Sunday, April 28, 2013

Songkran and Beginning Projects

(Click HERE for more photos)

                Time to update! I originally thought that I have going to have a lot more time to blog once we arrived to our permanent sight, but we have ended up being busy the majority of our time. Since my last post, we also celebrated the week-long-celebration of Songkran, which is the celebration of the Thai new year. Songkran pretty much consists of a week-long water fight. During this time, anybody can throw water on you (and vice-versa) without reservation. Suffice it to say, we were soaked a good portion of the time!

                The day before Songkran, we took part in an “elder’s day” at the local SAO (Sub-district Administrative Organization) building, where Zack spends the majority of his time. After several musical performances by the elders and after the community gave gifts of hygiene supplies to each elder, we took part in a blessing. All of the community members there who were not elders (including Zack and I) proceeded to bless the elders by sprinkling/pouring water on their hands and/or feet. After pouring water on some of the elder’s hands, they would bless me in turn by then touching my head. This was the first experience that allowed Zack and I to start to feel more connected with our community.

                Being a foreigner, or “farang” makes it hard to blend in during the festivities (or any time, for that matter), so Zack and I definitely drew some attention and ended up with a lot of baby powder and water on us. It was a ton of fun though! The largest water fight that we were a part of was in the Meuang, Chaiyaphum, the closest city to our village (about 25 minutes away). People basically fill the backs of their pickups up with huge tubs of water and slowly drive through the city streets, splashing each other while others walk along the sidewalks and wait outside of buildings doing the same thing. Zack and I were reassured by how kind and appropriate everyone was towards us. Even though most of the Thais rushed up to us (some crossing streets to do so) to smear our faces with powder or dump water on us, many would “wai” beforehand, afterwards, or both. There are not very many places in the world that I think I would be comfortable being approached by strangers and having them touch me, but the people of Thailand put me at ease.

                Another fun Songkran activity took place in our local village. Many of us met up at the wat (temple) next to our house for the last day of Songkran. We then proceeded to follow a cart with a Buddha image on it and dance in the street while people either threw water, money or candy on us from their homes, joined us in dancing in the street, or helped us refill our own water buckets to continue soaking each other. This was one of the most unifying events that we had yet to experience in our community. There were actually brief glimpses where I felt like I was starting to blend, at least a little bit! Many people still wanted to watch Zack and I though to see if we would actually dance. I got a couple of “thumbs-up” from several yai (grandmothers) (and maybe a couple of subtle dance-offs too?), so I assumed I was somewhat successful!

(Here's a video clip of the "Youth Handshake" the kids came up with.)
                With Songkran over, Zack and I have begun several projects. Right now we are collaborating with the Youth Council to put on an English program at the Informal Education Center (gawsawnaw) with the youth in our community during the school break. We thought that we would maybe have about 30 kids show up, but the first day there were 70! We ended up having to split into an early morning group and a late morning group (it’s much too hot to meet in the afternoons right now) for two hours each. We thought that it would be easier to manage 35 children at a time. The next day, we somehow ended up having about 45 children in each group. We must be popular ( ;) ), because by the third day there were about 50 children in each group, 100 total! We’ve had to adapt the program pretty quickly and regularly because of this. We were also only originally prepared to work with a 12-17 year old age group, but our demographic actually consists of children between the ages of 5 and 17. It’s interesting to manage, but we are having fun working together and continuing to form relationships with many individuals in our community. We’ll continue meeting with this group until school starts then reevaluate.

                Zack is also teaching English to the SAO staff for an hour every day. I’m working with one of my co-teachers every afternoon after the Youth English program, then all-day on Thursday and Friday when we do not meet for the English program. We’re working on developing materials and lesson plans, and will hopefully be prepared once school starts in a few weeks! We’re keeping busy, and even though we have our ups and downs, we are grateful to be here and so grateful to be surrounded by people who are so kind and loving towards us.

one of the first major downpours at our home-stay

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