Two in Thailand

After raising three children and watching them graduate from college, Bob and Carol decided to leave the educational field and pursue a dream that had been put on hold for 35 years (since graduationg from the University of Northern Iowa). "Two in Thailand" is the journal dedicated to that dream - to serve in the Peace Corps. This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Our Peace Corps Thailand Experience

Our experience as Peace Corps Volunteers from January, 2006, to April 1, 2008, was an incredible life journey. It was more than just a journey to a foreign land because it took us to places deep within ourselves. It altered our perceptions of relationships, customs (both foreign and domestic), religion, and the "American Way of Life". It taught us that a "simple" life is not necessarily a "poor" life and made us rearrange priorities in our lives. It taught us that poverty is not necessarily a lack of money, but a lack of happiness ... and in that respect, many countries that we perceive as being poor are, in fact, very rich.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer, however, is not easy! You have to give up so many of your "comforts", but you will return as a much stronger and complete person. We strongly urge Americans to either join or support the Peace Corps. What you give to others will be returned a hundred times over in ways that you cannot imagine.
Since this blog was first published, we have taken the liberty to occasionally add reflection at the end of some of the posts. When we first published the blog, we were still adjusting to "culture shock". We found that during our first year we kept questioning the customs and practices of this foreign land. By the time we entered the second year, we were finally assimilating into the culture and began questioning our own culture. We soon discovered that many cultures have much to offer to us and that "Americanizing" another country is not necessarily in their own best interest. Ultimately, we discovered that our mission in Peace Corps was not to change the people we served, but to enable them to lead a better life while at the same time showing them that Americans are kind and sharing people that respect cultural differences.

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In Memory of Our Thailand Supervisor

On Fridays, we would catch a bus to travel to the site of the Educational Service Area Office which was about a 50-minute ride. There we met with our supervisor, Khun Sura. He was so proud to have the very first Peace Corps Volunteers Volunteers to serve in his district in the 40+ years of Peace Corps in Thailand and went out of his way to always take us places and introduce us to many administrators and teachers in the very large district he served. He would constantly check on us and make sure that we were safe and had everything we needed. He was a natural comedian and always had people laughing. His last name was Yuen-yao, but he would always mispronounce it (not difficult to do since Thai is a tonal language) so it would mean "standing while peeing" to get a laugh among the Thai people at any meeting we attended. His nickname meant "whiskey" so that he would always joke that the alcohol made him want to pee.

After we returned to the United States, we received an e-mail from one of our co-teachers that he had been killed in an auto accident. We dedicate this blog to the memory of Khun Sura, who not only made our stay memorable and safe but also insured that we got the best possible Thai counterparts.
Note: This blog is currently under reconstruction. The post dates are being reorganized so that the blog reads in chronological order, rather than the most recent posts being at the beginning.
Currently, only January 2006 through June 2006 have been rearranged. When you are finished reading this post, go to the right hand side and click January 2006 under "Archives". Then proceed to February 2006 and onward to June 2006. We hope you enjoy the blog and plan to be finished restructuring it by mid-December of this year.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ceremony at Baan KhoKlaan

Carol and I were given a ceremony at Baan KhoKlaan School (the village where we lived for two years). Bob was presented with a Thai silk shirt that had the name of the school embroidered on the sleeve and Carol was presented a beautiful hand-made shawl. We were then blessed during a 30-minute Thai ceremony. At the conclusion, the parents got out of their seats and sat near us before individually blessing us.

Students Paying Respect

Each student presented a flower placed banana leaf in a small rolled banana leaf with candles or incense sticks. They knelt before us before presenting the flower and we wished them good luck. The last picture is the same ceremony at Bob's other school where he said good-bye to 150 students.

Gifts from the Students

We took home the ceremonial "tree" and Bob placed the gifts under the "tree". Many of the gifts were something that the students found in their house and some were just a 5-cent snack but each gift was "priceless" because of the effort came from the heart. Some of them had nothing, so they gave back pictures or items won at the auction. However, one of the gifts was exceptionally different. It came from Panyawadee (Goldilocks in the play "Goldilocks and the 3 Bears)) and was a 3-piece towel set -- each towel had a bear on it!

Saying Good-bye to the Parents

Parents came by bicycle, motorcycle, and on foot, but we were surprised to see a busload of parents arrive at the ceremony. They watched the play presented by Bob's students, listened to the speeches and took part in the ceremony by tying strings around our wrists. We only wished our Thai language was better to tell them that
their children are so special and deserve the best that life can offer, but we think we conveyed that in another manner during our two years in the village.

Saying Good-bye to the Students

It was a time to be happy and sad! Happy that we met so many wonderful students and sad to say good-bye. As the students were presenting gifts to Bob, one student broke down and started crying. Bob instinctively gave her a hug. A few minutes later, all the students lined up to say good-bye and Carol started hugging the first students and a nervous (and excited) expression filled the faces of the remaining students. They then started asking for a hug (a tradition that is not necessarily a part of Thai culture). We gladly responded and embraced them, passing along a symbol of American culture and a hope that we will meet them again.

Ceremony at Submuang Wittaya

Carol's school put on an elaborate two-hour ceremony for us. A play (in English), speeches, and a ceremony with a 12-page Thai chant that obviously had some teasing and jokes due to the laughter and cheering of the parents, students, and teachers.
We then had strings tied to our wrists and many a tearful good-bye was said. We had not expected the emotion from the Thai people as well as ourselves!! The and then came up in small groups to have their picture taken. The second picture is the ceremonial centerpiece that took the woman 12 hours to prepare. We placed it in our home for three days to help bring us good luck and a safe trip home.

Auction - 30 stars Going Once, Twice, ......Sold!!!!

We reward our students for their effort in speaking English with pep points or stars. Carol had held an auction and it was very successful, so Bob decided to have the students at both schools to use their stars to bid on items (watches, bookbags, UNO card games, stuffed animals, DVD's, billfolds, socks, frisbees, balls, and a variety of inexpensive trinkets). It was fun to watch the students bid against each other and the students cheered when the final bid was accepted. They had to bid in English and to our surprise they have become very fluent in English numbers!

Teaching Kickball

We conducted a 3-day "Make and Take" Workshop where we demonstrated an activity to teach English. to 90 teachers in our area. The first 30 minutes, the teachers did the activity and the next hour, they created the visuals (charts, posters, flash cards). Their recreations of our visuals were incredible -- they are very artistic, creative, and meticulous to detail. They had never attended a workshop where they could actually make and take. We got funding to supply all materials and they really appreciate it! What amazed us is that they wanted us to teach them kickball (a sport that Bob introduced two months ago) on the third day. We were surprised how popular it became and many students told Bob that it was now their favorite sport. We believe the reason for that is it combines baseball with a soccer approach. Bob had some students come to the workshop and demonstrate the sport along with two other Peace Corps Volunteers. Thirty students then went outside and played a game so that the teachers could get a better idea of the game. We then we had the teachers play the game for 90 minutes! The only problem is you can't get rubbery kickballs in Thailand!!!! We had a co-teacher order 8 kickballs to give away and they delivered water polo balls. We promised the teachers that we would send kickballs when we returned to America!!!


Thai Wedding

My co-teacher got married and we were invited to an intimate ceremony inside the living room of her house. Small wreaths of flowers were placed on the heads of the bride and groom and were connected by a string to represent a unity of their spirits. Guests tied string around their wrists as a symbol of good health, long life, happiness, and good luck. Afterwards, we were invited to take a picture with them. We wish Rewadee a long, happy marriage. She is a wonderful person who is beautiful in body and mind. We will miss her!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Open House - Part 1

Carol has the Community Learning Center (funded, in part, through the generosity of friends and family) dedicated during an open house. It was the culmination of a year's planning and implementation by Carol and her co-teachers. The idea of an open house was a new concept. The staff spent three days preparing for it (classes cancelled!!!) The local government official cut the ribbon and three Peace Corps Staff members drove 5 hours to attend the dedication! The rgistration table is shown in the last photo.

Open House - Part 2

The play. "Goldilocks and the Three Bears - the Musical!" was such a hit, that Bob's students were asked to perform it again at the Open House. Notice the expressions on the faces of some of the members of the audience (click picture to increase the size). Some of the Peace Corps staff posed with the drama club. (We are now negotiating a contract with a prominent Broadway theatre!!)

Open House - Part 3

Carol presented an award to the student who designed the mural painted in the Learning Center (which can be seen,in part, in the second picture). In addition, many door prizes were awarded!

Open House Part 4

Two long line of booths were set up to allow school organizations to display their projects. We even had the YouthPEP team (which we had helped form) set up a game booth to give information about the prevention of HIV/AIDS (see last two pictures).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thailand Youth Festival

Bob and his Thai counterpart took 15 students to the Thailand Youth Theatre Festival in Suphanburi. It was an exciting event for the students, most of whom had never been very far from their village. They attended workshops on make-up, stage fighting, voice projection, and acting. There were also a lot of games. Bob led an impromptu game. The 300 students sat in circles with their drama team and passed around an object. When the music stopped the 16 students had to come up and act out a situation. Bob had judges pick the winner of each round. The winner received a prizes for each member of the drama team.

Getting Ready for the Play

The students enjoyed using make-up.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears - the Musical

The students did an excellent job, especially when the three bears danced to "We are Family" and Goldilocks did her disco moves to "Born to Be Wild". The audience reacted with enthusiasm to her dancing and acting abilities.