Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to stretch out those blogging fingers (but eyes for you I guess?), it’s been quite awhile. Instead of going through the blah blah blahs of the ins and outs training (yes, it was quite blah-rific, but necessary), I’ll try to give some worthy highlights.
End of Training:
In reality, training really wasn’t that bad. As my friend Tammy explains it though, PST was like breaking up with a boyfriend that when you look back, you forget about all the stupid nuances and ticks they had when you were together and gloss it over. I prepared myself for the absolute worst and it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging, but I think being a freshman on a college level basketball team was worse than PST. I’m glad that I passed the Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) with flying colors. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to study any more Thai unless I want to (and I do, a lot). Both my tester and adjaan gave me the compliment that they think if I continue to work hard, they have every confidence that my progress with the language will be rapid. Now that I’m at site, I can see what they mean. I already feel like I’m bombarded with new vocabulary words. But we’re talking about training now, so back on track.
We hosted a little farewell party for our village and I totally embarrassed myself by crying like a dek-dek (baby) during my speech. I held it together until I got to the part about my Meh, who is still obviously my Thai BFF. The hosts later tried to hand me a baby bottle full of milk, ha ha let’s give the 6’2 girl a bottle. Thai people, you are so hilarious. We did a mixtapesque combo of songs that cut from traditional Thai dance, to one of the most popular songs in the country right now, ‘loving you too much, so much, very much right now,’ (yes those happen to be the only words of the song in English and therefore the only part that I understand/know), and then we faded out into the best representative of American music that Thais know. What could that possibly be, you might be asking yourself. When it comes to Thailand, the only real music is that of loud, synthetic pop beats that, of course, allow you to dance awkwardly in front of a stage as a Thai karaoke machine/singer butchers the lyrics. If you guess the one and only Michael Jackson, give yourself a pat on the back. We did an obvious dance to Billie Jean and the families loved it. Although it might have been because we were making total fools of ourselves without them physically dragging us to the dancing area, yes that’s happened to me already. We got a good taste of listening to a bunch of important people speak in Thai and we had to stand on stage and smile as we had no idea what they were saying most of the time. It was at this point that I was asked to kiss my Meh on stage in front of the village, the leader of Sam Bundit, and a random Parliament member for my province of Ayutthaya. Luckily the ‘I’m-still-a-farang-and-going-to-pretend-like-I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-even-when-I-actually-do’ card is definitely still valid and I’ll be abusing it for the next two years.
It was nice that they gave us some free time at the end of PST too. It hasn’t sunk in until now, that I’ve left everyone, how valuable that time was to have. We got to be goofy and let off some steam with each other before being back on the clock 24/7 and be the good, moral, upstanding Volunteers that we are now.
Which brings to the next highlight of……..
They definitely softened us up first by showing us a Peace Corps 50th anniversary video that showed JFK making his original pitch to the American public and had clips of RPCV (returned Peace Corps Volunteers) talking about their service. I read what another one of the volunteers wrote about swearing in and it’s really stuck with me since then. In America, the people you work with are usually just that, people you work with. Yeah, you tell them about your kids, hobbies, you might go to drinks with them after work, but it’s a separate world from your home-life. Then, you go home and tell your family about what happened at work that day. For us, there is no difference. Sometimes I feel like we speak another language besides Thai and English, a Volunteer language that no one else truly understands unless they’re in it too. Not that we’ve been Volunteers for very long, but it’s a kinship that I don’t know how else to compare to, but family. It’s like we’re one, big, extended family. You’re closer on a personal level to some of the people, but you know that if you have a major problem, everyone would have your back. And not in a fake, ‘luv ya’ kind of way, but really, group 123 is truly phenomenal to me. I’m starting to learn that the other groups (but it’ll mostly be 122) are just as great a source of feedback, advice, and are wizened with experience in this country that I’ve fallen head over heels for. We had a 121er come to be a Resource Volunteer a few weeks back and told us that we’ve been dubbed ‘the nice group.’ I didn’t quite understand at first, did that mean that not every group got along like we did? Being where/when I am now, I can’t really speak from experience about them, but I think the sense of family will continue throughout our service together. I hope we can make the next group feel as welcomed and embraced as the other groups have made me and I hope the rest of the 123ers feel.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that we said almost the exact same oath as each President says before taking office or the fact that I’m a totally History/PoliSci nerd, but there’s something special about promising to uphold the Constitution of the United States and defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I’m willingly doing so. It was really emotional actually standing together and saying the words with this group that’s become my family.
After what felt like graduation, pictures (and yes, random Thai people wanted to take a picture with me, no I don’t know whose counterparts they were, I wish that I did) and everything, we were straight to business at the counterpart conference. It was really important that we had the conference so that they learn all of the things we’ve spent some of the past ten weeks learning how to do (like coteaching, lesson planning together, and all that jazz). It got a little tiring though with the constant translation back in forth from Thai to English and back again of things we’ve been told since we got here in January. I was both saddened and happy when the conference ended. With some quick goodbye hugs and well wishes, my paw-aw (principal) and coteacher, scurried me off to Uthai Thani.
I’m lucky to be in central Thailand in Uthai Thani province. There are a ton of sugar cane farms (if that’s the right word) that surround us. The unfortunate thing about that is there are always huge lines of trucks that are carrying large amounts of sugar to the factory where something is burned. I’m not really sure what, but with a strong breeze (especially in the morning) we have he-ma dum or black snow aka ash and the smoke creates a haze in the valley sometimes. I don’t know what my province is really known for or anything like that (I should get on that), but it’s supposed to be fairly similar to Ayutthaya (especially food wise, phew, although no one can replace my Meh’s awesome cooking). I’ve got three other 123ers fairly close to me, so I won’t be too isolated unless I want to be.
My amphur (town-ish) is about 70kms from the ‘big city,’ but it has more than enough for me to live as a happy farang in Thailand (example a small 7/11 where I can buy chocolate, even if it does taste mildly like chalk). I think I’ve found my favorite chaa yen spot (iced tea for the non-Thailanders out there, my worldview changed after I had it here) and my coteachers have taken me to a few really awesome restaurants. I’ve frequented the stationery store already, every organizational freak’s dream world. I never thought that I would get so excited about kindergarten level books, but then again I’ve never tried to decipher beautiful squiggles before and make sense of them. Needless to say, reading is coming slowly.
I’m surrounded 360 degrees by mountains which I love. It reminds me of Pennsylvania from time to time and then something so ridiculously Thai happens and I’m snapped back to reality (example: a Monk riding on the back of a motorcycle, like a G6). I’ve moved into my required month long ‘homestay,’ but it’s really more similar to having a studio apartment that is about ten steps away from my family. I hang out with my new family a lot of time because they amazingly already have a DSL line installed. I’ve been trying to catch up on the world since bursting out of the PST bubble. I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay here the whole two years because I like the area the house is in and it kind of reminds me of neighborhoods in America for some reason. I’m really hoping to meander around there a lot and talk to people when they sit outside. Although I haven’t felt very comfortable with my Thai lately for some reason, I’m glad that I don’t have to learn another dialect on top of Central Thai. It’s going to take some settling in now that I’m back into Thai world.
One of my counterparts is off working on her master’s degree now that school is closed (until May 18thish) and the other isn’t here on weekends. Talk about a change from having the other 64 volunteers a short bike ride away to only being able to understand my 10 year old sister (and even then it’s pretty difficult). Getting used to another set of Thai voices is proving to be a challenge, but it seems to be getting better by the day. One thing that’s nice is that both of my new host parents are teachers at one of my schools, so I’m getting to know the other teachers on a personal level faster than if I were just on my own. I think it’s funny that they’ll speak nice and slowly for a really easy word like banana (gluai), which is, a really obvious and easy word and they’re so happy that I know it. But then when they’re trying to tell me what’s going on and when I need to show up somewhere, they speak ridiculously fast and use words that I don’t know. Awesome, I know.
Peace Corps requires us to stay at site until May 1st to get oriented and acquainted with our neighbors and community. We’re not allowed to take any of our vacation days until we go back for our ‘reconnect’ conference at the end of June/early July. I am looking forward to seeing more of Thailand, but it’s going to definitely take some time and effort into integrating into my community. I have become buddies with one of my villages leaders (poo-yah-ban) and he told me that he’ll act as my security if someone bothers me, which made me giggle. Without having a coteacher take me around to introduce me to people, I’m going to have to rely on my 10-year-old sister to make introductions. Yeah, I know, I’m going to meet all the cool people in the village. This is all part of the adventure though and I can’t explain how much I’m looking forward to living and working with the Thai people here in my amphur, schools, village, community. I think it’s going to be a hell of a ride.