Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time flies. (fly flew flown)

I have a feeling I'll be saying this more and more often as we creep further along in our service, but: I can't believe it's been almost two months since either Josh or I has found the time to write! And now, of course, when I am trying to take a few free moments in which I have both time and an internet connection, I find myself surrounded by my students, who are all commenting on how fast I type.

It seems this minor interruption (all of which has now gone off to class) is pretty much par for the course in Thailand. Just when I think that I will have time to relax, exercise, write, clean, call a friend, Skype, read, sit in a hammock, or otherwise chill out, something else comes up. 

Since December 3, when we last posted, a lot has happened. For the sake of updating everyone (and excusing myself for not writing), I'll just run you down a brief list of what's been going on:

First, sports days. For about 2.5 weeks in December, school was cancelled so that the students could play sports. There are no school sports in the same way they exist in the US, as far as I can tell. Students don't play a sport for a season, practicing only after school and playing games only on weekends or when school is not in session. Instead, students all practice all sports during PE times, and/or after school with a coach. Then, every December, practice ramps up. School is cancelled in the afternoon so students can increase their practice time. English teachers, Science teachers, Math teachers - everyone becomes a coach after 1:30 in the afternoon. (My co-teacher and I coached volleyball at one school.) Then, the games begin. The schools in our Amphur (district) met in a series of tournament-style days over a course of about 3 weeks. Students played volleyball, soccer, footsal (like soccer but on a concrete court, instead), petang (um... wikipedia?), and dta-graw (like volleyball and soccer combined. sort of. look that one up, too). There were also ping-pong tournaments, I think, but I didn't actually witness any of those. 

That takes us up through December 19, when my program director came for a site visit. That day was the "opening day" for the sports day in the Amphur, and so she and I sat through a parade and opening ceremonies, and then retreated to an open meeting room (within full hearing range of the incredibly loud commentary going on about boys' soccer) to discuss what's going on at my schools. Everything seems okay, so far. 

Then vacation. Thanks to Josh's incredible planning, we found ourselves on Goh Lipe, Goh Tarutao, and Goh Lanta, three islands in the south (Josh posted pictures, I believe). I felt at one time that I had so much to write about the experience, but as with all things, it seems to have been somewhat lost in the waves of other experiences washing over me. The islands were beautiful. For me, the guilt about being away from site was palpable, but so was the relief at finally being able to relax. On Christmas, we called our families, and then on New Year's, exchanged Secret Santa gifts with a few other friends. None of it quite felt like the holidays. 

We ended up staying an extra few days in Bangkok on the way back to meet Josh's aunt and uncle and their good friend, an experience that made me realize just how crazy this place is that we actually live - things I'm so used to already, I was able to see others experiencing for the first time. Fresh eyes really do see things differently. 

Finally, we got back home long enough to do laundry and get whisked into the ONET fever - the ONET is the national test that about 1/3 of my students (6th grade, 9th grade) will take on February 2nd, and everyone is crazy about it. Long enough to find ourselves at a New Year's party given by the public health staff in the Amphur, where Josh and I were presented with silk scarves as a thank you for the English class he taught to the hospital staff some months ago, and where in answer to the question "Josh, who do you love the most?" Josh answered, "I can't say." Long enough for Josh's program manager to come and visit our community, and both of my schools, hopefully clearing a way for Josh and I to begin working on life skills classes once a week. Long enough to create two lessons - Healthy Relationships and Contraceptives - to include in the sex education camp we'd been planning with our fellow married volunteers in Khon Kaen.

And then, away again, back to Bangkok to meet my cousin and his boyfriend (a couple whom my fellow volunteer friend described as "perfect for each other") and take them around Bangkok. Fortunately they were game for the snake museum (king cobra, anyone?) and for walking around a few corners of BKK that we hadn't seen before. Another weekend of surreal displacement from site, not only because it was Bangkok, but also because I was seeing my cousin Nick for the first time in 9 years! This fact alone was probably what made most of our community okay with us traveling again - "you have to go" they said in the week leading up to our departure to go meet them, when I would tell them how long it had been since I saw Nick!

Then back again to site. Long enough to do laundry, dip toes back in the ONET fever, and then out again to the sex education camp. One day of planning and rehashing our sessions, translating materials, creating name-tags, discussing group activities and games, and smacking our foreheads over the things we forgot. Then two days of small-group sessions with middle and high school girls, teaching about contraception, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, STDs, and healthy relationships. One hour of answering the girls' most intimate questions, submitted anonymously at a no-boys-allowed session. Ten minutes of watching one of the most graphic "cabaret" shows I can imagine as we all sat around a campfire in a circumference far wider than was appropriate to actually warming ourselves on the fire. About 48 straight hours of head scratching at just how many things Thais and Americans do differently. And finally, one compliment from the Thai teacher who had envisioned the camp in the first place: He was glad the volunteers had come and had planned the activities, because in our culture we  focus on discussion, and Thais are often uncomfortable with open discussion. However, he thought the students got more out of our sessions than they would have if they had been planned by our Thai counterparts -- even though in the end, it was the Thais running the sessions after all. (This is how we define success in the Peace Corps, by the way.)

After the camp, a night of serendipity and perfect Thai-ness, when the Nayoke (mayor) insists we all stay in the National Park another night, then makes the arrangements for another volunteer, traveling with two people - a Thai and an American, and both perfect strangers to all of us who had done the camp together - to stay with us in the National Park as well. Barbecued pork. Barbecued sticky rice dipped in egg. Brownies. Warm beds. Cool night. Hot shower in the am. And then....

Back home. Long enough to do laundry and break the washer. Attend an ONET English camp. Teach a few classes. Maybe plant vegetables before we....

go to Suphanburi to meet the new crop of volunteers, and tell them what it's like to be in Thailand. We leave on Sunday. Wish us luck.