Wednesday, January 29, 2014


As my second and final year in Thailand comes to an end I have been thinking a lot about how much has changed. I remember coming to Thailand eager and excited for the experience, but feeling entirely alone. I remember thinking that I would never be able to develop true friendships in a country and culture so vastly different from my own, especially considering the language barrier. Now, two years later, I am leaving Thailand as a sister, friend, and daughter.

One of the relationships that has changed the most, and that has had the biggest impact on me and my time here has been my relationship with Meh Lek. 

When I first arrived in my village I arranged to rent a house Meh Lek owned next to the house she lived in with her two daughters, Al and Ear. Our houses are located in a family compound, along with her older sister, her niece, and a few other extended family members.  Before I moved in Meh Lek fixed up the house by putting a new roof on, installing running water and a bathroom, and arranging for dishes, a hot plate, and a bed. I was incredibly grateful for everything she did, but I could tell I made her nervous and she didn't know what to think about me, while at the same time she felt responsible for me. The first night in my house she sent her oldest daughter over to cook dinner and eat with me. This dinner time arrangement continued for weeks, and made me uncomfortable because I knew Meh Lek and her younger daughter were eating right next door. Meh Lek was always very polite and friendly to me, but we were still strangers.

One year later I would often come home from work and find Meh Lek sleeping in my hammock or chatting on the phone on my porch. For dinner I would often make something at my house and bring it over to her house to eat with her and her daughters. Most of the time no one actually liked the food I brought, but they would pretend just to be polite. After dinner I would wash the dishes with my host sisters. When I broke a dish, which was a common occurrence (my excuse is that the soap is super slippery here), Meh Lek would wave her hand in the air and with a smile on her face say mai bpen rai. If Al and Eah weren't home I would usually eat alone at home and Meh Lek would do the same.  During cold season she would offer me her bathroom to take showers in since the water at my house is freezing, but I always declined, not wanting to impose and instead chose to boil water at my house and take a bucket bath. 

Two years later I am nearly always found at Meh Lek's house. Often I'm there before she or her daughters get home from work and am chopping up chilies in the kitchen and starting to cook dinner. We cook together nearly every night, whether or not her daughters are home. When I cook something that isn't exactly delicious, no one pretends to like it. Instead they laugh, making faces and telling me how terrible it is. Sometimes we argue about nothing. She gets annoyed when I forget to water the garden. She nearly always laughs at me when I do something stupid, but calls me daily when I am away from home. She has a running tally of how many dishes I have broken, and holds this over my head on a regular basis. I shower at her house after dinner, and have my own spot on the towel rack and an area to hang my clothes. Every evening we sit down together and she watches TV while I read. We have evenings of companionable, comfortable silence and evenings when we talk non-stop in a mix of Northern Thai, Central Thai, and hand gestures. Lately, when I go home at night she asks why I am leaving so early and invites me to sleep over. On a nearly daily basis she mentions how soon I am leaving and asks me if I will miss her. On weekends she forces me to pluck gray hairs from her head. She asks me what time I wake up and calls me lazy if it was past 7am, even though she already knows what time I woke up because she checks to see what time I turn the light off outside my house. After work I sometimes find her napping in my house on the cool tile floor with her phone charging next to her. We go for runs a few evenings a week and I drag her along when she gets tired, telling her to su su. I take her blood pressure once a week and get angry at her for the amount of salt and oil she eats. She has hosted my friends and family, comforted me when I'm sick, and made my favorite foods when I'm feeling down. When people ask her who I am, she calls me her daughter.

Her daughters are my sisters, and it definitely shows when we are alone together. We get into arguments about whose turn it is to do the dishes and who gets to shower first during cold season. I call them lazy for never helping Meh Lek cook. We joke with each other about boyfriends, and pick on Ear for her love of Korean popstars. They laugh at my clumsiness. Al stayed in the hospital with me for three days when I was sick. On March 16th, the day before I leave my village, Al is getting married and she has asked me to be her puan-jao-sao, or maid of honor. They moved the date of the wedding up just so I could be there.

Without this family my time here would have been an entirely different experience. We went from acquaintances, to good friends, to family. 

The only picture I have of all of us together. Meh Lek, Meh Oui-Lum, Ear, me, Al.

Meh Lek and I at the Chiang Rai Flower Festival in December, 2012.

Ear and Meh, December 2012.

Al and I on one of our many weekend trips.

Meh Lek tying string on my wrist during a blessing ceremony at my house, January, 2013.

Dinner time. Pretty sure she is yelling at me for taking this picture.

One of the many afternoons I came home and found her asleep in my hammock.

A typical evening.

Meh Lek making dinner and laughing at me.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I know that I owe updates and pictures from the last two months, but for this post I've decided to focus only on the last week since it was pretty fantastic and I actually have some pictures to post. The last two months will follow soon enough so just jai-yen-yen.

On Christmas day, rather than lounging around the house drinking coffee and eating apple turnovers, I woke up bright and early and biked to the school for scout day. I was told the day before that we would be leaving the school around 8:00 to bike 20 kilometers to a waterfall, play some games with the kids, and then bike back. You would think that after two years here I would realize that 8:00 really means 9:30 but for some reason I still showed up on time. After the morning assembly, opening speeches, bicycle repairs, and splitting up into teams we were finally on the road. Once we started biking I realized that I was the only adult biking, and the teachers were all driving motorcycles or trucks and cheering us on. It was a beautiful bike ride, through serene country roads with sweeping mountains in the background. At the waterfall the kids learned about the national park, cleaned up trash along the river, jumped of bridges, and climbed ropes while hanging upside down. I made Christmas cookies for all of the students and teachers that were devoured instantly. By the end of the day the kids were happy and exhausted as we started our bike ride home. When I got home two of my favorite kids were waiting on my porch to wish me a Merry Christmas and discuss the newest Korean popstar heartthrobs while opening presents.  As soon as they left another one of my neighborhood kids showed up asking me why my Christmas party hadn't started yet. Since I couldn't handle the look of disappointment on her face when I said there was no party this year I pulled out cookie dough I made the day before and let her decorate and bake some cookies. 

Two days after Christmas I worked with the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) to distribute blankets and sweaters to the elderly, children, and the disabled in my village. We were able to distribute over 200 blankets and 200 sweaters, helping more than 400 people stay warm during cold season on the mountain. All the supplies were donated by PDA using funds supplied by the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation in New York. I was able to contact PDA after hearing about them from Peace Corps and connected PDA with people in my village in need of the supplies.

 You might not think of Thailand as ever getting cold, but in my village in the far north it has been dropping down to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very uncomfortable when you live in a wooden house with a metal roof that doesn't attach all the way. The blankets and sweaters were definitely appreciated, and the villagers couldn't have been more grateful. Most of the people who received blankets and sweaters are from either Hmong or Mien Hill tribes. 

All pictures were taken by PDA.

That's all for now. Happy New Year!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The last few months have been a whirlwind. I had been planning on writing several blog posts along the way, but something more interesting always seemed to come up. A few of the events from the last two months really deserve individual posts, but I've come to accept that that's not going to happen. 

In August I held a sexual education week with my 7th and 8th grade students. We played games, pretended eggs were babies, learned about birth control, using condoms, being a parent, and had a mini concert on the last day. The kids loved the week and even asked me when they could learn about sex ed again. 

The next week I was off to Central Thailand with five of my 5th grade girls for the first annual Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Thailand. We brought 50 Thai youth together from all over Thailand for a week full of leadership, volunteerism, self-esteem, and goal-setting activities. For me, and the two other PCVs leading the camp, it was the long awaited outcome of over a year of planning. The girls had an amazing time and many were crying and clinging to us on the last day of camp. Some of them have been calling me regularly just to say hi and see if I can go visit them. The five girls that I brought are trying to start a GLOW Club at our school and we are in the process of making plans and working with a co-teacher so that the club can be sustainable when I go home. Before the camp my five girls were incredibly shy and self-conscious but they have since become much more outgoing and will even help me lead games and activities at school.

I took six pictures during the camp, so credit for most of these photos goes to Karissa Warner!

 Since Camp GLOW I've been back at site enjoying some time at home where things are never dull. Last week my village had a ceremony at the local temple where we blessed the dead and gave them offerings such as soap, pots and pans, clothing, money, and food. I chose to give offerings for my grandmother, who passed away during my service here. My whole village found out I was doing this and there was a big debate about whether or not she would be able to hear the monk call her name all the way from America, and the fact that she wouldn't understand a word the monk said. I told them "baw bpen yang" and did it anyways.

In other exciting news I was going to borrow a weed wacker from my neighbors the other day to cut the 'grass' around my house when I camp up with the brilliant idea to borrow his cows instead. This scary looking creature and I are now often seen eyeing each other warily across my threshold, enjoying our symbiotic relationship.

Other than all of that I've been working at the school doing life skills activities, teaching some English, entertaining the students on the weekends, and teaching everyone how to make cakes. I've also been spending more time than ever at my host families and neighbors houses as I start to think about how quickly my time here is winding down. Right now is school break for a few weeks, and to take advantage of that time I'll be spending some time exploring Laos and different areas of Thailand. I leave tomorrow for Laos, then heading to Nong Khai to see the Naga fireball festival, taking a ferry to an island to get scuba certified, than island hopping on the Andaman Sea for a few days before heading to Bangkok for Halloween.