled around I was thrilled. I had made arrangements to meet one of the consultants who helped everyone in our program get our internships for an early breakfast at a Rosebank hotel. She was in town for business for her NGO in India and it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. What a small world! After a great breakfast and great conversation we joined her colleagues and proceeded to meet my colleagues to go and visit one of the CBOs (Community Based Organization) that our NGO supports. The organization is staffed by passionate and energetic folks and I really enjoyed learning more about their HIV programming. After a quick meeting and tea, we all piled into cars and headed out to Soweto to see their mobile testing center and a clinic. Somewhere along the way we got quite lost, but I didn’t mind as this was my first adventure out of the office in 3 weeks. We finally arrived and got a tour of a very busy clinic. Next we headed down the paths into the township dodging the dead rats in the street, children playing and stray dogs to visit the home of a woman living with HIV but also acting as caretaker for others with the disease. The home was in ok condition compared to some of the tin shacks we had passed and fairly clean. During my time in Peace Corps I became comfortable working with people with HIV but this group seemed worse off. It seems that in Thailand, people have more or better access to early testing and ARVs and by comparison these people seemed very sick. Just listening to their stories really drove home the fact that the epidemic here really is one of the worst in the world. In this area 1 in 5 persons is positive.

The visit was great in a number of regards, but it really got me thinking. It was rather awkward to be a visitor to a community project, as in the past I am used to being part of programming and implementation. Now I was one of the people that I was used to hosting! It really made me think about what I want in my future in terms of this work, and I hope that I can strike a balance between doing policy and management and still participating in, supporting, or doing field work.

This weekend was spent relaxing, but I did have the chance to attend a gathering of folks where we watched the South African Springboks (rugby) defeat the Brits. I knew nothing about rugby before the game but actually was able to catch on and think I may start following the sport….at the very least I will cheer on the Boks! During the game we had great champagne cocktails and had a homemade Indian meal for dinner. It was great fun for me and I had a chance to meet and chat with some really interesting folks.

I hope my adventures and activities begin to pick up and happen with more frequency as I only have 7 weeks left here!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Taxi Experience

I have now been in Jo-burg for about 2 weeks, and by no means I am expert on the city, but I do feel pretty accomplished by the fact that I can get myself to and from my office everyday. Yes, it may seem like a small victory but maybe once you read this article from the Guardian in 2010, you too will put your hands together in applause for me!
Carless in Johannesburg. It could be the title of a low-budget horror movie. A huge, sprawling greater metropolitan area of about 10 million people covering more than 600 square miles, the city is built for the car. If you're not in one, good luck – even though most drivers will be stuck in gridlock. I've been here for a few weeks and my main exposure to the city has been on foot. And I'm not alone. The overwhelming majority of Jo'burgers are carless.
To be a pedestrian here is either to be bold or to be poor. There is public transportation to move people to and from far-off suburbs and townships – there's a new bus rapid transit system that's been developed ahead of the World Cup, as well as the Gautrain regional rail system that started this week – but public transport isn't the city's strong suit.
Filling the void is the unofficial public transit system: the minibus taxi, which more than 70% of the city's population – predominantly black residents – use to commute.
With room for 15, to however many the driver wants to try to squeeze in, thousands of minivans dot the roadways. For the budget traveller – and World Cup visitor – these people's taxis are an affordable way to get around. It costs 7.5 Rand (roughly 67p) to get from almost any point in the city to any other, or at least most of the way.
For the inexperienced, though, the rules they operate under can be bewildering. So much so that the city has issued a comprehensive guide for taxi users containing illustrations of the various hand signals that are used.
Here's what you need to know to get moving:
• Unlike metered taxis, minibus don't go door-to-door, but operate on routes, much like a bus. Unlike buses, they simply stop wherever you are on the road or wherever you want to get off.
• Learning which taxis go where and what route they're likely to take comes with practice. All a tourist really needs to know is that one forefinger up will invariably get you downtown.
• You'll end up at a series of taxi ranks, hubs of the greater system, where hundreds of taxis line up to shuttle people off to all parts of the city and beyond. The main ranks are MTN, which can get you to the upscale northern suburb of Sandton, and Metro Mall (known locally as Bree), from which you can access both of the city's World Cup stadia (Soccer City in Nasrec and Ellis Park in Doornfontein). The fan zones are at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Innes-Free Park in Sandton and Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. Just ask one of the marshals close to the front where you queue for your destination.
• Be ready for a wild ride, as the drivers are notoriously aggressive on the roads. And if you're white, be prepared to be the only white person on board, which is a non-issue for the rest of the riders, who, when they aren't completely disinterested in anyone around them, are friendly and helpful to obvious outsiders.
• Most importantly, be ready for a true Johannesburg experience – one few tourists see, but which will show you what it's really like to live in Jo'burg.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Report

Hi readers,

Hope those of you that enjoyed my previous blog about experiences in Thailand might continue to enjoy hearing of times and adventures in South Africa this summer. Yes, I am back in Africa! I will be spending about 10 weeks here working and learning from an international NGO. To avoid to any shady or controversial writing, I will just refer tot that organization as NGO and talk about my work in general.

I am sitting here in my digs for the 9 weeks (I have already been here a week) waiting for coverage of the Queen's Jubilee celebration to come on TV and reflecting on my time since my arrival. Wow, its been a bumpy ride. The first surprise or stumbling block for me has been realizing that South Africa, and thus Johannesburg, really is in the middle of winter! Yes, I knew this before arriving, but I didn't realize how much it would affect me! The sun sets at a very early 6 pm and because of safety precautions that need to be taken here, that means everyone needs to be done walking around the streets or going places in a car. Since I have no plans to drive or buy a car while here, that means I am tucked into my house and all locked in at 6 pm every night! Luckily I have plenty of experience filling the long evening hours with entertaining things to focus on from my time in Thailand. Thanks Peace Corps!

After about 5 days, I was finally feeling over my jet lag and the overwhelming anxiety of being in a new city. I clocked in a few days at my office, mostly either reading about the history of the organization and related topics or reading the New Yorker as I am still awaiting my work computer. I met most of the staff and am starting to figure out how things work around there.

I take a mini-bus taxi to work everyday. Each morning, I walk about 12 minutes to a busy intersection to flag down a mini-bus full of people that is on a set route that passes right near my office. Once you hop in, you pass your fare up through the passengers and eventually someone hands you your change. Apparently its one of the most honest everyday dealings one can have in South Africa and the system works flawlessly. Really interesting and lovely if you ask me. I return from work in the same fashion. Though the previous description may sound like a piece of cake, one must remember that this is Africa and something different has happened on each of my commutes so far, causing some laughable moments and some that are more anxiety ridden.

Safety has been on my mind a lot here in Jo-burg and to be honest I have felt a bit scared or lonely at times. I expect I will adjust just fine, especially once I have some work to throw myself into. Honestly, I do not see myself exploring or going out into the city that much because of lack of transportation and a lack of a companion. The only person besides my co-workers that I know here is a classmate who will only be in town for two weeks, leaving next Saturday. Thus, we took advantage of having each other around by going on a city tour this Saturday. Or tour was about 4 hours with only 2 stops so it was mostly driving. Our first stop took us to Constitution Hill, described by Lonely Planet as:
"a development with a focus on South Africa's new Constitutional Court, built within the ramparts of the Old Fort, which dates from 1892 ad was once a notorious prison, where many activists, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi, were held. Ruling on constitutional and human-rights matters, the court itself is a very real symbol of the changing South Africa: a lekgotla (place of gathering) rising form the ashes of one of the city's most poignant apartheid-systems monuments, with cases heard in all 11 official languages".  Our tour began with a walk through the old prison cells that was quite moving, disturbing, and shocking, followed by an inspirational walk through of the new courthouse that attempts to move out of the horrible past into a hopeful future with its thoughtful design. Here are a few pictures:
Entrance to Constitution Hill
Foyer to courtroom, designed to mimic the trees in South African villages that elders sit under to make fair and just decisions
"power to the people"-prisoner graffiti
Solitary confinement cells
Blanket sculptures designed by former prisoners to represent their lives there

Beautiful courtroom used to try cases with constitutional matters with room for all 11 judges (one for each of SA's official languages)

Next our tour took us on a drive through the Johannesburg neighborhood of Hillbrow. Now, before coming here, all I had read told me to avoid this space for safety reasons, but in fact these blocks and city streets are the real heart of the city and show how life really is here. So I was excited for a chance to observe within the safety of a locked car with an experienced guide and driver. I learned that these days, Hillbrow has a reputation of pure lawlessness, but in the past it had been the nation's first "Gray Area", or a place where whites and blacks could live side by side. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of my own because our guide didn't what to call attention to ourselves but here is pic from the web:
The tour continued with drives through the University of the Witwatersrsand that is home to the studies of over 20,000 students, a drive past the SABWorld of Beer (no, we didn't stop!), over the new Nelson Mandela Bridge (2003: connects parts of the city that had always been separated before, and ended in the city center with views of city hall and a stop at the "Top of Africa". This euphemistically named destination is the top floor of the tallest building in Africa, the Carlton Center which stands at 50 stories high. From the top we were able to get a better orientation of the city. I noted several rugby and football stadiums, one sponsored by Coca-cola, a horse racing stadium, the Gold Reef City (an amusement park and casino), several universities, and several tree-filled neighborhoods that are apparently the more wealthy parts of town.

Here is a pic of me and my classmate at the top:

After the tour ended, I had a chance to check out Melville, a nice suburb where my friend is staying, enjoy a late lunch of pizza, and a good chat session in my friend's guesthouse before heading home by taxi to lock myself in before dark.

All in all, Saturday was a great end to an interesting, scary, stressful, crazy, lonely, fun, tough week! (Can you tell it was an emotional roller coaster?)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Update and Review

I am sitting in mu hostel in a rainy and muggy Bangkok, one days after effectively ending my Peace Corps service. And to the answer of  your question, no I don't feel any different. As I have stated before, my service was everything I thought it would be and more, and looking back on it I have very few regrets. I am ready for my next challenge.

My next change, however comes late this evening as I head to the Bangkok airport to fly to Duabi to meet my parents before then traveling to Tanzania to visit Will and the country for about 3 weeks.

Once I get back to America I am sure I will be very tired, confused, happy weird and busy! It should be an interesting couple of months. I have not been home sine January 2009! Upon arrival I will immediately be traveling to visit the graduate programs I have been accepted to, so that I can make a final decision before. If I am coming to a city near you, I will definitely be looking you up!

Stay tuned for Africa entries and photos.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my last few days in Thailand:

Office goodbye party/good luck ceremony

Final project at site: my youth group trains a youth group from another province on how to start a group and create project and such

PCV mentors: Sarah B. (122) and Sarah B. (121)

Dinner with neighbors and family

Lunch with the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand

Out to dinner with Pi Mod and here family

Community goodbye party at school

With my amazing family at my airport send-off

Officially finished with 2 years of Peace Corps in Thailand!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Peace Corps!

That's right, Peace Corps is celebrating it's 50th anniversary today! I feel honored and privileged to be part of the legacy started by JFK on March 1, 1961. Serving in the Peace Corps has been a dream of mine since high school, when I learned of it goals from one of my favorite teachers who had served.

Click here to read President Obama's remarks on the anniversary:

For 50 facts about Peace Corps, check out the following as put together by Yahoo! News:

* Kennedy's idea originated in 1960 when he challenged students at the University of Michigan to engage in a spirit of peaceful volunteerism in foreign countries. He was still a senator at the time and campaigning for president.
* The Peach Corps was designed to help underdeveloped nations succeed in education, business and agriculture in a modern world.
* Kennedy's brother in-law R. Sargent Shriver was the first director.
* In 1961, volunteers arrived in five countries; the first two were Ghana and Tanzania.
* Within the first six years, 55 countries were served with more than 14,500 volunteers.
* Volunteers help communities by teaching children, developing sustainable business practices and teaching health awareness.
* March 2011 will be designated "National Peace Corps Month" in honor of its 50th anniversary.
* Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is a notable participant in the Peace Corps, serving from 1966-68 in the Dominican Republic.
* Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, served in Swaziland from 1983-85.
* Chris Matthews of MSNBC also went to Swaziland in 1968.
* Author Paul Theroux was in Malawi from 1963-65.
* The Peace Corps has had 17 directors, usually serving two to four years.
* Carolyn Payton was the first female and African American director of the Peace Corps, serving just over a year starting in 1977.
* Loret Miller Ruppe was the longest-serving director under President Reagan from 1981 until 1989.
* The Crisis Corps consists of volunteers designed to help in times of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.
* More than 200,000 Americans have been in the Peace Corps since its inception.
* 139 countries have been served by Peace Corps volunteers.
* The Peace Corps is funded by Congress.
* The only country in the Middle East currently being served is the Kingdom of Jordan with 38 volunteers.
* Peace Corps volunteers currently receive $7,425 after 27 months of service.
* Low-interest or deferred student loans are also a benefit of serving.
* Certain institutes of higher education will also grant college credit for completion of service.
* Volunteers can teach subjects such as English, math and science.
* Community development programs include creating libraries, adult literacy and health education.
* Health volunteers teach communities about safe drinking water and malnutrition.
* Agricultural initiatives include improving crop yields and environmental conservation.
* As many as 40 percent of today's volunteers work with food security issues such as nutrition and agriculture.
* The Peace Corps currently serves 77 countries.
* The average age of volunteers today is 28.
* Minimum requirements to volunteer: 18 and older and American citizenship.
* 37 percent of volunteers engage in educational activities.
* There are currently 8,655 volunteers and trainees in the Peace Corps.
* 90 percent of volunteers have at least an undergraduate degree from college.
* The Peace Corps budget for 2010 was $400 million.
* Many Peace Corps directors, including Aaron Williams who currently heads the organization, started as volunteers.
* The Peace Corps began sending volunteers to China in the 1990s.
* The Philippines boasts the most cumulative volunteers to date at more than 8,500.
* Despite its location as the United States' southern neighbor, Mexico has only been a Peace Corps recipient since 2004 with just 160 volunteers.
* The Peace Corps encourages applicants to apply nine to 12 months in advance of when they will be available.
* Peace Corps volunteers assisted with Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans.
* Americorps, the domestic version of the Peace Corps, was started by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
* 37 percent of current volunteers serve in Africa.
* Only 7 percent of current volunteers are in Asia.
* 60 percent of Peace Corps participants are female.
* 93 percent of current Peace Corps members are single.
* More than 130 colleges offer credit for service.
* It takes about nine months from the initial application to commence overseas service.
* Legally married couples may serve together in the Peace Corps.
* Participants earn two vacation days for every month they work.
* The University of Colorado currently has 117 alumni serving overseas, the most of any institution in the United States.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Photo Essay: 2 Years in the Peace Corps

With this blog I have attempted, very feebly at times, to document my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Thailand. Sometimes words could not do the experience justice and at other times I found myself so confused, hot, tired, crazy to even and try and explain what was happening in my life here. As my time winds down, I find myself thinking more and more how quickly the whole thing went by and how in a way my 2 years here seem like a dream. Taking a trip down memory lane lead me to the idea of posting a photo essay to represent the experience. The pictures below represent each month spent here in Thailand. The photographs include not only my work and travels, but milestones and holiday such as birthdays and Christmases. It's wild ride....enjoy. I know I sure did.

January 2009:

This is after my first week in Thailand and shows my first of many visits to a Thai temple for a Buddhist ceremony that I wouldn't necessarily understand, but would most definitely learn something from. 

February 2009:

This photograph was taken at one of the many PC training events we had. In many ways, training was like being at summer camp or a semester abroad. This was during sports day, as I compete to make the best tasting som-tam, a popular Thai dish that was soon to become one of my favorites. 

March 2009:

This was taken at the end of March, only a week before we swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. My fellow PCVs and I are experiencing one of our first "village parties". It was the first of many to come. Thai people love to spend time together and are constantly in the pursuit of sanuk, or FUN. 

April 2009:

Here I am posing with some ladies from my village during my first week as a PCV at site. We are dressed in traditional clothes for the Songkran parade that we are about to dance in. This was my biggest lesson in getting out of my comfort zone, going with the flow, and embracing my new life in Thailand. 

May 2009:

During my second month at site, I quickly set to work trying to learn all I could about the community that I was sent to serve. In this photo I am using what basic Thai skills I had to discuss the area of the village with a teacher and the village headman. Girls from the youth group accompanied me to make sure I wouldn't get lost!

June 2009:

June sent all Thailand PCVs to PST 2, or our second round of training. Here I am with all members of my project sector, Community Based Organizational Training or CBOD. 

July 2009:

Feeling reinvigorated by PST 2, but with no "community" projects in sight, I made my way to the community schools. I quickly was seen as a free English teacher. I had no idea I what I was doing and labored through some pretty hard days at the schools, but powered through because of those kids. 

August 2009:

Thanks to a conference thrown by Peace Corps' Community Enterprise Community, I was able to start a project with some high school students and their teacher. The project was making and selling organic fertilizer at the school. Here we are writing the business plan. 

September 2009:

In September I was able to attend another conference, this time with two people from my community living with HIV/AIDS. The conference sparked the small business development project with the local HIV/AIDS group that was to last for the remaining time of my service. 

October 2009:

I guess I needed to let loose. Maybe it was because it was my first vacation with my new best friends or maybe it was because I was so excited to see the beaches of Thailand. Either way, on the first day of my first vacation I ended up in the hospital on the island of Koh Samui with a dislocated patella (knee-cap). Ouch!

November 2009:

Celebrating my first birthday in Thailand which was actually my 23rd. We had the candles backwards. I got to celebrate with many friends and my birthday buddy and fellow Rhodes College alumnus, Beau. 

December 2009:

One of the biggest (literally) projects that I was able to pull off was in December. The girls youth group I helped with held a 2-day leadership camp for 200 of their peers. 8 other volunteers came in to help supervise. Truly an awesome 2 days!

December gets two photos because a lot happened that month. My parents and brother made the journey to Thailand and we embarked to explore all we could, including Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 

January 2010:

In January we had our Mid-Service Conference (MSC). Though we weren't really halfway through, the conference served to discuss what was working at site and what wasn't, but importantly served as an opportunity to goof around with my amazing volunteer friends. Here are a bunch of twenty-something girls inside the fort we built in the hotel room!

February 2010:

Back to the village and back to work. Here I am reading a donated book to a group of rowdy students. This served as the inspiration for the reading club that I continue to run. 

March 2010:

For some reason during February and March I ended up staying at site for a total of 6.5 weeks. At times I felt like I was in prison! Here I am with friend on my first trip out as we tour a Thai movie set!

April 2010:

Celebrating one year as a Peace Corps Volunteer with two amazing friends in Vietnam!

This photo was taken during Songkran, the April water festival or Thai New Year in Chiang Mai. Songkran basically amounted to Peace Corps spring break which included endless water fights and lots of partying. 

May 2010:

Students posing during the opening of our youth led recycling center. One of my proudest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

June 2010:

The utter chaos of a student-led reading camp I helped to organize. 

July 2010:

Peace Corps spring break round 2! 4 days on a island with 25 of my best friends...what happens on the island stays on the island!!!

August 2010:

Not really sure what happened last August, if anything...must have been life as normal in my here's a picture of fruit....

September 2010:

As the months rolled by and my language skills increased I was able to start more projects and help more villagers. Here I am interviewing village health volunteers about the community bathroom we were renovating. As always, my faithful youth group was looking over my shoulder. 

October 2010:

After taking the GRE in Bangkok, I set out to explore Chinatown. Bangkok is a fascinating place and I have developed quite a love/hate relationship with the place. 

November 2010:

During my second Thai birthday and 24th birthday dinner. For this birthday I opted to stay in the village and celebrate with Thai friends and family. 

At the end of November, my host dad (pictured above), passed away. Here is a photo of him giving money for school supplies and uniforms for needy children in the village he grew up in. 

December 2010:

During December, I had the pleasure of attending my friend Pi Jam's graduation. We have worked on countless projects together and she is like a sister to me. During the two years I helped edit her Master's thesis, which she wrote entirely in English. 

The view from breakfast on Christmas morning on Koh Yao Noi. Yes, I am very lucky to have been sent to Thailand!

January 2011:

After two years, part of my daily life is getting to interact with these cuties....they are collecting trash to turn in to the recycling center down the street. 

February 2011:

During my house visits to the participants of the the HIV/AIDS small business development project. This villager is successfully raising crickets that will be sold to generate secondary income. 

March 2011:

It's now the last day of February and though I have some idea of what March will hold, I'm not sure if a photograph will be able to represent it. March marks the end of my time in Thailand and the end of my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Stay tuned to see how it goes!!