Saturday, March 22, 2014

Festivals, Camps, Trips, Performances, Birthdays, Conferences, and Hot Weather...This is our Peace Corps life.

The past month has flown by yet again. It seems like the longer we are here, the more time seems to speed by. Once again, my lack of regular blog posts is a testament to how busy we’ve been here in Thailand.

Annual March Festival (in February)

view from our porch

From February 7th - 9th, the same festival that took place during our site visit last year (which typically takes place in March) was underway again. Our rental house is right across the street from the wat (temple) where it takes place, so our weekend was full of music and activity. The music blasted all weekend from around eight in the morning until five the following morning, then would start up again at eight. The conditions weren’t the best for quality sleep, but with earplugs we managed just fine.

Whereas last year we were taken to the festival by our then new counterparts, this year Zack and I just went by ourselves. We knew many of the people there and walked around, casually playing the carnival-like games and chatting with students. I won an umbrella, just like last year! We bought a round of “ammunition” for a cap gun shooting game and had a pretty epic shoot-off with our students.

Zack and I also made merit at the wat. It felt good to do it independently rather than being guided through the steps by someone else. It seemed like doing it ourselves also allowed us more opportunity to make it meaningful. We definitely blended a lot more than we were able to last year. We didn’t have to get up on the stage to introduce ourselves, and there were more people who greeted us than there were people who stared at us. We’re making progress!

Sex Education Camp

For the week leading up to Valentine ’s Day, Zack worked with our local health clinic to organize a camp about reproductive health for the youth in our community. Each day, they did the same camp with a different group of students. All of the 7th and 8th grade students from the two largest schools in our tambon (village) participated. Zack’s main role was to work with the public health officer to make sure the event flowed smoothly. Now that they have facilitated this camp, the health officer seems much more confident and is likely to continue facilitating the same camp with middle school students every year. Zack is doing so much wonderful work here and is so dedicated to working with the youth and local leaders.

Valentine’s Day Weekend

It's not Valentine's Day without Valentine cookies!
I made these for the staff at my school.

Valentine’s Day happened to fall on the same day as Makha Bucha Day, which is a national holiday in Thailand. Since it was a long weekend, Zack and I traveled to Nong Khai, where we met up with some other volunteers and spent a relaxing weekend by the Mekong River. At some point we hope to travel to Laos, but for now we just wave at it from the other side of the river J

There's the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge in the distance!

Trip to the Zoo

It's not a real trip without karaoke!

After our long weekend, Zack headed to the Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) Zoo with with a group of students from our community. The SAO (Sub-district Administration Office) where Zack works funds the program with the intention of providing additional opportunities for disadvantaged youth in our community. Most of the students in the group do not live with their parents and come from homes that are financially unstable.

watching the show (seals, snakes, parrots and more!) 

Somehow this family of gibbons got a hold of some chips.

Thai Youth Theatre Project

practicing the week before the festival

From February 21st through 23rd Zack and I were in Lopburi province at the Thai Youth Theatre Festival. The festival is an opportunity for students from all over Thailand to come together and perform plays for one another in English and participate in English-based theatre activities. My students had been preparing their play, “Snow White” for several months leading up to the event. I wasn’t really sure how we were going to get to Lopburi or how a lot of things were going to work out, but true to Thai form, everything seemed to come together and work out just fine. It’s just further confirmation that I don’t have to always take control and do things “my way” in order for everything to work out.

cheering on a teammate

My students had performed a couple of times at the school for various events, but were still so nervous! They got through their dress rehearsal just fine, and even though a couple of students were really homesick and nervous the first night (it was the first time away from home for some of them), they seemed to be really excited about their performance.

The next day, Kru Charoensri (my middle school co-teacher) and I taught lessons on singing along with another volunteer/co-teacher pair. Zack taught the same lesson in another classroom with another volunteer/co-teacher pair. There were also lessons in dancing and mask-making. By the end of the last lesson I was a little worried that my voice might not make it to the end of the day! We spent the afternoon watching other schools perform, which really seemed to get our students excited for their performance the following day. It was great to see them so engaged and committed to something that they had worked so hard on. Up until that point I’m not really sure that they understood why we had been working so hard. That evening, we played games and had an epic dance party.

The following day, we taught sword fighting and shadow puppetry in the morning. My students performed their play in the afternoon. It was wonderful! There were a couple of little mishaps, but they were all great learning opportunities. Everyone is already talking about what play they should do next year. All-in-all, the Thai Youth Theatre project was a huge success and a really great opportunity for our students and our school!

Check out the entire performance!

Genki English Camp

The next big event we had was a Genki English Camp in Chaing Rai province hosted by another volunteer. This is the same camp that I attended last August that completely changed how my co-teachers and I were approaching teaching English. Once again, it was very well organized and super fun. Now Zack and I are in the process of organizing our own Genki English Camp in our community.

We also got to spend one night in the city of Chaing Rai, thanks to our gracious host. We went to the night market and found…a French press! Every day here just gets better and better. It was also really great to spend the time with our PCV friends, sharing stories and playing games. I think we value time with friends more than we ever have before.

Zack’s Birthday

Then along came Zack’s birthday on the tenth! Hard to believe it’s the second one he’s celebrated here in Thailand. The staff at the SAO made it super special for him by bringing over blaa pow (grilled fish) and kanom jeen (a type of Chinese noodle dish), a favorite at most Thai events. They also had a special cake made for him. It was nice to have people at the house celebrating with us, and their thoughtfulness made the day a really special one.

Counterpart Conference

Kru Joy (my elementary co-teacher) and I worked really hard to prepare two sessions for group 126’s counterpart conference in Suphanburi province. This is the conference that is held for new volunteers and new counterparts to introduce them to working together before volunteers leave for their permanent sites. Our session was on March 18th, but we arrived the evening before.

It was really fun to take a little road trip, just Joy and me. On our way there, I joked that she might want to trade me in for a new volunteer, but she quickly assured me that she wouldn’t do that, thankfully.

We led a session on "co-teaching" and a session on "lesson planning." Preparing for the sessions really provided us with a great opportunity to reflect on our past year together and create goals for next year. I was so proud of Joy for having the confidence to do this with me. I was also so grateful to be able to share our experiences with the new group. I wanted everyone to see how it is still possible to have a great relationship and teaching experience with your co-teachers, even if communication is difficult. It’s a process that everyone has to go through in their own way, but I was glad that we could at least be encouraging and positive.

On the way home, Joy and I stopped
in Lopburi to see the monkeys.

Open House at Chimplee Wittaya School

Joy and I rushed back to site the morning of the 19th so that we could prepare for our school’s open house which took place on the 20th. What a whirlwind! Even while we were in Suphanburi, I was working on and emailing files to a print shop so that we could have a big vinyl banner for our booth in time for the exhibition.

The opening ceremony was elaborate. Each school that attended had multiple performances, mostly involving singing and dancing. The school band that Zack helps with performed as well. They’ve improved a lot since the Christmas Day performance and the Children’s Day performance. All of the schools set up booths displaying their biggest accomplishments. After the several-hour-long opening ceremony performances, the VIPs walked through the booths asking questions and sampling products while the MCs broadcast all of it across the school grounds. At our English booth we displayed our TYT trophy and showed a video of the performance. We also displayed some of our classroom materials and played a game that involved popping balloons and answering questions in English. This segment lasted for about half an hour. The booths were then quickly torn down and packed up.

Kru Charoensri introduces some of
our methods of teaching English

The open house itself went really well. My only complaint was the heat and the fact that our school director had required that all of us (staff) wear our school suits, which I’m pretty sure are made of wool. Wool and nearly one hundred degree weather do not mix well at all. As soon as I could, I went home and promptly showered (It’s a mid-day requirement during the hot season) and doused myself with prickly heat, a cooling powder. Then I found a fan and didn’t move for quite a while…

mingling with the VIPs

And with that I am now caught up on our latest activities.

Next week Zack and I are off to our Peace Corps Mid-service Conference in Bangkok, and then we are hoping to take a little bit of vacation time before getting back to work on some summer camps. I’ll keep you posted!

Click HERE to view the entire photo album.

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