Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Turn of Events

So the manicure place wasn't open and my friend didn't want to play bay dtong because she had just got back from the doctor and thought it was going to rain. I chatted with the villagers for a bit and arrived at home to see a yard full of people just in time to see a pig get slaughtered and a chicken get boxed up to be taken away for cock fighting. Mind you I have already seen a cow get slaughtered today. Luckily my host dad brought me some actual real salad for dinner, no meat! No plans to become a vegetarian (I already tried that once) but I've seen enough for one day, well really one year. 

A Day at the Office

This morning I arrived at work expecting it to be a normal day of studying Thai and trying to read the resources that they have here at the office. Around nine am a teacher friend of mine and her husband popped in and asked if I wanted to go visit some schools with them to get some signatures to turn into the government. As I have mentioned I jump at any opportunity to get out and drive around the community. We visited two schools in my area, and while she got the signatures I entertained the children. This involved trying to get them to ask me questions about myself and America, and a couple rounds of songs. Pretty fun, but I have to admit I don't like standing in front of the classroom. I am much better suited to small groups of children and tutoring. After our visits to each of these schools, my friends graciously took me to meet the village headmen near each of the schools. In the first village I met Mr. Boon Chom by a large pond at the restaurant he owns. He could not have been friendlier and he seems dedicated to his community. We discussed population logistics, the community group and the problems facing the village. Mr. Chom wants the pond where his restaurant is to become a tourist attraction for fishing. He would like to have a boat service there as well. He also wished that they could have a drainage canal developed to prevent the constant flooding of the village during the rainy season. During this time many children cannot get to school, the farmers cannot get to their farms, people get sick and the foundations of houses rot. It's a big problem in my area. He also said the community group was struggling. They weave mats to supplement their income but cannot find a strong market in which to sell them. The group is not sure what to do and has sort of given up. When I asked what was the best thing about his village, he said that he had never thought about that before, that he usually just thinks about what is wrong and then moves on. This sounds like the perfect village for a Peace Corps volunteer to make a difference. I couldn't help but get excited and was glad that the headman was open to communicating and working with me. 
At the second village/school area my interview went a bit differently. The head man was friendly and hospitable but kept stressing that he was retiring from his position soon. He was also distracted by the cow being slaughtered by about 12 men in his front yard. I was too! One good part of the interview was when he asked what would I teach America about Thailand. He was obviously very proud of his country and wants America to have a good impression of it. I explained to him that one of the goals of Peace Corps was for volunteers like me to teach Americans about the countries that we serve in. I guess this blog is even a teaching tool for such a goal. 
We traveled on to visit 3 more schools in a different Tambon (ie different county). Though this was not my community I still smiled and entertained the students. The students were all VERY shy with me except for at one school. This school was way out in the country and I was the first foreigner that they had ever met. I couldn't believe it! And they weren't shy at all. The funniest questions I got were "why are your eyes blue" and "why is your skin white". I had a lot of fun with this group and things got even funnier when all 60 of the students asked for my autograph. I had to set up a table like a celebrity would do at a book signing or something. 
Arriving at the next school, I was surprised at how quiet things were. When I finally saw the students, about 60 1st through 6th graders were sitting Indian style meditating. This was a school centered around Buddhism. I have never seen anything like it!
At lunch with my teacher friend we started throwing around ideas for a Life Skills camp. This is a pretty popular activity with PC volunteers and it involves 1-3 volunteers throwing a camp for 2 days to teach Thai youth about life skills like team work, self-esteem, career planning, etc. At our lunch we decided to have a Life Skills camp in which we train teachers to host their own life skills camps at the schools around the area. The date is tentatively set for mid-July. I'm really excited about developing this project. 
Today was definitely one of my best days at the office yet! After work I'm off to get a manicure with some co-workers and then going to play bay dtong (a bowling game) with some villagers. Things are good and life is great!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Learning Thai, Snakes, Lizards, and the Godfather.

So i don't really have any funny or exotic tales to tell, but things are going well. I taught myself Thai all morning yesterday, and then visited one of the health stations after lunch. My teaching must have gone well because I was able to find out everything I wanted. I could even talk about preventing diabetes! (Note: diabetes is every common in Thailand; I think it has something to do with all the rice). I gave all the nurses my phone number and encouraged them to call me anytime they had an activity that I could help with. Also I am working on finding some funding for the health station to buy a stereo so they can start an aerobics class in the evenings. I already suggested several methods as how to obtain the stereo and they seemed overwhelmed with the ideas. The responded with the very Thai phrase, ja yen yen (cool your heart, Sarah!). We I got home for the evening I had some very productive conversations with my host parents about one's responsibility to the community. I shared with them the things that my family in America does to help the community and we decided that my family here and my family there share the same kind of heart. This conversation turned into quite another. My host father informed me that my host mom had killed a snake in the backyard when she got home from teaching that day. Not just any snake though, a KING COBRA!! Now, my host dad has a tendency to exaggerate so I'm not really sure what kind of snake it was, but it's still a good story. My host parents promptly called the neighbors over to look at the dead snake, decided that the couple down the street would get to take it home as it was now their dinner. Of course during the conversation, a lizard (gecko) crawling above me, relieved himself all over my blue jeans...hmmm...maybe this could be considered an exotic tale. Anyway, the night tamed down a bit as we looked at old family photos as a Thai dubbed version of the Godfather played in the background. 
Today is another day at the office, but I am feeling more productive than usual, because I have another visit into the community scheduled for this afternoon. I think I have also arranged some Lao lessons (quite informal) outside the convenience store in the village. I also hope to hone my bay tong (like bocci ball) skills in the evening this week. This weekend I am headed to a large city in Isan to meet up with some other volunteers for two nights, in the hopes of getting to go to the traditional beer garden in town and swapping stories on community development and life in Isan in general. 
That's all for now!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I have always found that being sick while away from home is one of the worst feelings one can have. I have had the flu all week and powered through the work days and some traditional Thai ceremonies with only a bit of a problem. But now we have reached Saturday. I had grand plans of exploring some of the villages I hadn't seen yet and even interviewing those villagers friendly and interested enough. This morning I woke up burning up with fever, just when I thought I was getting better. In an attempt to be somewhat productive, I hate feeling nothing and unproductive, I cranked up some mood music and began to organize my books and papers. I found a letter that our training staff required us to write to ourselves as we left for site. Then Peace Corps mailed us the letter after we had been at site for about 2 weeks. Mine was super cheesy and I just shoved it away in my bookshelf. Some of you might think the letter is super duper cheesy, but it actually had quite an effect on me today. Even those of you who are in America, might start to think because of this letter. Whether you are worried about the economy, worried about finding a job, stuck in a boring job or routine, have stress with friends and family, or are even a little under the weather, I encourage you to slow down and reflect. As stated before, I would have never realized the value in this had I not been in Thailand and truly discovering as well as testing myself. Anyway, you all might think I am some sort of cheesy, weirdo, pensive type person, but I thought I would share the letter below:

April 3, 2009

We are in PST now and hopefully when you get this you will be feeling optimistic and excited. Remember this is an excellent, god-given opportunity that can change your life. You deserve to be here and it really is the opportunity of a lifetime. Remember what inspires you, what makes you smile, what makes you cry and what guides your heart:
           Lord make me an instrument of they peace, where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury pardon, where there is error truth, where there is discord harmony, where there is despair hope, where there is darkness light and where there is sorrow joy. - St. Francis' Prayer

You don't have to been in the Peace Corps or living abroad to discover yourself or even pause for self-reflection. These words lifted me up and I hope they do the same for you.

I promise my next post will be funny....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back from BKK safe and sound, but absolutely exhausted. It was a good time had by all, bowling, shopping (new Jimmy Choo purse!), a few beers here and there (haha) and generally spending too much money. I have to say that when I arrived back to my village at 6 am this morning and walked from the bus stop to my house in the rain that I was glad to be there. It was great to see all my friends, but Bangkok is OVERWHELMING and the American food there makes my stomach hurt. I was glad to get back to rice and fruit. Also while I was in Bangkok I was a part of my first VAC meeting. The meeting went well and I am so happy to be involved and representing my fellow volunteers. After the meeting we spent the day in the PC lounge playing Scrabble. My skills have gone way down hill. I totally quit after my friend Beau played all of his letters for the 2nd time of the game! While at the office we met a volunteer who is serving in Cambodia now. We all swapped stories and learned that most of our neighboring volunteers don't have electricity or running water. This volunteer powers up by using a car battery. It is interesting to think about how close we are but how our experiences are probably all so different. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Little things that make me happy

In response to a comment on my last post, I have realized that the little things really can make you happy. I have never really appreciated this before as I have never taken the time to slow my life down to the point when I notice these things. I had this realization yesterday and here are a few of my "happy things":
1. When riding my bike home from work I had four people shout out at me and one car honked it's horn. Now I may not know all the people who shouted "hello, Sarah!", but they sure all know me. And the honking horn was a friend from work. This makes me feel like I am becoming a part of the community, an exciting part at that. 
2. talking with neighbors in the evening in a mix of Thai/Lao. Now I have said I can't really fluently speak Thai, but last evening I was pretty proud of myself for carrying on these conversations. Let's face it, I've only been here just over 3 months!
3. taking pictures in the yard during sunset. For some reason I had not really noticed the palm trees and beautiful flowers in my yard. I may be in the poorest and driest region of Thailand, but my yard is truly beautiful, as was the sunset.
4. downloading music my parents listened to when I was younger. I still remembered all the words. Some favorites have resurfaced: Mary Chapen Carpenter and Bonnie Raitt and Randy Travis. 

So, I encourage you all to slow down just enough to find one random part of your day that brings a smile to your face or makes you truly happy. It could be a turkey sandwich (god knows that would make me happy), your favorite song coming on the radio, or even stopping to actually watch the sunset. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Little Update

Today is another slow day here at the office. Most of my co-workers have not come in today, a few are in Bangkok. Not really sure and another lady are just chilling listening to Thai music going about our business. Not that I have that much business. I have spent the morning on the internet, reading news, writing emails, etc. Yesterday was a holiday. I woke up early to water the lawn for my host parents, sat in the hammock for awhile, watched Milk, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and starting reading a new book. Thrilling life I lead! Oh I also did laundry, whoo hoo! Anyway, Monday was an interesting day. My co-workers asked me to ride along with them as they needed to go to a town about 30k away for some business. I gladly accepted knowing we would get to stop at 7-11. After their business was taken care of they suggested that we drive on and surprise another Peace Corps Volunteer about 20 k away. I was shocked and touched at this suggestion. It was so nice of them to give me the opportunity to see another volunteer and drive out of the way to do so! So we pulled up to Brianna's site and I can literally say that I have never seen someone so surprised. It was great! We only got to visit for about 45 minutes before needing to head back, so we basically just asked each other tons of questions about life at site. It was so good to see another volunteer and speak English for awhile. Then on the way home we did indeed stop at 7-11 where I tried the "burger" and got some pringles. It was actually a pretty good snack and a pretty good day. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

More interesting times...

On Friday I arrived to work and found out that we would all be going to the temple at the amphur muang (the capital) with a bunch of teenagers from the village. Of course I was excited to go on a field trip of sorts and to meet some more of the locals. We loaded up on a big, double decker karaoke bus (this is VERY common) and headed off. We arrived at the wat, located in a deep and remote forest, where I learned that a famous monk was holding a meditation retreat for the weekend and the teens would be staying for the weekend. Kind of the Thai version of church camp or even Shrinemont (the Episcopal Diocese retreat in VA). At the wat I met a woman who spoke very good English and had known and former Peace Corps Volunteer...not sure how though. We talked for awhile, but she was so serious and teaching me all kinds of things about how I should become a Buddhist. I listened politely but was relieved when my co-workers came and found me (I always have fun with them). After lunch (there were about 300 people served), we sat on a marble floor (no indian-style for women) for 3 hours! It was probably the most uncomfortable I have ever been, and of course it was HOT and of course the monk gave a two hour sermon or teaching before our meditation began. During the beginning of meditation I knew I could not sit there any longer. I sneaked a look at some of my co-workers, who also happened to look miserable, so we snuck out and went to drink hot soy milk with some of the other monks at the temple. I was so relieved. I explained to them that it is very hard for me to sit that long because we rarely sit on the floor in America and that I have trouble meditating because "my mind is very busy". They appreciated me trying and understood. Then we had a discussion about what church is like in my home. I was relieved when the day was over and we headed home. 
The next morning, Saturday, my host father and I headed to a nearby school, as we were both invited to be guest speakers at a small English camp being held there. I showed pictures of friends and family from home, and some of travels around the world and then answered the students question. They had written some out before hand, in English, and I was asked what was my favorite color, animal, and fruit many times. It was fun though. I made some good contacts with two of the teachers there and we talked about holding more camps in the future. I suggested a Life Skills Camp for older students and even a camp about HIV/AIDs. They were both responsive. Also I made friends with a teacher who invited me to go with her to the big city to go shopping, dancing and to get drinks whenever she goes. I immediately said "Yes!, whenever you go please take me!" I do get a little stir crazy here in the village. 
Speaking of stir-crazy....Sunday was SLOOOOOOOW. Inevitably I became melancholy, then lonely and then homesick. I ended up watching two movies that I had rented from Itunes and reading for the day. It was not fun....even when I went out for a short bike ride I still felt lonely, because of course I was ALONE! This month has been hard. For the first two months we were extremely busy and surrounded by the other 49 American volunteers. This month I have been in my village, with no volunteers. This has been a hard transition. I am just thankful to have a good host family and fun co-workers, otherwise I am not sure how I could do this. 
Anyway, it's Monday morning and I am geared up for another week. Tuesday and Friday are holidays so hopefully I will find something to keep me occupied during those days. Of course I am super excited for my upcoming trip to Bangkok and can't wait. It may be a slow week. Long emails from all of you would be much appreciated!