Saturday, December 19, 2009

Family Thais

I woke up at 5:30 this morning (not hard to do with the chickens outside my window) and hopped on the bus to the city. I watched the sunrise and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I would be seeing my family from America in just over an hour. It was mind-boggling. Perhaps if I had met them in Bangkok I would have been less stunned, but as my Dad emerged with a crowd of Thais, in the little Ubon airport it seemed as if my two worlds were colliding. I could barely contain my excitement about introducing my dad, mom and brother to my new world. We headed to the village around lunchtime and were treated like royalty at one of my favorite schools. After a hearty lunch of delicious Thai food and plenty of awkward but fun conversations, I realized we were to be treated one of Isaan’s most traditional dances and ceremonies. Some of the best students had dressed in traditional clothes, and overcome huge amounts of nervousness to put on quite a show for my family. As they danced, the elders that live close to the school wished us luck, happiness, and healthiness by tying blessed strings around our wrists. I remember when I first partook in this ceremony and watching my family experience it as well was quite special. I felt so proud of my community and I felt a part of it. I also felt blessed that they were so warm and welcoming to my family. I must have been doing something right all this time.

After the ceremony we were immediately shuffled off to another school that I have worked with. We were given a tour, my family was told to make speeches (I translated) and the best students were forced to give statistics about their school in English. Thus my family was able to experience another part of the Thai culture. This being the extreme show that is put on for VIPs. Not as fun or warm as the first school but an interesting experience nonetheless.

As the afternoon speed by, I realized we had better head to my office. When I called for a ride of course there was no one who could be bothered, both disappointing and annoying, as my family all the way from America had come to meet these people. Of course we found someone else and when we pulled up the parking lot was pretty full of perfectly working cars. As the Peace Corps Volunteers say, “This is Thailand!”

All of my co-workers are fun but can be very formal and definitely have very limited English skills. This made for awkward times for my family and co-workers and I was mildly amused for the time. After the third or fourth awkward silence in our meeting of them I suggested we head outside with the head honchos of the office for a game of bay dtong. This is quite similar to bocce ball and my dad and brother were easily taught the rules of the game. This turned out to be an immediate bonding experience and much more interesting and fun than touring around the office. As we played 3 on 3 my mom stood by with her nifty flip video camera (if you are interested in footage, please email me). We were never too far behind, but the Thais ended up winning. A for effort, Brooks Team!

After another hop, skip and jump we met my best friend and Thai tutor for a beer. This is where the family really started to get tired. The combination of beer, evening breeze and jetlag was hitting them hard. But we had one more stop to make: my house for dinner with my host family (20+ people).

We arrived to a karaoke set, table and chairs in the garden, and of course a bar with plenty of beautiful fruit plates. I knew we were in for a long night. I had asked my host family not to do anything big, even suggesting that my host parents, sister and her husband just meet us at a restaurant and I would treat everyone. As I counted the number of chairs I realized this would never be; in fact the whole extended family from Ubon was coming! We chatted the evening away with my host family; mostly my host dad talked at us, and handed out the Christmas gifts that my mom had carted over from America. After a few hours there was no sign of the rest of the group or starting dinner. My dad and I sang a few karaoke classics and enjoyed the nice evening in the garden. Every time I really looked around I was overwhelmed by the fact that my Thai family and American family had finally come together. As my family got sleepier and sleepier more and more people arrived. I was nervous.

The final car arrived just as my family had finished up dinner that we were given to early. My host brother’s mother had gone all out with gifts for us all. It was quite the show, but a bit embarrassing because I had nothing to give to them. She couldn’t have been more friendly and really gave us all some beautiful things. Again, I felt overwhelmed. I was singing some of my favorite karaoke songs (Zombie-Cranberries, Heal the World-Michael Jackson, My Love-Westlife) with my favorite group of cousins, when my host sister leaned over and whispered that she thought my family might need to return to the hotel in the city. When I turned around, I knew she was right. My poor family could barely keep their eyes open!

As I packed up my things, various people stopped me and asked where we were going, why we were leaving and why we couldn’t stay for the third and fourth courses. I felt as if my heart were tearing in two. It was my responsibility to take care of my family from America and I knew that awful feeling of jetlag, yet I was so touched by the warmth, effort and hospitality of my Thai family that I didn’t want to leave. I actually cried and hugged them all as we loaded up the car, as I knew I couldn’t really ever say thank you for all they have done for me.

After the car ride back to Ubon, feeling pretty guilty, I crashed, all the while trying to pump myself up for the vacation of the lifetime that we are about to embark on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Time Flies

I left America 10 months ago! Thanksgiving has come and gone and my family will be arriving in exactly 2 weeks for what is sure to be the vacation of a lifetime. I can't believe it is almost Christmas and I can't wait.

Thanksgiving in Bangkok was what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about: family and over indulging. Though my family was not here, my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers were, and they are like family. And no I did not over indulge on turkey and potatoes, but any foreign food I could get my hands on, an obscene amount of wine, and dancing! Just the way I like it...

I'm back at site for two weeks of busy planning. We are trying to get the recycling bank off the ground before I leave and my youth development camp will now have 200 students attending. The weather is pleasant but still a tad hot. I am back on my bike and almost walking like a normal person again (though I'm afraid my dance moves may never be the same). This weekend marks a huge Thai holiday, Father's day, also the King's birthday. I'm sure there will be much activity.

I'm feeling pretty good and can't wait for the next few months and to see what my next year in Thailand will bring.

As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Roll on, Roll on

Any of you that read this blog or notice my status updates on facebook know that this experience is somewhat of an emotional roller coaster for me. The ups and downs come quickly, in one day I can be practically elated and then by the end of the afternoon I feel like screaming or punching something, or closing my curtains and locking my door. We all know I'm a little crazy, hell you have to be to sign up for this in the first place, but I think I am correct in saying that this is ride that volunteers all over the world experience.

Many things can dictate my mood. The weather, if I am stuck wearing worn out clothes for day, a conversation at lunch, if the pig shit at my house is particularly smelly, etc. Sunday my facebook status read "Sarah brooks just had the best day of making organic fertilizer, reading a murder mystery, meeting my extended Thai family, and eating birthday cake". Yesterday it read, "Sarah Brooks is pissed and discouraged, good thing there is a long weekend coming up" and today "Sarah Brooks is looking forward to good food, good drinks, and good friends. Happy Thanksgiving". If that's not a roller coaster I don't know what is!

Yesterday I learned that my office no longer wants to support my HIV/AIDS income generating project. I'm not entirely sure that I understood the whole conversation because frankly I stopped listening. I was just so fed up. After putting on my headphones and sunglasses I stuck out the rest of the day in the office without talking much. Today, I was able to ride my bike in at ten am in beautiful weather thinking about how much I am looking forward my upcoming trip to Bangkok and thinking how thankful I am for the other volunteers. My friends and family from home are a great support system, but sometimes it's hard to explain what I am feeling or going through, and usually its pretty silly. The other volunteers get it and for that I am thankful. I am thankful and lucky to have two support systems.

My other projects are going well. The HIV/AIDS projects is not completely off the table. I can pick up the pieces and make something out of it. I'm sure of it. Or I'm sure gonna try.

So that's what's going on and it calls for much reflection. I am lucky that I have a job and lifestyle that allows for hours in a hammock with my Ipod or curling up with a book. Thanks for reading and commenting and listening.

Happy Thanksgiving! I will be celebrating with the other volunteers that have become like family at the fine establishment known as The Sizzler, Bangkok.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Something Fun

Today I had a planning session with youth group about the camp we are putting on next month. We are having a session on careers and will be bringing in different people from the community to talk about their careers and how they got started. When I suggested we invite the mayor, the girls said no thanks and asked for Barack Obama.....truly made my day!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beaches, Bandages, and Birthdays

Wow, has it really been a month since I last posted? Sorry, to my readers, that is, if I have any left! As you all probably noticed in my last few entries I was extremely excited for my October Beach vacation. I headed down south with some of my favorite volunteers expecting to have the time of my life. You should have seen me on the airplane, I mean I was REALLY excited....and then and few hours after arrival I took a nasty spill and ended up in an ambulance with a dislocated kneecap. I haven't endured that many injuries, just some broken bones and skinned knees, etc. but this was definitely the worst of all. It HURT. My knee swelled to the size of a football and after three days in the hospital the doctor finally performed a procedure to get rid of the nasty fluid (GROSS) and the pain was finally bearable. That day I tackled the beach, on crutches, and got some sweet tan lines with the intense brace my knee was in. The knee cap is slowly falling back into place (they couldn't pop it back in) and I was able to go ahead with my vacation, sort of. Now is the time to thank my wonderful friends, because they had to do everything for me, short of escorting me to the bathroom. I couldn't carry my bags, purse, get in taxis (very well), nothing...and they were great!! They seriously helped every step of the way, all the while feeling sufficiently sorry for me. I don't think they even got made when I was so slow getting off a ferry that we missed a bus! And of course, we were able to squeeze in a couple of good times. I did see the beach, go swimming, and soak up as much sun as I could, but about every other day I would have to stay in the hotel for fear of pushing my knee too hard. 
I don't want to be dramatic and say that the vacation was ruined, but I am certainly glad I have another one coming up in December when my parents and brother come for a visit. I should be totally healed by then. They days after vacation were spent in Bangkok, seeing doctors and resting before a big Peace Corps weekend. 
We had our quarterly VAC meeting where selected members of Peace Corps address any issues volunteers may be having with staff. The next day we had the treat of a meeting with the new Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and a nice lunch with the returned Peace Corps community that now lives in Thailand. This was a real treat and I was honored to represent my group. I also managed to celebrate Halloween somewhere along the way. 

My return to site came at the perfect time. My knee hurt, I was tired and I missed my community. And I guess they missed me. A few hours after I got home, the youth group and Pi Jam came to get me to celebrate Loy Gratong, a Thai holiday that celebrates water under the full moon, in which we send all our bad luck away. I hope it worked.

Then on Friday, Pi Jam's school pulled out all the stops for my birthday. Yes, that right's I'm one year older and turning 23 in Thailand was truly special. The celebration consisted of a food fair in which each grade made a special Thai snack. The food was delicious, the decorations amazing, and each student made me a homemade birthday card. I actually received over 100 birthday cards. It was wonderful. Then, on Saturday, my actual birthday, I hopped/hobbled on a bus to Kohn Kaen, about six hours away to celebrate with other volunteers and birthday buddy/fellow Rhodes graduate Beau. We had a joint party that included bowling (I watched), dinner and a happy hour (3 actually) of all you can drink beer. Again my fellow PCVs are proving to be amazing friends and surprised us with a legit chocolate cake. 

I returned home to mixed emotions. I am angry and tired of my knee injury. My medicine makes me drowsy, I walk with a crazy limp and can't ride my bike. Being sick or injured is certainly one of the hard parts of being a volunteer, at least for me. 

Monday, I tried to pump myself up for a productive day and was met with confusing phone calls about arranging rides and meetings. Just as I resigned myself to staying at home for the day, two of my co-workers picked me up and took me to the meeting that I thought was not happening. This was a meeting with the hospital and the leaders of the HIV/AIDs income generation group that I am working with. As there are 51 PHAs (people having AIDS) in my area I am trying really hard to help their group get on their feet. In some amazing act of something, my counterparts, the nurse and the group members had been surprisingly motivated in my absence and written a project plan with a budget and that very day we set out to present and search for support from the local government offices in the community. We visited all 5 of the offices and were able to get pledges of support and money from each. This was one of the best days of my service yet. We still have a long way to go to make this group successful, but we are on the way. And best of all, my counterparts took responsibility and did things for themselves. It is PCV's dream come true. Let's hope things keep going the way they are!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Developments in Development

Though, I have been complaining of boredom today, looking back on my week I realize that I was quite busy and was indeed productive. Last Sunday, I traveled about 5 hours away to help at a friend's English camp with 3 other volunteers. The weather was amazingly cool and fresh feeling and I loved visiting another province, and though it was right next to mine, I still could see and feel differences. My friend has a great, shiny, clean, new feeling house and we enjoyed food from his neighbor's, watching the moon rise from his porch, and cold beers. The next day we donned our bright orange polos (the school provided shirts for us) and headed up the hill to conduct the English camp, "What About You?". The camp was for about 200 high school students, most of whom had surprisingly good attitudes and pretty good English skills. It shows that my friend is really doing a great job there. I led a session with a Thai teacher about daily activities and the students loved our games. This English camp was a definite success and perhaps the smoothest running one I have ever seen! It felt so good to be apart of something successful and gave my morale the boost that it needed. 

We caught the 6 am bus back to Ubon and Heidi and I decided to hang out in Ubon for the day, since her bus didn't leave until 2. We walked around, looked at clothes and jewelry we couldn't afford, chilled in a coffee shop and ate a lot of snacks. By the time I got home I was exhausted. 

Pi Jam (a teacher and friend) had asked me to come to her school on Wednesday to lead a session, just for fun, as the students are in the last week of school before break. I planned some games and brought supplies thinking the students would want to be silly and just have some fun, not really learn English. When I arrived at the school I was surprised to find out that the hospital was conducting a project design training with the students and adults from two particular villages. It was just the sort of work that I hope for in my community and here it was happening all on it's own. I was thrilled. 

I sat back with Pi Jam, my counterpart from the office and a woman from the district office. Since Pi Jam speaks English I took this time to have an impromptu meeting to discuss all my project ideas with my counterpart and the district officer. They listened and were quite supportive. This bodes well for the next couple of months. We were also able to set a date for a large youth camp and for implementing bio-gas at the school. Exciting stuff!!! No really, I am not being sarcastic, community development is hard and thrilling work all at the same time. Perhaps I have found my calling!

After lunch I led my session and luckily the adults were willing to be just silly as the children had been. It lasted for about an hour and I ran the whole thing, in THAI!! It was a great feeling. 
After that I sat in with some of the groups and helped them develop their project ideas, all based about health in the villages. 

Thursday and Friday were spent in the office and I was able to get some work and research done. I also had enough time to surf the internet until I was unbearably bored. This afternoon at two 0'clock my counterpart asked me to join her as she had paperwork to give to the headmen of all 20 of our villages. I jumped at the chance to get out of the office and we headed out. During the next 3 hours I saw a lot. I even saw some parts of our Tambon (district) that I had never seen before. I danced with some Thai people who were partying for no apparent reason, donating small change to a wat, saw the biggest spider I have ever seen, harvested rice for five minutes on the side of the road, tried some homemade Thai snacks, learned some new Lao, and got invited to a cockfight! It was a fun afternoon and a great change of pace from the previous day. 

Also, last night I attended my first Thai funeral. The woman that represents my villages at the sub-district level died suddenly of heart failure. Thai funerals last for 3 days in which the family of the deceased is never left alone, day or night. This entails a lot of eating and drinking as well. The third and final night the largest number of people visit the home along with monks who are there to chant in a service of sorts. The apparel is black on the bottom, with white on top. My family and I went for the third night and though I did not fully understand I chanted and prayed along with the rest of the mourners. Come to think of it, no one really seemed to be mourning. It is the Buddhist nature to accept death as it comes. After the funeral my parents and I enjoyed Korean style barbeque with the former head of my office (who now works with another volunteer in another Tambon) and her husband who is the head of the next Tambon over. Though the dinner lasted for 3 hours, we all had a great time and some great conversation. It was nice to be out with my host parents since they usually prefer to stay at home. 

Now we have come to another quiet Friday night in the village. I am counting down the days until next Friday when I leave for my beach vacation. Hopefully next week will surprise me as this one did. 

Tomorrow morning I am headed out with friends from work to watch the boat races in Ubon. Expect a full report. 

Good night, 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Secrets Revealed...

Ok, are you ready??? I have found a cure-all, any sickness, hangover, homesickness, feelings of melancholy, anything, I swear!! Here is the recipe:

1. Stevie Nicks
2. a long shower
3. pink pjs that your mom sends from home
4. blueberry tea
5. clean sheets
6. a couple of episodes of Seinfeld

try it, I feel GREAT!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Blogging is difficult. It is hard to think of my experiences with the freshness of a traveler because nothing seems to surprise me now. I guess that's because I really live here now. Yes, I left America eight months ago. It's hard to believe but when I think about home and what I was doing this time last year I can really see some of the changes in myself. Though life abroad and life in the Peace Corps is hard, I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything in the world. 
Believe me, I don't feel like this everyday. The days when I am sick, when I can't find the Thai to get my point across, when the office tells me they have no budget for my projects, when I have to ride my bike in the rain, or when all I can smell is pig shit and burning trash are HARD. But there are plenty of good moments that make up for those, and for all those HARD moments, they build character right??
I am so lucky to have been placed in Thailand. I am lucky for the wonderful people in my community. I am lucky some of those people are motivated to do projects with me. I am lucky that my some of my fellow volunteers have become my best friends and my family. I am lucky that I have family (2 Thai families and 1 american family that is coming to visit in December). 

Here's what's been going on lately:
1. I study Thai twice a week with Pi Mod, an awesome teacher and friend. And I can read on like a 2nd grade level!
2. I took two women living with AIDS to a Peace Corps sponsored conference on business skills in Bangkok for a week. We will now have weekly meetings to strengthen the group in our community and hopefully begin an income generation project. 
3. I laughed as hard and as much as I ever have last weekend in Bangkok. 
4. I went to Outback Steakhouse for the second time in my life and had the time of my life!
5. I have watched 3 seasons of LOST in one month (that show is addicting!!)
6 I have read over 3,000 pages. 
7. I have spent way too much time on the internet. 
8. I have project ideas flowing, just not funds. 
9. I am counting down to a beach vacation in three weeks!!!

Though I am not homesick, not that I would admit it if I was, I do miss hearing from friends and family. Emails are wonderful and if you have the time real mail or packages would be wonderful x10!! My mailing address is posted at the side of this blog. 

Peace to all, 

Friday, September 11, 2009


I recently attended the annual Peace Corps Youth Conference with a counterpart and two youth from my community. And, I must say that it was absolutely wonderful! I could not have been more impressed by the work and actions of my fellow volunteers as they put on the conference. This year's theme was Dream, Believe, Achieve and we spent 3 and a half days setting goals for ourselves and discovering assets within. We were divided into teams and I was part of "Blue, We Can" along with two other volunteers and their groups. During the conference we spent a lot of time outdoors playing teambuilding activities as we worked towards a common goal. All the activities were similar to those we experience at school field trips and summer camp, but they were effective nonetheless. These activities were meaningful to the youth as they had never done things like this before, with the exception of "The Great Egg Drop". When this activity was announced, my group groaned, "We have been doing this since 1st grade!" It was hysterical. 
Other activities included making team T-shirts, crafts, relays, a career information session, karaoke and making s'mores!
This conference was not only special for all of its' activities but also for the new experiences for my youth. We traveled by overnight bus to Bangkok, neither of the girls had done this before and then hung out in the Peace Corps Office all morning. They saw how Peace Corps worked and perused our ever-expanding library. From there we traveled the beautiful province of Nakorn Nayoke, the site of the conference. Not only did my students meet tons of volunteers from America but they made friends with Thai youth from all over Thailand. For students who have never travelled before, these experiences will never be forgotten. It was truly special for me to be with my students while all of this happened. 
So what of the conference? Well, my students and counterpart want to train the rest of our girl's youth group in the self-development activities that we learned and then the group hope's to lead similar camps or trainings around our area and expand to the provincial level. I would be honored and pleased to help them with this goal and look forward to seeing what these girls can do. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

What's Up

Well the seven month mark of my Peace Corps service has come and gone and we are quickly entering fall in Thailand! This really means nothing like it does in the States, it is still just as hot as ever with rain everyday. Apparently the cool season will start in late October or early November and I can't wait! The heat really does take a toll on me, believe it or not. This may have to do with the fact that I only have a bicycle to get around with. BUT, I have been getting around! No, no not like that, in a work/professional sort of way. I was out of town for two weekends for required Peace Corps meetings, both of which were productive and fun. It's always good to see other volunteers, but I have found the longer I am here the more I feel like my village is my home and find myself missing it while away. I think my host parents feel the same way and they are always excited when I get home from travels. This is nice. 

Last Thursday morning I left with my Thai tutor and friend, who is a teacher and two students to attend a youth entrepeneur conference about 6 hours away. This was especially exciting because it was sure to be productive but also fun for my group. My students, both 15, had never really left our province before and this was to be their first time to stay in a hotel! I also shared their first visit to the zoo on the way to the conference. It was so special to share this eye-opening opportunity with them. At the conference we learned the basics of constructing and writing a business plan and successfully wrote one in which the students at their school will make and sell EM. EM is an effective microorganism organic fertilizer which is taking off in Thailand these days and is fairly easy to make. If our business plan is approved we will get a small amount of money from USAID to start our business. Regardless of whether we get the money or even start the business, this conference was a success. The students are very bright and really got into the project. 

This Wednesday night I am departing with two more students and a teacher for the annual Peace Corps Youth conference. In this conference we will focus on personal development and of course play tons of games. It is supposed to be one of the best Peace Corps sponsored events. This is also exciting, because as before these two students have never traveled. We will take an overnight bus to Bangkok where we will visit the Peace Corps office in the morning before boarding another bus to the site of the conference. I can't wait!

In other news, things at site are going well and I have found the motivation to begin writing several project plans with the hopes of presenting them to the office in time for next year's budget distribution. I have also been in touch with the nurses and the PHA group recently (PHA stands for People Having AIDS). We want to do an AIDS education project in each of the villages in my area (20 villages) and I have been approved to take two patients to a business skills conference at the end of September. In this conference we will hopefully learn to improve their existing income generation business of raising cows. Both patients are nervous about traveling and studying business as neither went to school past 6th grade. As with the other conferences I believe there will be benefits no matter how small. I am making a huge statement to these women by taking them to such an important event and helping them travel, as PHA are still discriminated against in the area. 

I am off to teach this afternoon, something I have grown to enjoy. The kids are shy and not really motivated to learn English but it's still fun. It keeps me busy and involved in community life. 

So all in all work is good and life is great. 
Hope it is for all of you...more updates to come after the conference!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

You know you are a Volunteer in Thailand if...

So, if you are a faithful reader please accept my apologies; I have not updated in almost 3 weeks. Things are going along fairly well here and I actually feel busy and productive...apparently just no inspired to write. I will have you know that I planned and implemented my first small Peace Corps project. With the help of one very able teacher with a medium sized budget, we held a teacher training to help teachers learn skills needed to teach their students more life skills. With the help of three other Peace Corps Volunteers we had four sessions on nutrition/hygiene, HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, teamwork, composting and recycling and appreciating the environment. And it all went great! In other news I have found a great Thai tutor, have been spending three days a week at the schools, and getting out into the community more. The project ideas are flowing! Things are definitely good. BUT, instead of recapping all of this, I have something more fun for my readers today!

A friend of mine, I guess he was bored, wrote up a list of funny things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, most of which are true and not exaggerated at all! I have posted a lot here and commented on them. So here is a shout out to the author, Eric "fried fish" Hoening of Isaan, and some of the best points...ENJOY!!!

You know you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand if…..

1. You see four people on a motorcycle and think there’s still room for more.
This is sooo true. I have seen a grandmother, mother and father, a child and an infant all on one motorcycle. The infant did not look scared or alarmed in the least. Of course no helmets...

2. You actually choose to use the butt sprayer instead of toilet paper.
This is a good one. In Thailand lots of bathrooms have a basin full of water and you use a bucket to pour that water all over you. This is the shower. Also, in Thailand, most toilets do not have flushers or toilet paper, so a hose is provided to hose off one's self (hence the name the butt sprayer) and then to hose whatever down the toilet. These usually spay cold water with a decent amount of pressure, so I guess is sort of feels like a shower. I am not guilty of this one though!

3. You get told that you are beautiful/handsome at least four times a day.
Thai people admire light colored skin, noses with bridges, blue/green eyes and of course blonde hair. Even if you are ugly as sin, if you have these qualities then you are beautiful/handsome in a Thai person's eyes.
4. You can openly discuss bodily functions for hours on end.
It is said that Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world are able to do this. I guess it comes with the territory.

5. You LOVE sticky rice.
Sticky rice is what it is. Made with sugar or glutton or something like that, this rice is served in a basket and one rolls a bit in her hand before dipping it in the other dishes of food. It is quite filling, quite delicious, and quite unhealthy.

6. Anything less than a 12 hour bus trip is considered close.
Ok, so this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the bus rides here are long! For example, on the nicest bus available it takes me 9 hours to get to Bangkok, a mere 470 kilometers away.
7. You don’t really know whose chickens they are, but you have at least 10 chickens in your yard at any given moment.
My family only has 6 chickens and there are definitely 12 outside at this very moment. I don't get it...we hardly ever eat chicken here and eggs or an omelet at a restaurant can be considered expensive.

8. You are called fat and then forced to eat more than you possibly can.
Thai people love to eat, talk about what they just ate, or talk about what they are going to eat next. They also love it when a foreigner shows appreciation for the local cuisine. They also like to talk about how much people weigh or how fat a certain dish will make you. Hence the oxymoron. 
9. You are regularly passed by a 10 year old driving a motorcycle while you labor away on your bicycle.
Uggh, this is the worst. Riding down the hot highway around noon is bad enough, but when a young cool dude speeds by on a bright red motorcycle, you really feel like a dork. The token Peace Corps bike helmet doesn't help.

10. While trying to speak Thai, you have accidentally said that you “pooped a bicycle” 
Ah, a classic! The word for "ride" is a mere tone away from "poop". You get the drift. 

11. You get extremely excited when you can read a sign in Thai.
Reading Thai is sort of like a game or solving a puzzle. It's great at the bus station when someone offers to help you find your bus and you can say, "Oh, no thanks, I can read Thai just fine!"
12. You now feel totally comfortable asking somebody how much money they make.
This is a very common "get-to-know-you" question in Thailand. It's quite proper to ask. 

13. You can’t drink beer without ice.
You don't really have a choice. Either drink it with ice, drink it boiling hot from the heat, or wait around for it get cold in whatever fridge you can find. 
14. Your clothes are never clean, and they only smell good half the time.
When it's humid and you have to hang your clothes outside to dry, it can sometimes take days! All kind of dirt gets on them and they eventually smell like mildew. 

15. You think 75 degrees is cold.
Well, that's just a fact, it is COLD.
16. You have watched all your DVDs with commentary at least three times.
Life in Thailand can be slow sometimes, very slow. 

17. You commonly ask people if they have showered yet.
A common greeting...similar to "hey, how's it going?"
18. You have been in a parade.
Check, I have been in 3. 
19. You have used “tong sia” as an excuse
This literally means "broken stomach" and it can get you out of ANYTHING you might not want to do. The sad part is, is that you normally don't have to lie, a broken stomach is pretty much a constant condition. 

20. You are constantly asked if you are scared of ghosts.
Most Thais are very superstitious. 
21. You know that kids don’t need adult supervision.
True, and most Thai kids have some gnarly scars to show for it. 

22. You now hate microphones.
Uh yes, I can't really talk about it...

23. There are more lizards in your house than people in your village.
These buggers are everywhere, as is their shit...but they are harmless and eat annoying bugs. 

24 You actually start to think that your name is Farang.
What any non-Thai looking person gets called by Thai nationals until they know your name, and sometimes even after they know your name. It means "foreigner". 

25. You can "gin pet dai"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I have been away from site for the past 2.5 weeks. While this was a welcome chance to get away and see some more of Thailand and a chance to reconnect with the rest of the volunteers, it was certainly a long time to be gone. During my time away ten days were spent at a technical school in Korat for our second round of Peace Corps training. For those of you I have been talking with, I may have explained that this is an important part of the volunteer life cycle. Upon arriving in Thailand we were thrust into 10 weeks of intensive language, cultural, and technical training and living with a Thai host family. After those ten weeks we were again thrust into a new situation; we traveled to our site immediately after we swore in as PC volunteers. The past three months we have been at our sites gathering whatever information we could as part of a community assessment assignment and were restricted in our travel and time off. Next came the long awaited PST 2, and now that it's over I feel that my service or life here can finally start!

Before I open that can of worms, I will backtrack a little to talk about PST 2. Peace Corps put all the volunteers and our counterparts and our teachers up in a hotel at a university about 25k outside of the big city of Korat. This was probably in hopes that we wouldn't party as much, or spend too much time in the city in order to be fresh and awake for all our sessions. PC 121 found ways around this of course and evenings and nights were spent eating, watching movies, playing games, catching over beers and general silliness. It was kind of like being in the dorms again. I loved every minute of it. 

The training itself was also good. Highlights included:
1. a 3-day counterpart conference in which we were trained with our Thai co-workers in project design management, and actually wrote out a project plan in Thai and English (we worked on forming an exercise group at our local health station)

2. presentations from current volunteers on the volunteer life-cycle, bio-gas (a propane substitute made from animal waste), teaching english as a non-teaching volunteer and more 

3. a talk from a US diplomat serving in Thailand

4. presenting what I have learned about my community with my Thai counterpart

5. four days of studying the local dialect in my region (Isaan) with some fellow volunteers from the area

The best part of the whole thing was the 4th of July. Peace Corps pulled out all the stops (well as best they could) to give us a legitimate  4th of July celebration. We had fruit, cake, corn on the cob, hotdogs, pork burgers and even fritos! Combined with this feast was our first annual "No-Talent-Talent Show". While some of the acts actually turned out to be good, most were TERRIBLE and great fun! After the dinner and show, most of the volunteers headed to the university bar called "Hank Over". Upon arrival we were disappointed to hear only Thai music being played. A couple of us, talked things over with the staff and soon we were jamming to familiar tunes. The first song, Michael Jackson's "Beat It". Let me tell you, we went wild. We were up on stage with the mics, dancing between tables, even handing out american flags to the Thai nationals at the bar. These Thai national soon got out their phones to  invite their friends up to the bar to see these crazy farangs (foreigners) literally going crazy. Soon the bar was packed and flashes from cameras were non-stop. Thus we were the entertainment for the night. It is definitely a Fourth of July I will never forget. 

After training about 20 of us took vans from the university to the site of our first round of training to visit our host families. Again another memorable experience. It was such a great feeling to be with my family again. The neighbors and extended family al gathered at our house for kebabs, fried chicken, and french fries...all of which were more delicious than I have ever had in America (ok, maybe not, but at the time, it sure felt like it!). My host dad, never one to talk much or smile much (especially with me), was grinning from ear to ear as we conversed in his home dialect of Isaan. Compared to my current site, our first training site is beautiful and the weather comfortable. It really made me appreciate that time we had there. After this visit "home" I can hardly imagine what returning the states will feel like. As I got ready for bed, my host mom and I prayed together and she helped me hang my mosquito net. I turned to her and said how much I had missed my room and she started crying. Of course I did too. It is amazing that one can find family and love across the world from home. 

After one night there, the volunteers and I all traveled to Bangkok in order to travel back to site or for medical reasons. Though most of us were there for medical we still managed to have fun with Mexican food, shopping, and seeing Ice Age 3 in 3D (actually it was a really bad movie, but still fun). On Monday morning I headed to the hospital to meet with the hand surgeon. I can say without a doubt that the Thai hospitals in BKK are some of the nicest places I have ever been in let alone nicest hospitals. The service is impeccable, as is the decor, and the complimentary juices, coffee, and water in the waiting rooms were pretty nice too. 

A quick recount: I sliced my left index finger open with a pocket knife while opening my bike pump the first week we were in Thailand. I went to a local hospital and got four stitches. Since then the scar has healed quite well but I cannot bend my finger and I have lost feeling from the bottom knuckle and up. 

The hand surgeon was appalled that I had these conditions for the past five months. I explained that the local hospital had said it could take up to six months for me to regain feeling. The surgeon said that a cut of this intensity should have been addressed immediately as I had sliced through the tendon that controls the bending movement of the finger. He explained that general practitioners at local hospitals usually didn't know this. I'm sure this is the case, as I didn't even see a GP but a nurse. The surgeon said that he could reopen the wound and perform surgery. The procedure would be difficult and there was no guarantee that it would get any better, in fact it could get worse (at this point I can bend the bottom knuckle). I opted for no surgery and he supported my decision. It is likely that my finger will remain this way forever, but I'm fine with least I still have it, right?

Returning to site has been slightly difficult and also exciting. I am filled with ideas and motivation from training, but it's hard to communicate these feelings with my counterpart and office as they are comfortable to sit in the office all day and not really do anything with the community. I will be slowly weening myself from the office. I still plan to come in for a bit everyday but it's time for me to break away and take charge. I gave it a shot and it's clear that my counterparts with which to do actual projects will come from the community. Here is what I have planned:

1. Next Friday, I am hosting a teacher training on how to give life-skills camps for 60 teachers from the area. 2-3 other volunteers will be coming to help and we will train teachers on how to teach about HIV/AIDS, recycling, nutrition and teamwork. 

2. I plan on spending at least one day a week at the local health station. Even if it means just sitting around, I will meet more people than at this office. 

3. I want to become a rice farmer for a week. We are approaching the time to pick the rice that was planted last month. This would be a good way to feel active, get out of the office, practice the local dialect, make friends, and finally do some hard, dirty work.

4. I would like to explore the possibility of building a bio-gas model in one of the more rural villages. INSERT BIG DREAM HERE: if this village were able to switch from propane to bio-gas then with the money they saved they could build the fences for every house in the village (something they have been hoping for).

So, sigh, all caught up for now. Planning for the life skills event and studying Thai related to Harry Potter in the hopes of seeing it this weekend (in Thai of course!)


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Same Same but Different

There is a funny expression here in Thailand, that a lot of Thai people know how to say in English, there are even T-shirts in Bangkok with this expression on it: same, same but different. Now this expression doesn't really make sense at all, but somedays I start to think that I understand it...

On Tuesday I went on a study trip with two workers from the hospital and my counterpart. We rode for about an hour in the ambulance to our provincial capital where we hopped on a bus with the rest of the folks from around our province attending the visit to a hospital about 3 hours away. I settled into the bus (pink and purple peacock themed) and cranked up my Ipod, in the hopes of drowning out the Thai karaoke. Thai music isn't all that bad, but the karaoke songs are TERRIBLE and LOUD and NONSTOP, all of which lead to a headache and a grumpy Sarah. It's no secret that I loathe these bus rides as I haven't been able to hide my true feelings for them from my co-workers. 
We finally arrive at the hospital for a good study of the rape crisis center that they have there and were able to talk with the police officers and counselors associated with the program. It was one of the more productive field trips that I have been on. 
There's a hitch though! When we arrived everyone rushed to the bathroom after being on the bus for so long, including yours truly who had chugged a Pepsi in anticipation of sleepiness during the bureaucratic Thai speeches (sorry if that's too much information, but the story is indeed about the bathroom). Arriving in line, I see that everyone has taken their shoes off. This is a pretty common thing to do before entering a Thai house and even at some government offices and health stations...but I have never seen it at a bathroom. Not really thinking, I take my sneakers off and stand in line in my white tennis socks. It's finally my turn, thank god, and my co-worker points to some slip-on plastic shoes for me to wear while in the bathroom. We all know that I have incredibly large feet, even in America, but these flops were made for a five year old! The bridge of my foot would not even fit in them. At least I had my socks on right? Not so, the bathroom floor was soaking wet from the Thai method of flushing, which is dumping water from a bucket down the drain. Since the toilet is a shallow, squat toilet the water gets everywhere. So, cursing under my breath, I removed my socks and went into this hospital, wet, public bathroom barefoot. It was probably fine, but part of me couldn't help but to wonder what was water and what was eerr not; you see with a squat toilet there is room for error in hmm let's say aiming. Sorry if this is disgusting or graphic to some of you, but just so you know I felt the same way. I was so grumpy from the bus ride and put out by the inconvenience of having to go to the bathroom the Thai way...same same but different no?

Emerging from bathroom hell, promptly sat down on the ground to put my socks and shoes on. The Thai's around me were appalled. Though Thai people sit on the floor to eat at their own home, sitting on the ground in public is considered very dirty. I was just so grumpy and angry that I did it anyway and as I did, I smiled and said, "I am American, same same but different, right?"

The rest of the day was fine, and I am glad I went. I was able to learn lots of new Thai words related to healthcare and get to know my hospital workers better. The bus ride home took 4 hours and the karaoke was again non-stop. Our car to take us back to the village was late picking us up and we didn't get on the road until 8 pm. When we stopped for dinner at a road side noodle stand, the man from my hospital basically played 20 questions with me on what the heck I was doing living in our village for two years. I explained about Peace Corps and my personal motivation for being here and seemed to appreciate it and understand. Then he asked, "Aren't you scared?" and I said, "Scared of what?" He answered, "You know of evil spirits, snakes, Thai bad boys, that kind of thing..." I jokingly replied, "aren't they all the same?" He chuckled and said I would survive Thailand just fine. As we drove on into the night I couldn't help but wonder will Thailand really be that hard to survive?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Land of Legend

I visited our provincial capital this week for a meet and greet with the governor. While I was there he gave me a brochure about the province I now call home. Since I am here to work, and there aren't many touristy things to do around these parts, I have neglected learning about the history of the province. It's not extremely interesting, but the legends and folk tales surrounding that history sure are. Posted below is an excerpt from the materials I got; it's about the legends surrounding the name of our province, Sisaket:

There are three legends describing the derivation of entitling "Sisaket". The first one is the legend of Princess Si, a daughter of Lao's king. Her husband, Phraya Kraek, was the governor of Khmer (Cambodia). When Phraya Kraek went to Khmer, Princess Si was left behind in her own country-Lao. Despite being pregnant she traveled to Khmer with her love and longing for her husband. It was unexpected that she had her baby during the trip. It is believed that a pond where she and her baby took a bath is nowadays "Sisaket". The second legend talking about a powerful Khmer's ruler - Phraya Si Kote Tabongpetch, the founder of Lan Chaang who had equipped with diamond club. Once he was defeated by a holyman, he gave his Lan Chaang to that man and trooped back to Khmer. During the way back to his hometown, he and his fellows dropped by a pond. The pond where his wife rinsed her hair became the derivation of entitling "Sisaket" (saket means rinsing). The last one is about Princess Si Payaktom who left Pimai City to Nakorn Thom. During the way to her destination, she traveled pass through a pond in an ancient ruined castle. She decided to stay over night there. While she was taking off the pond after her evening bath, villagers came by and stunned at her beauty. Thus, assuming that Princess Si Payakthom's hair rinsing in the pond was an auspicious omen of founding the city, villager's entitled their city "Sisaket".

These legends contain some reasonability in entitling "Sisaket" which relate to hair rinse. Still, there is no apparent confirmation since there is some source claiming that "Sisaket" might be derived from "ket tree", trees those overwhelming Sisaket in previous days. 

Please note: This document was translated to English and I wrote it the exact way it was published. This is why some of the grammar or word order might seem a bit strange. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interesting Points

Several interesting things have been happening lately...

1. I was feeling kind of empty or unsure of my feeling during my last post, and I suddenly snapped out of it yesterday. I guess I am sort of on an emotional rollercoaster and am still going through different phases of cultural adjustment. But you should be happy to hear that I am not homesick! Thai people ask me everyday and I explain that yes, I miss home but I am not homesick. It is possible to miss something without being sad or "sick". I guess that means you appreciate whatever it is that you are missing. I know that I must be on some sort of emotional ride as I have started writing in my journal and even wrote a poem!
2. Today at lunch, a co-worker asked if I really was going to stay here for two years, and when I said yes, he exclaimed, "you will be so bored, this village is so boring, and what work can you do for two whole years!?" Before I had a chance to answer my counterpart jumped in and said, "Don't worry, she will have work. We are going to do all kinds of projects!". I'm not sure what exactly was going on with this exchange, but it was reassuring to an extent, though my counterpart may have just been answering out of pride. 
3. One of the villages in our jurisdiction is officially to become an alcohol-free zone. I am surprised as drinking is one of the most popular activities in Thailand. I asked about how it was decided and there was village vote to ban alcohol from the area. I'm not sure if this means that alcohol cannot be sold or if it is illegal completely. 
4. Peace Corps is putting on a youth leadership conference in September and I will be putting in an application for several of the members of the girls' group to attend. I am excited about the opportunity and feel like my group has a big chance of going.
5. The village is abuzz with talk of the upcoming mayoral elections. I listen in an attempt to understand, but definitely intend to refrain from commentary and want to stay out of it all together. The mayor is technically my boss, but it seems I should remain neutral. 
6. I am so excited for our second round of training. I am leaving for it in about a week and think it will be a good opportunity to recharge my batteries, really communicate with my counterpart about potential projects, and to reconnect with ALL my fellow volunteers.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I suppose most of you have noticed that I have not updated in awhile. It's because I really don't feel like I have that much to say. When I spoke to my mother a few minutes ago she said I sounded blase. I am not. I think I have reached a point where I am starting to settle in and things are feeling routine. This is a good and bad thing. While the novelty of Thai culture has begun to wear off, usually something shocks me or makes me think everyday. Some parts of Thai culture have just been flat out annoying me now and some parts have become normal. Work is still coming along slowly, but that's okay. My co-workers know I have an assignment for our second bit of training and are holding off on really getting started on any projects with me until after that...or at least that's what they tell me. My assignment preparations have been going really well. No complaints. I feel like I should probably be a little more attentive to my language learning as I have just been coasting the past couple of weeks. I need to pick up with my studies. 
This past weekend I had the chance to get together with 5 other volunteers in Ubon (one of the region's biggest cities and very close to me) to do "Western" things. We went bowling, swimming, grocery shopping, ate out, relaxed and chatted in the hotel, got beers, went was good. As always it was good to return to my village, though it has been HOT lately. 
Things are fine, things are good. Not extraordinary, not terrible, it's just life.
We had another volunteer from out group return to the US, which is always hard to hear about. There is no reason to judge these volunteers and I totally support their decisions. Peace Corps is hard and filled with ups and downs. I guess I am at an equilibrium at this point, which I guess is a pretty good place to be. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Article from the LA Times

Here is an interesting article about Peace Corps as seen in the LA Times:

More Americans turning to Peace Corps

With President Obama extolling the volunteer agency as an exemplar of public service and U.S. diplomacy, applications have jumped. The idealism is tinged with pragmatism, amid joblessness at home.
By Chris Kraul 
June 2, 2009
Reporting from Santa Fe, Panama -- Peace Corps volunteer Alexandra Hodgkins couldn't be farther from her comfort zone here in Panama's Darien jungle: coral snakes, sauna-like heat and, just a few miles east up the Pan-American Highway, marauding Colombian rebels.

But the 25-year-old New Hampshire native wants a career in international development, and she figures a couple of years helping this poor community find permits and financing for a medicinal soap business will be invaluable experience. It also feeds her passion for public service and projecting a positive U.S. image.

"This is a good way to test whether this is what I want to do," said Hodgkins, who was a community organizer in Boston before she joined the Peace Corps in October. "I like the Peace Corps approach of working with communities, not just giving out presents right and left."

With a mix of idealism and pragmatism, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to the Peace Corps. Some, like Hodgkins, see it as a training opportunity at a time when job prospects at home are bleak. Others have been inspired by President Obama's campaign call to public service, and his frequent mention of the Peace Corps as a good vehicle for volunteerism.

At his commencement address at Arizona State University last month, Obama said the Peace Corps was an American institution that shows "our commitment to working with other nations to pursue the ideals of opportunity, equality and freedom that have made us who we are." 

Peace Corps officials credit the "Obama effect" for most of the 25,000 Internet requests so far this year for "starter applications," up 40% from last year. 

That's on top of a 16% increase in completed applications submitted in 2008. A new wrinkle to the flood of application requests is that 7% of them are coming from people 50 or older, up from the typical 4%, says the Washington-based organization.

Even as some government programs are being scaled back because of the global financial crisis, the Peace Corps' budget is getting a boost from Obama. If Congress approves the proposed 9% increase in the agency's 2010 budget, the number of Peace Corps volunteers, now at 7,876, is expected to rise.

"We are just skyrocketing in applications," said Peace Corps acting director Jody Olsen, who expects the volunteer ranks to grow significantly this year. "Obama represents what Americans really want to be asked to do. We want to hear how important service is, whether it is domestic or international." 

These are good times for the Peace Corps, which was founded by President Kennedy in 1961. It has had its ups and downs, peaking at 15,000 volunteers in 1966 and hitting a low of fewer than 5,000 in 1982. 

"It's refreshing and uplifting to witness this sort of outpouring of American idealism again, particularly after the U.S. reputation has suffered such setbacks as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," said Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami political science professor and a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia in the late 1960s.

Olsen said 20 countries that have no Peace Corps presence have asked for volunteers, with specialists in farming, English teaching, and HIV/AIDS and hygiene awareness the most in demand. The requests reflect the agency's proven effectiveness, she said. But budget and logistical restrictions mean that most requests will not be met. 

On a positive note, the Peace Corps is returning to Rwanda, Liberia and Ethiopia for the first time in a decade or more. Here in Panama, the number of volunteers has steadily increased to 160 from 100 five years ago, said country director Peter Redmond. He said the upturn was due in large part to the fact that the country values and seeks volunteers.

But the final number of volunteers the U.S. sends out will depend on whether Congress passes Obama's $380-million budget request for the next fiscal year.

It's not a slam dunk. The program's cost-effectiveness has been a source of debate over its 48-year history, with some critics contending that the Peace Corps is a form of "developmental tourism" and that some volunteers at times drift aimlessly in their communities during their two-year tours.

U.S. diplomat Dale Maki disagrees vigorously. Maki is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and is now an agriculture advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Panama. He said volunteering benefits the United States because it "develops leadership and puts a good face on the U.S. out there."

In addition to scores of former volunteers who, like Maki, have gone on to join the U.S. foreign service, five are members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. 

Charles Goodsell, a Virginia Tech professor emeritus who is writing a book on the Peace Corps and other government institutions, said the critics are wrong.

"The Peace Corps is very hard work. It takes a lot of creativity to be effective in often lonely circumstances and where the tasks are not perfectly outlined," Goodsell said. "In fact, the whole idea is that individual volunteers not show up with prepackaged plans but find out what the locals really need."

Santa Fe resident Marcelina Noriega says that's what Hodgkins did, helping her cooperative cut through red tape and the application process to get a $20,000 United Nations grant. 

Now the cooperative has its sights set on setting up an iguana farm to sell the skins and meat. "She has helped us do things we had no idea about," Noriega said.

Yemiymah Yisrael, a 26-year-old volunteer from Chicago who has spent three years in Santa Fe teaching composting techniques, extended her stay partly because of the lousy economy back home.

"Several volunteers who have gone home have advised me not to because it's so difficult to find a job," said Yisrael, who has her eye on a career in international health. Before the Peace Corps, she did carpentry work with Habitat for Humanity rebuilding hurricane victims' homes.

Not that the Peace Corps is lucrative: Hodgkins and Yisrael are paid about $320 a month, just above Panama's minimum wage. 

Hodgkins said she gets discouraged at times by the delays and paperwork required by the Panamanian government.

"But if you keep an open mind and try to understand the culture," she said, "then you can do what you came to do."

Kraul is a special correspondent.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I seem to have a habit of posting a new blog immediately after posting another, but I just can't help it. As soon as I stopped typing my last update my main-co-worker burst into the room with tape measure ready to record my measurements. Of course, in usual American fashion, I asked why. She said "it's because we have to report our weights and measurements to the provincial office"...again I asked but why? "It's the health project, we can't have fat government workers! They want to make sure we aren't too fat."

Of course, I thought to myself. 

The Day Stops (literal translation of weekend in Thai)

Many Peace Corps volunteers gathered this weekend for an annual bowling tournament and general volunteer debauchery. I was unable to attend. I am realizing more and more how far I am from certain volunteers and certain locations. Luckily, I love my site and my village and the only downfall is that I will really have to pick and choose which of these weekends I can make it to. 
I attempted to stay busy, so I wouldn't think about my friends reuniting in Central Thailand or those reuniting in Richmond. And stay busy I did!
Friday was an interesting day. Of course it started out like any other at the office, studying Thai and reading the news. Then I was presented with a jersey for our office, the SAO. We all loaded up in several pick-up trucks and headed to the capital of the province for what I deemed to be a parade at a sporting event. I was semi-correct but our group arrived late, and my sign-holding duties in the parade only lasted about 5 minutes. During this time I noticed another volunteer in the stands watching the proceedings. It was my friend Heidi! She live about 3 hours away from me and we have only seen each twice since training ended. It was so good to see her. Heidi is one of my favorite volunteers as she always has a smile on her face and is so optimistic about our time her. We always have a great time swapping crazy stories as well. Turns out the sporting event was a soccer game between students from Thailand and Laos. The Thai team was from Heidi's village so we got seats right on the sideline. There were young Thai children dancing for the opening ceremonies and then the game started. I didn't stay more than 20 minutes as my co-workers were anxious to hit the road. Or so I thought...
I rode back in a karaoke van with a chandelier with a built in bar. Not much more to say about that. Just use your imagination. Anyway we completely by-passed the village and headed on towards Ubon (the big city near us) and ended up at Big C (kind of like Target or Wal-Mart). I took the opportunity to load up on Diet Coke, soy milk and some accessories for my room. I thought the van was just going to be driving around the block while we were in the store but when I ran across the highway with my purchases to hop back in I found it to be full of toddlers. Pretty alarming, pretty much the cutest kids I had ever seen. Needless to say they didn't understand why I was there (they were terrified of me) and I did not understand why they were there. I finally gathered that the kids were from our village and the driver had offered to pick them up from daycare. Karaoke set aside for cartoons and we were on our way. 
Next thing I know we are pulled over on the side of the highway to drop one boy off as his father waits in a car on the other side. Not sure if this is their normal pick-up drop-off spot or what, but at this point I was just along for the ride. Finally we made it back to the village (in time for a huge thunderstorm) and dropped off the other five children at their homes. 
Saturday: I slept in until 9! Ate breakfast and then biked to a nearby school where I had plans to meet with a teacher and a girls group that she is in charge of. Once at the school I realized that my teacher friend is in the midst of a full-on English Camp. These camps are very popular in Thailand and occur on weekends so that students can practice their English even more. They usually have a theme, often involving lots of energetic games. I pitched in and even gave a little talk on careers and tried to explain community development. Next the girls' group showed up and we loaded up in the teacher's husband's truck and headed to the outskirts of the village. The event was to be a rocket festival. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about said event:
The Rocket Festival is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced throughout much of northeast Thailand and Laos, by numerous villages and municipalities near the beginning of the rainy season. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets. Local participants and sponsors use the occasion to enhance their social prestige, as is customary in traditional Buddhist folk festivals throughout Southeast Asia.

Ours was a one day affair and consisted only of rockets and food. The girls and I found a safe, shady place to sit and watch. Not much watching occurred however, as they preceded to ask me anything they could think of about me and America. It was fun and we bonded. We made plans for the next two Saturdays to ride bikes around their neighborhoods and they have offered to help me with my community assessment of the area. This should be a good and effective way for me to get some work done.

Sunday I headed up to the highway  bus stop to meet two co-workers as we had made plans to go into Ubon for the day. An hour and a half later we were dropped off at a mall. The first stop, a store called the Fat Story, in hopes that they would have some clothes to fit me. I immediately cracked up at the name of the store, and taking no offense started shopping. I got a cute shirt , size small. This is the first time I have been a size small, since, well EVER! Only in Thailand. We ambled around the mall and headed to the movie theater just after noon to catch "Night at the Museum 2". The film was dubbed in Thai and I was able to understand the plot and about 40% of the dialogue. Many of the scenes with jokes or comedic dialogue were lost on me as this requires a higher understanding of the language. Many of the "american" or cultural aspects were lost on my Thai friends and they had questions about who Al Capone and Amelia Earhart were. Either way, we were all glad we went. After the film, we headed to get some pizza (always a good activity in my book). I got home around five and felt happy, but exhausted from such a good weekend. 
This weekend, in the spare time I did have, I read a great book: One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. I highly recommend it; this is some of the best writing I have come across in a long time. 

In other notes, we have entered the rainy season. It rains every single day without fail. These rains come suddenly and are in my mind torrential. The rain lasts for 30 minutes to 3 hours. In my home there is a tin roof over the kitchen and the rain falling on it is so deafening that you cannot hear another person speak. I like the rain as when is stops I feel like there is a fresh start. Sometimes the rain is accompanied by much thunder and lightening, which is interesting watch across the very flat rice plains. 

I am constantly struck by the hospitality of Thai people. I have never experienced anything like it. I don't know if I met extremely friendly people in my time here or what, but it's truly amazing. Sometimes even a little overwhelming. Thais find it hard to believe that a person would ever want alone time. The society is 100% communal. Luckily, my host family has an understanding of my American ways and give me plenty of privacy.

I am now geared up for another week at work, hoping to learn all I can about the community in preparation for a presentation I have to give at Pre-Service Training 2 at the end of June. Apparently I will be accompanying several of my colleagues as they conduct a community survey of some of the villages in our jurisdiction. This should be helpful in my preparation, but as usual who knows if it will really happen or if its at all what I would expect a community survey to be. Will update again soon!