Monday, February 28, 2011

Photo Essay: 2 Years in the Peace Corps

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

January 2009:

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

February 2009:

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

March 2009:

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

April 2009:

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

May 2009:

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

June 2009:

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

July 2009:

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

August 2009:

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

September 2009:

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

October 2009:

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

November 2009:

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

December 2009:

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

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

January 2010:

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

February 2010:

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

March 2010:

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

April 2010:

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

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

May 2010:

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

June 2010:

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

July 2010:

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

August 2010:

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

September 2010:

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

October 2010:

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

November 2010:

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

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

December 2010:

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

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

January 2011:

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

February 2011:

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

March 2011:

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Notes on Completion

This morning I headed to the hospital for the PHA (Persons Having AIDS) meeting and would ceremoniously mark the completion of the project I had been working with the group.

After the normal tasks of chatting with everyone, sitting with nurse as she passed out medicine, condoms and face masks, I collected the final signatures and receipts needed for my project report. During this time, I couldn't help but notice an ornate bouquet of roses in the corner of the room. And of course as the meeting began to wind down, some the group members began to hang up a banner and set up chairs for picture taking.

Though the formality of this is directly related to Thai culture and hierarchy, I was touched by the actions. Not only did the ceremony represent the completion of our project, but also the completion of my time with the group. The roses were beautiful, as were the bushels of corn, three large watermelons and bag of crickets that I received.

After two years of attending meetings at the hospital, taking 2 group leaders to a Peace Corps Conference in Bangkok, undergoing countless brainstorming sessions, raising 1,555 dollars from friends and family in America, and making numerous house visits I helped 13 families affected by HIV/AIDS to start small businesses to be run out their homes. It was in this project that I truly learned why Peace Corps service needs to last for 2 years. I am immensely proud of this project and how it added to my service here in Thailand. And I am immensely thankful for the link it provided between my friends and family in America and my life here in Thailand. Thanks again for all your help. And finally I am immensely thankful to have worked with this group of people. Though they are affected by HIV/AIDS, and most do not have enough money for electricity and did not have a chance to complete even a middle school education, this group of people have become some of my best friends in Thailand and have taught me a lot about life. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Out on the Town

The past weekend gave PC Thailand volunteers 3 days since Friday was a big Buddhist holiday. This meant an opportunity to travel, hang out with some other Americans, and to eat a lot of "farang" or foreign food. All volunteers in proximity travelled to my favorite Thai town of Ubon Ratchathani. As I only have 3 weeks left as a Peace Corps Volunteer, this was the last chance for a weekend get-together.

I would say it was one of the best get-togethers we have ever had. We spent our time, eating, drinking, bowling, swimming, trading stories and sharing future plans. After returning to my village I feel refreshed for my last few weeks here. However I am feeling a range of other emotions as well.

I think it would be hard for anyone other than a Peace Corps Volunteer to understand what I am feeling, but I will try and explain. Though at times it felt like my two years here would never end, now that its almost over, I feel like its flown by. I can't help but feel like this whole experience was a dream and when I return to America, I will resume my life just as I had left it, no time having past at all. But of course when I think about resuming life in America I am met with some feelings of anxiety as well. I know there will be culture shock, I know that I am changed and grown into a new person, and I know I might have trouble fitting in. I am used to being alone, I am used to the slow pace of village life, and I am used to having 30-plus close friends that understand exactly what I am going through. I am used to picking up and taking off for the weekend to explore. I am used to taking public transportation and riding a bike everywhere. Will I remember how to drive? Will I still have time to read one or two books a week? Will my friends and family think I am weirder than I was before?

My mind is sort of a mess these days as I contemplate saying goodbye to Thailand and saying hello to America. Because of that I am completely thankful for this past weekend and all the good times we had. It reminded me that no matter what happened these two years were some of the best in my life and I am so lucky to have a group of Peace Corps friends that have become like family in my life and in my future life in America.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil...

My group, 121, scheming on how to beat group 122 in a game of chicken. 

Our whole group with the tuk-tuk driver after all fitting into the same tuk-tuk for the ride back to the hotel!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My People

In this post I want to share images of some the people that have been so important to me during the past two years:

Pi Aew, my community development counterpart from the Sub-District Administration Office of Non Kor

Noochand and Kusol Kongsri, my host parents (Kusol passed away November 24, 2010)

Pi Mod, my language tutor and amazing friend

More Thai family

 (l to r) Pi Mod, her daughter May Mod, me, May May, her mother Pi Jam who is my main counterpart and "sister"