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We’ve officially survived (and thrived in, for the most part) Thailand for three weeks! Zack and I are having a fantastic experience so far. It’s already hard to put into words some of the amazing experiences that we are having every day. Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like more specific information about where in Thailand we are! Peace Corps advises us against posting our actual location for security reasons.
The training that we are going through via Peace Corps is super intense, but REALLY good. I’ve been learning Thai for a little over two weeks now and can confidently say that I am approaching the point when I will know more Thai than Spanish (which I studied for four years in high school)! The pronunciation is really difficult, since Thai is a tonal language. Not only do we need to remember the vocabulary, but we also need to be able remember the tone of the word (neutral, rising, falling, high or low) and different sentence structures. It’s really challenging, but we are experiencing amazing growth and learning a ton in an extremely short amount of time. As it should be, since our host family only speaks to us in Thai (with the exception of one young family member who speaks a little bit of English) and we receive a grueling four hours of language training every day. We are slowly beginning to recognize a few basic words in normal conversation and have even started lessons for reading and writing Thai! We also have technical training every day and I am beginning my practicum hours collaborating with a Thai counterpart this week. Some of the other trainings Zack and I are receiving regularly include health and safety/security.
Our host family has been amazing. They are so nice and really want to make us as comfortable as possible. Our homestay consists of several houses (5 +) and is constantly swarming with workers who help make sweet potato kanomes (Thai snacks, usually really sweet). We have our own separate space that we think at other times functions as apartments for guests/workers. Even though we don’t cook here yet, we have our very own kitchen and even our own bathroom! We are learning how to do simple tasks such as washing all of our laundry by hand and using non-western toilets. We are actually pretty lucky in that department since our toilet is still considered “western.” It doesn’t flush mechanically (we have to manually pour water down it) but it isn’t a “squat” toilet like many other volunteers have. We also have an actual shower (cold water only, but we don’t mind since it’s so hot here)! We are still in the winter season here and the temperatures are reaching around 85 + degrees each day. At this time we are still trying to figure out what to do with our trash. It seems like our host family burns their trash, but I’m sure we’ll explore that more in the near future.
My typical day consists of waking up around 6:00, sweeping the dead bugs up that have littered the floor in our room, eating breakfast (Prepared by Baa, which translates as “aunt” or can be used to address a woman older than one’s mother) with Zack at the family table outside then biking (either to the hub about 10 kilometers away or to my practicum school, which is much closer). I then have about four hours of Thai language class and then a break for lunch, followed by four more hours of technical training or practicum. I then bike and arrive home around 5:30 or 6:00. Baa provides us with another delicious meal which consists of rice, fried vegetables, and egg (this is standard for every meal. In Thailand t’s not considered a meal without rice!). She has been super accommodating by trying to help us maintain our vegetarian diet. Loong (“uncle” or a term used to address a man older than your father) jokes about sneaking moo (pork) into our dishes, just to be sure that we really don’t like it. After dinner, it is usually already dark so we go to our room and study Thai. Sometimes we stay at the table with a few host family members for longer so that they can help us with our homework. They are really supportive when we don’t understand what they are saying. They just smile and keep speaking Thai J I can’t wait until I can communicate even more. So far, I can comment really well on food and drink (what kind, prepared what way, whether I like it, etc.), where I’m going, asking where something is (bathroom included!), what something is or what someone is doing, plus a few other basic phrases. We are usually in bed by around 9:30, then wake up again at around 6:00 the next day, sweep up the bugs and resume the process. I think that my excitement about what we are doing is keeping me from becoming exhausted, and I hope this continues to be the case!
We spent our third day in Thailand riding a truck-bed taxi (I can’t remember the actual name, but check out the pictures!) to the governor’s building and introducing ourselves to the vice governor in Thai. It was really nervewrecking to be trying out Thai language skills after only one mini lesson to native Thai speakers, but it worked out just fine. All fifty people in our group were able to do it really well! He told us all about the province we are training in and emphasized how happy he was that we are here. He then asked the chief of police to protect us. They have definitely been doing that! Many of the volunteers have had policemen checking in at their homestays to meet them and make sure they are doing alright. When my bike broke down last week, a couple of police officers stopped to help fix the bike. They also provided some mild crowd control since this incident seemed to be an evening entertainment highlight for many of the locals. That being said, in general, Thais seem to be extremely friendly. EVERYBODY wanted to help with my bike, even people who clearly had no experience repairing bikes. They did, however, manage to track down the local bike mechanic, who appeared shortly after word got around that it was a bike problem. When it looked like we might not be able to fix it right away one of the police officers “requested back-up” and within a few minutes, an officer with a truck appeared, ready to drive me (and my bike) home if need be. Luckily, Zack was able to fix the bike, and we headed home as quickly as possible so as to not worry our host family. During the first week at our homestay, someone in our Thai family would get on a motorcycle and come looking for us if we weren’t home by six. They haven’t been quite as protective not that we’re going on our third week staying with them.
Another really fun experience was visiting the Don Chedee festival on Wednesday. We watched a magnificent performance reenacting the whole story behind the festival. It was a crazy but fun experience full of new sights, sounds and smells. The festival reminded me a little bit of a state fair on steroids. There were hundreds of vendors selling all types of goods. The massive mounds of deep fried bugs at several stands definitely caught my attention, but my host sister planted a disgusted look on her face and told me “mai aroi (not delicious)!” Understandably, I’m really grateful that she did not seem enthusiastic about me ever trying this kind of “treat.”
This is a lot to try to keep track of in only one blog entry, so I will definitely try to update more often. We don’t have an internet connection at our homestay, but there is on near our “hub,” where I visit at least once a week. I am so grateful though that I will most likely be able to continue sharing my journey regularly. I did go ahead and update the side bar of my blog to include a list of items that would be useful to us and much appreciated if anyone ever feels a strong urge to send us a care package J I’ll include more in my next entry about my practicum experience and hopefully some adorable pictures of the kiddos!