Hello out there!
All right, it's finally time for a real post on here. Hard to believe it's been over two months since my last real one. Where has the time gone?
(Also, regarding the change in phone number. I may have spoken too soon. If I gave you my new number and it doesn't work after September 1st, go ahead and use the old one. One never knows how accurate this information is.)
Well, so, out here it's August. It's starting to rain everyday. And I now have less than eight months left of this gig. Pretty unbelievable. Eight months is still plenty of time to get some things done, but I also have to start considering the fact that the end is just around the corner. I'm also coming to terms with the idea that I may not accomplish all that I originally wanted (in fact, I know I won't). However, the accomplishments that I have made, and will make, have been, and will be, worthwhile.
So, what have I been doing with the past two months? Much of June was spent rice-planting. I actually got to get out there quite a bit, spending day after day helping out with the crop.
I've continued teaching lifeskills at the school on Fridays. The kids and I are growing more comfortable with each other and we're having fun with the lessons. The teachers trust me, which is good. One day the teachers had a meeting (to watch a video) and left me alone with all the kids! Remember this is all of junior high! I said, no problem. (The teachers don't help out much anyway). They assigned me five helpers--five of the best ninth grade girls--and the day was a success.
The 60th anniversary of the King's coronation came and went. I participated in a dance-aerobics competition to mark the occassion. There was a very nice celebration to honor His Majesty. Very calm by Thai standards. In fact, there was hardly anyone drinking at all (a rarity for Thailand!). The two guys I did see chugging some rice whiskey were receiving frowns from others. The King gets respect!
Strangely though, the country has been awash in yellow. The color of the King is yellow. I'm not sure why exactly. Yellow has never been my favorite color and certainly not one I've ever worn before. But, now, I have my yellow shirt, just like everyone else in Thailand. Everywhere you go you see nothing but yellow: yellow shirts, yellow flags, yellow, yellow, yellow. It's truly bizarre.
To mark the beginning of Buddhist Lent I participated in a parade around my village. I walked with the health center. Since everyone is encouraged to abstain from vices during Lent, I was dressed up as a giant whiskey bottle with a sign on front that said "Refrain From Whiskey!" I was awesome. Regardless, the beer started flowing at 10 am. Despite my calls to "Refrain!" everyone assured me that beer was not whiskey.
Goi moved at the beginning of July. She's working for the government in the province just north of mine. That has been hard and quite a change for the both of us. However, we're getting the opportunity to see each other on weekends as she's still finishing her accounting degree down here on weekends. Also, it's given me more time to spend with other people in my village.
My friend Ja, the health educator, is applying for the Master of Public Health degree at Khon Kaen University. To get into the program she needs to pass a TOEFL exam. So, she asked me to give her private English lessons. At first, I refused. If I had a baht for every person in Thailand that's asked me for private English lessons, I would be a rich man, indeed. But, finally, I relented. Ja is, of course, my friend, not just a person who stops me in the market. Also, she has a definite goal in mind (passing the test), which gives us something to work towards. So, I told her I would do it because she was my friend. But, I told her not to tell anyone because I didn't want anyone else to know that I'm now giving private English lessons. She understood and has been quiet about it.
So, now, I'm teaching Ja English three hours a week. We're going over basic vocabulary and grammar. She already has a good command of the language (except for speaking), so it's going pretty well. I actually find it enjoyable.
July found me busy again. On the Fourth I headed down to Josh's site to help him with his final American Holiday. (Remember, I had previously helped him with Halloween and Thanksgiving. I missed Valentine's Day.) It was a great Fourth. We taught fifth graders all about the American Revolution. We had them make "tri-cornered" hats. We taught them how to make hamburgers (picture eleven year-olds elbow-deep in raw meat). We sang songs: everything from "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America, the Beautiful," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," to "America" from West Side Story and "Comin' to America" by Neil Diamond. Finally, I managed to get my hands on a number of firecrackers! I hit the jackpot at my local market. Roman candles, black cats, bottle rockets, sparklers, twirlers, whizzers, fizzers, you name it! I went nuts lighting them all off. At one point, we lined a bunch of kids up, had them hold out roman candles, and then I ran down the line lighting them one by one. We were quite the hit!
I got an opportunity to be a Resource Volunteer at the second round of training for the new group of PCVs. (Remember last July I was sent to Peace Corps Training II) That was a fun experience. I got to meet a lot more of the new group and made some friends there. I led a session with my friend Kristina on "best practices," in which we talked about our different experiences at site. I also led a gender discussion and a Gender and Development session with my friend Tara. It was a strange experience for me because I realized that some of these Volunteers were looking up to me! To me? But, I'm just like them! It helped me realize how valuable my experience has been--both the successes and the failures.
After that, I had a pleasant weekend with my friend Brad! Brad was roommate in San Francisco for about a year. He currently has an internship at Infosys in Bangalore, India. Well, it turns out that India is only about a three-hour flight from Thailand, so he headed out for a long three-day weekend. It's always great to see some familiar faces out here and it was great for us to catch up on everything. We spent two nights on the island of Ko Samet, which is only about 4 hours from Bangkok. It's a nice little island with some quiet beaches and a fun nightlife. We had relaxing days that included hiking and teaching French people how to play American football! Then, we came back to Bangkok for a night. We went to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, where they have an excellent beer garden and a rather large market where Brad bought a number of souvenirs and I helped him bargain. On his final day, we visited the Royal Palace and the wats in that area. We had an interesting time comparing the art work of Thailand and India. Both are rather similar. It's not too surprising since Buddhism came to Thailand almost directly from India and brought a lot of culture with it. We finished off the day by wandering around Chinatown, which is now miles and miles of market and bazaar. A bit overwhelming but interesting to explore. For another perspective on the trip, check out Brad's blog: http://24thcentury.blogspot.com.
Since then I've been back at site. I currently have many things in the works! Projects are happening! Here's a brief list. Another HIV Camp. Another English Camp. Continued lifeskills teaching at the school. Continued English teaching. Teaching American football at the school. Possibly doing American Holidays at the school. A Gender and Development Conference which will hopefully turn into a Women's Health Fair at site. A Community Enterprise Conference which will hopefully turn into small business trainings at site. And... a possible opportunity to take 20 junior high students from my province down to the South to do tsunami-related volunteer work for a week (a project with the 3 other guys in my province). This last is a maybe, but it just may happen....
So, I'm determined that my last eight months out here will be busy, if nothing else.
That's all I have time for today. Feels like I had to cram a lot in here this time. I'll try to write in here on a more timely basis.
Peace and love,