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!)