Tuesday, March 12, 2013

fail blog

So, here's the deal. I have been a blogging failure. There is no way around it. I had lofty goals of documenting every step throughout this Peace Corps journey in Thailand but that has just not been happening. My personal journal isn't getting much more attention than this electronic version. This year has had it's highs and lows and been full of failure. As a volunteer in a new country and culture there is usually at least one thing you fail a day. Sometime they are epic lanugage failures which can lead to very funny stories (tonal languages are hard!) and sometimes its failing to teach a concept, activitiy or even a word. I have become best friends with failure. Its not a bad thing anymore. Its the new base point to build up from. Its a challenge to reassess how to address the issue. Its freedom to try again. And, that's what I'm going to go. I am going to try again with this blog. Keep your fingers crossed that it sticks.

In lieu of trudging through seven months of memories and activities with text only I'm just going to show you what I've been up to. A much nicer visual treat, anyway!
Let's start from the most recent and work backward. It'll be like time travel!

It's camp season! Last week I was able to travel to the province of Chumpon in sounther Thailand to help with an English camp for Kindergarteners. Needless to say it was adorable. After the camp we spent the weekend at Cabana Beach playing in the white sand and bath water waves! Sometimes I can't believe this is my life!
perfect beach day in Chumpon

 January was a pretty tough month for most of us over here. It was psychologically draining and few if any of us can put our fingers on the specific cause. Most days I questioned why I had even signed up for this adventure in the first place. Luckily I got over it. During training Peace Corps shows you a graph and tells you that this will highlight your emotional highs and lows in your service. It's spot on. Twelve months in? Hating your life? Stick it out. It gets better again. What is the treatment for bad moods and minor depression? Weekend trips with fellow PCVs. In February we went to the Erawan falls in Kanchanaburi province for a few days. There are seven levels to the falls and you can hike to the top and see the cascade which starts it all. The water looks like Kool-Aid and is full of little fish eager to suck your toes if you stay in one place too long.
Erawan Falls with fellow PCVs

Happy New Year! Letting off a good luck lantern over the Andaman Sea, Phanga Province
Reunited and it feels so good! Kait and Annie in Thailand at the same time!

4th Grade Christmas day Skype date with the rest of the family in the States.

Merry Christmas from Thailand! Mom even sent our stockings around the world so we could have a little taste of home.
Baby elephant Tara was so excited to play!

Pak Bung and Lucky, our chaperones for the day.

 December was great! My youngest sister stopped by Thailand on her way home from studying abroad in Hungary (not exactly on the way but totally worth it, right Kait?) and a week later my best friend joined in on the fun! We rode elephants, skyped with the family with the English classes, ate way too much food, explored Bangkok, visited another PCV's site, lounged on the beach and had a blast the whole time. It felt so great to have people, my people, back with me. I have made some amazing friends while being here but there is just something special about spending time with people you've known for more than 12 months.

November was equally enjoyable. The highlights:

Climbing a mountain in Sukhothai with a group of volunteers. It was quite the trek. The entire trail was only about 4k but it took us about 3 hours to get to the top. In this national park they didn't get the memo about switchbacks. It was a blast. We camped at the top and then ran down the next morning. A great community event that I can't wait for again next year!
The peak of Kho Luang, a mountain in Sukhothai province

 I went to my first monk ordination! one of my favorite community member's son became a monk and I was invited to participate. It was a beautiful event. They asked me to help cut his hair, bless him with water and participate in the family prayer and giving of good luck. Cultural activities like this are such an eye opening event. It was great to be a part of something so special for a family I love so much.
Community dance party on the way to the local temple for the monk ordination.
October was full of Nepal and that needs its own post. August and September were filled with adorable kids learning phonics and starting to read. Once I get a working computer again I'll be sure to load some videos I have from these events and more.

Timeline update: We're over 1/2 finished with our Peace Corps Service. It is crazy to think that I could be heading home at this time next year. The fact actually makes a little anxious. Who knows, maybe in a year I'll be ready to hop on the next plane bound for Washington but as for today, I'm very comfortable here... even if the 2nd graders just killed a 3 foot long snake outside of out classroom door. Life is good.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Good things come to those who wait - 50th Anniversay, Mexican food and friends

So much as happened in the last three weeks let alone the last two months that I really don't know where to start. Let's start with the here and now. As I sit here in my little pink Peace Corps house I am greeted by the melodies of a musical group drumming, strumming and chiming away at the neighborhood Wat a few hundred meters from my open window. The music paired with the gentle rain fall and dancing trees in the wind make the situation even more comfortable. The notes that are fluttering into my house are exactly what you would imagine if you were to think of a mediation retreat at a hilltop temple- encouraging, full of story and exotic. At this moment it is a very nice reminder that I am in fact on a grand adventure. After the last few weeks of living in hotels and eating farang (foreigner) food I feel that I need a reminder as to why I'm here and what my goals are. That is not to say that I didn't completely love the last two weeks full of new experiences and time with friends. Actually, I'd like to thank everyone for making the two weeks at Reconnect so amazing.

On July 13th we had the honor of attending the events for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand. To make the celebration even more prestigious a speech was made by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. She had wonderful things to say about the work done by Peace Corps Volunteers over the last 50 years. It was an unforgettable opportunity. Sixty volunteers had the chance to be in a photo with HRH. I was lucky enough to have my name drawn (literally from a hat) to be in Group 124's photo.

Peace Corps Thailand Group 124 with HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
Karissa, Emily and I at the event.
The 50th anniversary was held in Bangkok. It was my first time staying in the city long enough to get a feel for the vibe. I had spent one night previously and it was not the best first impression. My initial trip to Bangkok for a medical appointment went fine until I had to find my way to a hotel alone at night. I had gone to dinner and shopping with a PC staff member and then took a bus back towards the office. I had a make shift map of how to get to the hotel from the PC office. I was told it was an easy 10 minute walk. I've traveled a fair amount and was sure I could figure it out. Generally, Thais don't walk places. So, upon hearing '10 minutes' I assumed five minutes in American paced walking. So, I got off the bus, bought a giant bottle of water (they only come in small or 1.5 liters), whipped out my map and set off. Only after walking for 15 minutes at American speed did I realize that things were not quite as they seemed. Monuments were not in order on my map and small side streets were not marked at all except for the one I was supposed to find...which didn't have a name. So, I kept on. I marked off landmarks as I passes them. A hospital-check, the national library-check yet there as no guesthouse in sight. By this time it was about 11 o'clock at night and I had been walking and back-tracking and asking for directions from Thai shopkeepers for about and hour and a half. Finally, I bumped into a few drunk Americans who were on a post graduation vacation. They asked where I was going, I told them I couldn't find it. They asked why I didn't have any stuff with me. I told them I was in the Peace Corps and I was just in BKK for the day. They asked why Peace Corps didn't just drive me to the hotel. I told them that Peace Corps does not function that way. They give you the tools and the knowledge and let you figure the rest out. We shortly parted ways and I decided to give up on my quest. I found an open guesthouse and didn't look too freaky and got myself into a private room (closet). I brushed my teeth, hopped into the well worn sheets and dozed for a few hours. I was up at 6. I decided to retrace my steps to see how far I had actually wandered the night before. I was about four miles from the Peace Corps office. Lesson learned? Visit the place you will be staying during the day. Navigating BKK is tricky by day and by night its not very fun.

My second time around Valerie and I stayed at Lub.d hostel. Its a little pricier (for PCVs not people with real money) but well worth it. You pay for location but its totally worth it. Its steps away from the sky train and smack in the middle of Siam- a bustling neighborhood including a few malls, a gourmet food court and glorious night markets. We spent our free time shopping and eating as much ethnic food as possible (pizza, burgers, pasta, burritos, red wine and margaritas). We even found a pretty legit Irish pub that served Kilkenny Red Ale and was playing rugby on their T.V.s. It is hard to describe how all of this made me feel after being away from it for six months. I guess it felt normal to be in a city and to be able to eat/do anything you want at any time. That being said, I was tiring of how expensive everything was and I was craving some Som Tam. Its going to be very strange in 19 months when I go back to that for good. I have a feeling that the reverse culture shock is going to be intense. I already have adverse reactions to tourists. My view of what is appropriate is drastically different now. When I see people in short shorts or tube tops I literally stare. Not because I've never worn it but because I never see it anymore. So, if you plan on visiting, bring knee length shorts, dresses, skirts and shirts with sleeves (even if they are little). Also, please don't tie your shoes to your backpack. That my friends is a big cultural 'no no' that I see many a farang doing. The less offensive you are the better time you'll have. So smile and put on some clothes.

Chadchaya, Faith and I making Geng Kiao Wan
(Sweet Green Curry)
The next two weeks all 50 of us stayed at a hotel in Suphan Buri for an additional two weeks of training. Peace Corps training is twelve weeks long. PC Thailand Breaks it into two different sessions- which I love- ten weeks as soon as you arrive and then another two weeks after your first three months at site. This gives volunteers a chance to get in some self directed learning and bring up questions they are facing in their villages. Once again, shout out to group 124! I know almost all Peace Corps groups in every Peace Corps country thinks the same thing- that their group is awesome and ideal. I mean, I can't argue. I'm sure we're all awesome. I just happen to be very proud of how my group gets along. We would have sessions all day from 8-4:30 and then we would plan extra activities for ourselves. I think the extra planning comes from the fact that we haven't been able to plan anything social for the past 7 months. That is neither here nor there. Collectively we planned and successfully planned a poetry reading, two alternating workout classes/groups, massage sessions (done by our resident licensed masseuse), hair cuts, an Improv. night, two birthday parties, a cooking class and a fashion show. It was a ton of fun and I can't believe we have to wait until Mid-Service to see everyone again. Maybe we will plan a regional Thanksgiving.
Some of the girls celebrating Kyle's birthday!

Enjoying some ice cream and sorbet after a long day.
Now, I am home safe and sound for a few days. The return timing was a little strange. It is only a three day school week and then a four day weekend. I will be heading to Railay beach for the weekend. I can't wait to play in the sand and surf for a few days. Once again, I am often surprised at the life I am living.

Tomorrow is a very special day and I won't be able to participate. One of my closest friends is getting married. It is the small things like missing important days and events that bring on the homesickness. So, good luck and congratulations to Mr. Chris Sabo and Mrs. Lyndsey Anderson (soon to be Sabo)! I love you guys and know you'll be together forever...potentially the worlds most perfect pair.

Last but not least: All of the lucky soon to be Peace Corps Volunteers: If you open your little blue packet and see 'Country of Service: THAILAND' know that you're in good hands. We're all excited to meet group 125! We've made a Facebook group just for you. So, log on, search: Peace Corps Thailand 125 and you'll be on your way to making new life long friends! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

this bread is bananas. b-a-n-a-n-a-s!

The last week was full of fun and inspiring days along with a few cultural differences-slaps in the face...but hey, you can't win 'em all.
'When I grow up I want to be an artist!'
English Club- 90 kids drawing themselves as their grown ups in their dream professions. Adorable. Extra high-fives for those future artists and teachers!

2nd Graders- On Wednesday, at my smaller school a few second graders came to find me. They asked to 'shake hands' while miming the action (I don't know where they learned about this). So, indulging them, I shook their hands. Instead of letting go, they then bowed to me (still holding my hand) and then kissed my hand like I was a queen. The rest of the class got wind of what was going on, along with a few 3rd graders and soon enough there was a line of children to shake and then kiss my hand. Sometimes my life is so surreal.

Jaree's visit- Jaree is the Program Manager for the CBOD program here in Thailand. She was out and about in Kamphaeng Phet visit other volunteers and since she was in the neighborhood decided to come and say hello. Since I'm TCCO and she wasn't there to do an official evaluation we just got to have a very relaxed chat. It was so wonderful to talk to staff about trials, tribulations, worries and successes. She had positive feedback and was pleased to see how things were going and then helped to clear up some miscommunication about the goals of the Peace Corps program here. I wish she could visit weekly. 

Banana bread- So, I've been doing a little research on how to bake with limited resources (an oven) and came across a few recipes online involving a rice cooker. Considering I'm serving in South-East Asia a rice cooker is one thing I do have in my new rental house. Houses are probably considered bad luck unless they have one upon moving in. If you didn't know, rice is a big deal here.
That being said, today I tried it for the first time! It worked perfectly. It is essentially like cooking in a dutch oven for all of you outdoorsy people or pioneers out there. So, make it in the woods too.
Here's how it went:
What you need.

mix butter, egg, and bananas. next, add sugar. then, add dry ingredients.

grease and flour rice cooker pan

throw in the dough and you're ready to go

I thought my rice cooker knew it wasn't rice and turned off just to spite me. So, I held the button down with books. Don't do this. Your rice cooker knows whats up. Things started to smell burnt after about 2 minutes. I removed the books and everything was great after that.

finished when a toothpick or chopstick in my case comes out clean

flip on to some sort of clean surface. be careful, the pan is really hot. duh.

Enjoy the delicious dense banana bread! 

How much of what?
1 egg
5 small bananas (or equivalent)
5 tablespoons of butter
2/3 cup of sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
* this would be even more delicious with cinnamon and nutmeg and nuts...the sky's the limit. Create!

I am so happy and excited this worked. If banana bread works then peanut butter banana bread, pumpkin bread and carrot cake will all work too.

Lastly, some words of wisdom I found on a student's English notebook:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let's get back up to speed, shall we?

As usual, I've neglected to update my blog for an excusable amount of time. The fact of the matter is that things are starting to feel really normal here...even if crazy things happen everyday. I'm becoming much more comfortable with the continuous sweating, geckos and gecko poop all day everyday, strangers touching my skin, chickens in my yard that look like dinosaurs, lack of schedule (even though there is always a schedule), rice (I even miss it sometimes), intimate questions which I used to think were offensive, my hair falling out, my overwhelming hatred for ants, and my posse of elementary students who leave their classes to come find me and tell me every English word they know.

In the last month I've traveled to the south and north, started school at two schools, visited a national park, went to an Islamic wedding, slept and played on an island in the Andaman Sea, got to see new old friends (I already feel like I've know some of these people forever), missed home so much it hurt a little, moved into my own house, acted as translator for other 'farangs' who needed help and experienced far more than I can remember.

Here are a few examples to help you understand what I'm dealing with a on a daily basis:
- I am greeted by my co-workers as Ms. Universe or Ms. Thailand World more often than not.
- This year has been the hottest 'hot season' since 2002. Bring on the rain, please!
- An entire 5th grade class decided that since I don't already have a nickname, my nickname should be 'Barbie' because 'that's who you look like'. I would really like to see what their Barbies look like...if they are smelly, sweaty, and speak in broken Thai I might let them call me that.
- The cook at one of my schools was also my host 'mom' so she makes me delicious food everyday and I never have to deal with being offered pork or beef! Its awesome
-Students don't understand that people all over the world look differently from one another. I am still unsure how to answer questions like, 'why do you have blue eyes?' or 'why is your skin white!? its so beautiful!' Along with that, I think we're going to have some big talks about beauty and self esteem.
- Some days I wake up with geckos on me.
- I have no idea how I loved so long without eating tropical fruit everyday. It might be the hardest part of readjusting when I move home in 2 years.
- Learning how to cope when you're not prepared...almost everyday. When is the worst time to discover your head lamp is broken? When the power goes out and our in the middle of doing your laundry and you don't own any candles.
- Co-teaching is not as easy as it seems. We're all learning this day by day. I may in fact be the most patient person alive upon my return.

 I'll write in more detail about these events later but for now I'll give you some pictures to check out so it feels like you were there too!

Weea and I at the waterfall at the National Park close to my community.

In Khlong Lan National Park
Some of my favorite ladies at Rissa's co-teacher's wedding.
Thai princesses...I think we can all say, I've found my look!
Before Valerie's English camp they dressed us up in traditional Thai garb.

Arriving at Ko Phayam!

Sometimes Thailand looks like Washington.

Bungalow breakfast and the beach 50 yards away. Life is so good!

2nd grader posse

English Club! The first day we had 90 students attend. Its going to be intense!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dear caucasian men in SE Asia,

This is just a word to the wise. Just because a Caucasian woman speaks to you does not mean she would like to be a part of your future life. I am not interested in sleeping with you. I am merely being led by the hand (literally) to come speak to you because you are the only other 'farang' in sight and that means we must know each other. I am happy you are here to be with your wife's family (huge surprise) but could you please tell her that I am not trying to persuade you back to the light side. Also, her dagger eyes can't offend me. I'm used to people staring at me 24/7.   
Also, telling me you knew I was American by my accent is not a conversational topic. I can tell that you are German or British by your accent but don't mention it because it doesn't need to be said. So, please, smile, play along and in two minutes you can go back to your day. 
Over and out, big guys.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thank you!

I just want to take a second and say how thankful I am to have such wonderful people in my life. I have never felt more supported and loved than I do right now. I'm seriously blessed to have been given such great opportunities and to be connected to such inspirational people all over the world. So, here is a heartfelt 'thank you' to all of you. You really do help keep me sane.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Let the settling in begin!

I've officially been at site for two weeks. I'm learning daily that its all about the mini-milestones. My friend Valerie made a very accurate point yesterday. She said,' We only have one more of each day left'. What she means is that we will only have one more April 4th in Thailand. It seems like everything is so far away until you really break it down.

I know I've only been here a short time but I feel like I'm seeing so much more Thai culture than I ever did in Singburi during training. Granted, this is because I am with Thais all day doing Thai things instead of being in training and language class. That being said, I have so much to write about!

First, let's talk about the hardest part so far: learning to disregard everything you've ever been taught. OK, not everything but I do things here I would never do in America or Europe. Examples? You bet! Last week I was asked if I could help a student who is going to England for a month exchange program practice conversational English. Again, I said yes. So, we set a date- Friday I would speak in English with the student. Then I realized that Friday my co-teacher would be in Laos and I have never met this person or their family. So, Friday comes around and I am picked up by strangers, I get in their car and drive to their house (which is amazing). If you were to ask me if I'd ever get into a car with a stranger to go to their house I would quickly answer with a very firm 'no'. But, here it's almost expected. I just have to trust that things will work out. As far as I can tell the people here are looking out for my best interests so I am going to continue my blind trust until there is a reason for me to change my tactics.

The second hardest thing, believe it or not, is doing nothing. It should be easy to literally lay around all day. In fact, it is not. As Americans we are raised to be motivated go-getters. The Thai culture that I have experienced so far is much more relaxed. Don't get me wrong, Thais work very hard and do jobs that an average American would be reluctant to even try. There is a saying, 'Jai yen yen' which means something like cool your heart. It's meaning translates to 'relax' or 'slow down'. So, I've been trying to practice my 'jai yen yen' skills a lot lately. In America if you were to wake up, have tea and toast then lay down, then eat breakfast, then lay down and talk, then shower, then lay down and talk while having a snack, then go to lunch, then take a nap, then eat dinner and finally round the day off by watching TV and drinking more tea or coffee people would think you were crazy. This is normal here. It is taking some serious getting used to. Granted, it is summer break and teachers have earned it but I'm ready to go! I can't wait to start. I feel like I've been waiting for so long, now I'm here and I have to wait another month. I just tell myself, 'jai yen yen' about five times a day.

Speaking of getting started, we will have an English camp in the next month or so. The Thai Ministry of Education is sponsoring camps that must be accomplished by May 16th. So, my co-teacher is in BKK for meetings about said camps all week. She called today and said she is learning a lot and is excited. I can't wait. I'm not sure I get to officially participate in all three camps because they are not PC camps but I would love to help as much as possible.

I am realizing that this is turning into quite the hodgepodge of topics so I'll add a few stories about 'Thai Time' and you'll be out of here.

We refer to the way Thais deal with punctuality, and regard for time in general as 'Thai Time' is is much like 'Island Time' and very different from what we could call 'American Time'. The most frustrating part of 'Thai Time is the lack of details given along with an invitation.

This is the story of a very long visit to a backhoe. Last week my co-teacher said she had to run an errand to another province to get a part for her backhoe that is being used in yet another province to make a lake and asked if I'd like to go along for the ride. I obviously was doing nothing else so I said I'd go and we were off! We drove for about two hours to a neighboring province to the CAT urban retailer only to discover that the part we needed was not in stock and they'd have to order it from Bangkok. We had to pass through the Province my friend Erin and her husband Josh live in to come back to Kamphaeng Phet so my teacher asked me to text her and see if she was free. I was so excited to have coffee with Erin later that day! So, we went to eat goy-tee-aow (noodle soup) and then I was told were headed towards Sukhothai (Erin). This was true. I just was not aware there were a few more stops before we'd get there. We went to a few banks, and then went to the site where they are digging the lake...where we stayed for two and a half hours. I didn't bring a book because I innocently thought it'd be a quick trip. So, I just sat and tried to keep a passive positive expression on my face. Erin then called and said she had been invited to dinner with some teachers, ironically enough in Kamphaeng Phet. I wanted to cry I was so frustrated. The fact is, its not a big deal. I just was tired of having no control and being 'culturally sensitive'. So, we drove home shortly after that with a stop at the market in Kamphaeng Phet proper.

The second big 'Thai Time' incident happened today. My co-teacher is in BKK for meetings and she told me that Wednesday and Thursday there were meetings at the school I should attend. She tells me to go at 8am. Needless to say, I was very excited to be tasked with something as easy and minimal as going to a meeting in which I can't understand a thing being said. So, my host family drives me to the school and there is only one truck there. A few kids and adults are sweeping the grounds and that's about it. But, the office is open so I am told to wait there. Which I do. This time I brought a book (I'm learning). So, I just start reading, and reading and reading until about ten when teachers start showing up armed with brooms, dustpans, and vacuums. In fact today was not a meeting. It was cleaning day. I don't know why it is cleaning day considering school does not start for a month but it was. I asked if I could help and they told me, 'Mai, mai-bpen-rai. Ain noog-sue.' (No, don't worry about it. Read your book.). So, I did. Then at noon one of my favorite teachers took my to eat more goy-tee-aow and then brought me back to my host family's house. I'm learning to laugh at these situations because really, there is nothing else to do.

Finally, I'd like to leave you with this video I found on another PCV's blog. I can't wait to make one about Thailand.

I'm happy and healthy and I hope you all are too! If you'd like my permanent address let me know!