Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Good Days

Isan Sunset

                In my previous post I explained all of the reasons that I have been away from site recently. Although it’s nice to get away sometimes, serving in Peace Corps Thailand can be jarring in that within a two hour bus ride I can be in a city (almost) just like one in America. The drastic difference between this environment and the environment of my tiny village in Isan is just that, jarring. It’s like moving between two distinctly different worlds. I know of some volunteers who make it a point to leave site as little as possible, their reasoning being that every time they leave site and return, it leads to dissatisfaction. I’ve been playing the “comparison game” ever since I arrived here, playing with the idea of what it would be like to be serving somewhere in Africa or Latin America. I’ve been following the blogs of volunteers in Thailand and around the world, making comparisons to my own experience. What I’ve discovered is that I need to stop doing this. Unlike most Peace Corps countries, Thailand provides pretty regular access to internet/WiFi, so it’s really easy to get lost in the Facebook pictures of all of the amazing things going on back home, or feel jealous when a fellow volunteer posts about all of the wonderful, meaningful work they are doing (while meanwhile, you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything…). Even though being connected is great, it comes at a price. It always makes the experience that you actually have seem “not good enough.”
                That being said, I think these last few days have been a turning point in my experience here. I don’t think that my circumstances have actually changed, but after a couple of weeks of feeling absolutely miserable (and entertaining the idea of how wonderful to would be to just go home) I think that my perspective has changed a little bit. I’ve made a few simple changes that cater to my own needs, have begun to connect more with my community and already feel a lot more content. To start with simple changes, I have begun implementing a REALLY fun English curriculum (Genki English) that I was introduced to last week at an English camp. Teaching has been a blast and my co-teachers absolutely love it! It also requires very little planning and allows me the freedom to go home after school rather than hanging around, hoping for the very slim chance of planning with my co-teachers. This has also given me more energy and motivation to spend time with kids in our community after school. My previous schedule was leaving me feeling absolutely drained by the time I got home. It made it feel like a burden when the neighborhood kids would show up two minutes after my arriving home, wanting “extra learning.” Having the energy to indulge them helps me be more open and ultimately is helping me feel like I am actually forming meaningful relationships outside of school.
                In addition to starting a new curriculum that my co-teachers are enthusiastic about, I have also started a new second and third goal project that I’m really excited about. Students in my community are helping me participate in the Coverdell World Wise Schools program. I set up a separate blog so that we can communicate with my mom’s kindergarten class in Anchorage, Alaska electronically. The kids here are really excited to answer questions and I’m really excited for the cultural exchange.

Making chocolate chip cookies for the
school staff definitely helps with integration!
 A run-down of some really good days:
                While I was in Chiang Rai at the English camp, Zack bought a convection oven! I've already been putting it to good use. On Thursday, I made chocolate chip cookies for the teachers at my school. They are still talking about how "aroy" (delicious) they were! I think next week I'll try brownies. On Friday, Zack and I had “date night,” the first in a REALLY long time. He was gone for a few days at the Project Development Management conference, an optional training offered by Peace Corps, so it was wonderful to be reunited. On Saturday, Nam Peung and Sa, a couple of the girls who live nearby came over to check things out. I asked them if they were interested in helping me answer a question about wats (Thai temples) that the Alaskan students had asked. The girls eagerly and enthusiastically offered their assistance. We planned to meet on Sunday morning to go over to the wat. The rest of the day, Zack worked hard on preparing a garden while I did laundry and worked on organizing the new English curriculum. Everyone who passed by our house wanted to know what Zack was doing. Once they learned he was making a garden, they almost all exlaimed “dee maak maak!” (Really good!) Our neighbor across the street spent a good twenty minutes telling us what each and every plant within our property was and all of the benefits associated with it. He was speaking Isan (the regional dialect) and was really difficult to understand, but we’re pretty sure we got the gist of it!

Nam Peung
Come Sunday morning (after the luxury of slowly drinking some real Laos coffee), Nam Peung and Sa were on my doorstep, ready to go! Even though the question about the wat was asked by students in Alaska, I got my fill of answers too. Such a good learning opportunity for all parties involved! Later that afternoon, they brought me some vegetables, some plants in some hand-crafted water bottle planters and little minnow-like fish to put in a big water basin outside our house. These fish help control mosquito populations by eating the eggs that are laid in the stagnant water. That evening, we cooked chocolate chip cookies together (more cultural exchange!) before going to the weekly dtalat nat (scheduled market). We bought our produce for the week (eggplant, carrots, onion, greens, tomato, cilantro, basil, lettuce, cucumber, mangosteen, peppers, etc.) for about 100 baht total, which is the equivalent of about three American dollars. The market also had our favorite kanom (snack), a sort of-tortilla made with rice flour. After the market, we biked to our host family’s house and gave them the remainder of the chocolate chip cookies. It was good to see them and spend some time just sitting and chatting with one another. They sent us on our way loaded down with dragon fruit, soymilk, more eggplant and a pumpkin! I went to bed that night completely content, and come Monday was excited to go to school and just have fun in the classroom.

                These past few days I have been feeling grateful to be in my community and to be serving in the Peace Corp, in Thailand, with my wonderful husband, surrounded by kind people. I’m embracing the fact that everyone’s Peace Corp experience is unique and am realizing (for real!) how big of an impact perspective has and will continue to have throughout this journey.

A typical weekday evening at the Jones residence...

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