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, January 12, 2006

We left our mark in California!

Leaving for the Peace Corps was quite an experience. Not only did we retire from our jobs with the school district, but we sold our primary residence, gave away most of our large furniture to the three people pictured, and held a giant garage sale. We stored the essential belongs in a storage unit and said good-bye to all of our friends. The most difficult task is saying goodbye to family. Rion, Matt, and Lindsay were very supportive of our decision. We didn't worry too much because we raised three very independent children -- but we will miss them!We are proud of our children ---Rion, Lindsay, and Matt.

We Arrived in Thailand

This has been a goal of ours ever since graduating from college. The process took two years to complete (applications, interviews, and health screenings). We were notified in November, 2005, of our acceptance and told that we would serve in the Southeast Asia area. Later, we found out that the country would be Thailand. Carol retired from her job as Career Development Coordinator with Moreno Valley Unified School District, Bob opted not to teach another semester of anatomy/physiology at Riverside Community College. We arrived in Bangkok on January 13, 2006, with 52 other volunteers in Thailand Group 118 after an 18-hour flight from San Francisco. Thirty Peace Corps Volunteers from Group 117 awaited our arrival and cheered and greeted us. Our heads were spinning from all that had happened in the last two months. Are we crazy or just living out our dream?

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It's a Small, Small World

The very first person we met in Thailand (at the Bangkok airport) when we first arrived was "O.P." He asked us where we were from and we told him we were from Moreno Valley, California. He started chanting "MoVal, MoVal" and asked us,"Is Joe Palomino still the principal of MVHS?" Wow, it's a small world!!! "O.P" is a native Thai who happened to attend high school at MVHS in 1984-86, at the time that we first arrived in Moreno Valley from Iowa. He later returned to Thailand and is serving as Security Officer for Peace Corps in Thailand.

Culture Shock!

The first week in Thailand, we stayed at a local hotel in Uthai Thani where we received our first Thai language lessons as well as lessons on Thai culture and customs. We also received instructions on how to bathe as well as how to improve our aim while using a squat toilet. This is one of the ajaans (teachers) demonstrating the proper way to use the toilet. The daily language courses were intense and, at times, very frustrating since our "senior citizen" minds had most of the windows shut (or at least the blinds closed) to the learning of a new language. The trainings in culture, customs, and language lasted all day and we were exhausted at the end of the day. In retrospect, "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times." We kept pinching ourselves and asking, "Is this a dream, or we really on the other side of the world living our dream?"

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We arrive at our homestay!

On January 19,2006, we arrived at our host family's residence. They run a small store and rent rooms to people in the village. The host father is in the middle and a neighbor is on the left. We stay in a room above a stall behind the store. We sleep on a thin mat and two hard pillows and although it is "winter" we run the overhead fan and try to kill the mosquitoes so we can manage to sleep. There is no furniture, but they did set up a TV with 3 Thai stations. They are the most generous people you could ever meet. They always have superb meals and the most exotic treats for us to try. Our Thai is limited to "khop khun" which means thank you and "aroy maak" which means delicious, although the curdled blood soup and "horse urine" eggs will take awhile to elicit that response.


Our Host Family

This is our host family. We will be staying with them for approximately 8 weeks. They speak no English but constantly go out of their way to accomodate our needs. The father's nickname is Uan, the mother is Luung, and their beautiful daughter is Faa (which means "sky").

Dining with the Host Family

Kitchens are simple in Thailand. This is our host mother cleaning utensils after a meal. Many Thai families will eat out or bring food home since prepared food is so cheap. Also, it's too darn hot and humid to make your own food. Sometimes, the local vendors come right to our door selling fishballs and other snacks. In the background are the small units they rent to the students who attend the local community college.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Well, it wasn't Sydney Poitier!!! While we were eating last night (barefoot), this centipede crawled next to Carol's feet. Needless to say, Carol was freaked out for an hour!!! Our host family killed it and then explained that this species of centipede is the largest in the world. They told us that the bite is deadly, which made the thought of going to bed more of an adventure than it has ever been (since we sleep on the floor). Luckily it wasn't offered as an after-dinner delicacy.

Studying Thai

Carol is studying her Thai with "Faa" in the dining room of our host family. It is a little frustrating since it seems Faa is learning more English than we are learning Thai. Part of the problem is that we are so tired after a full day of classes. When we return, we have the best of intentions to study, but the constant battle with the mosquitoes and the relentless heat and humidity quickly diminish the chances of quality study time. Sometimes at night, we sit in front of the store and visit with relatives and neighbors (usually in the form of charades). The host mother and her daughter are on the left. We practice our Thai, but end up laughing or doing charades.

Getting Away

We found that the frustration of living in a different culture and dealing with the language barrier is sometimes difficult. Sometimes a bike ride to a remote area to gave us the solitude we needed to regain the peace within us. Often, we would try to find "normalcy" in hanging out with other volunteers and walking around town after a long training session.
One night, while walking around our town, an elephant and its owner approached Carol and two other Peace Corps volunteers. The owner asked them to buy treats to feed the elephants (source of income for the owner). Thailand use to have a large elephant population, but with the increased deforestation to raise rice and other crops the elephants are limited to a few national parks and others are a source of income for some Thai people.


Everything is Working Out Alright!

The instruction on how to use a squat toilet is coming in "handy". Actually, we're getting use to it by now. Reminder, you don't sit on it, you squat on it! The hard part is the scarcity of toilet paper in Thai restrooms. Actually, toilet paper is found in many Thai homes, but it sits on the dining table and serves as napkins. To use the paper to wipe your rear would be considered wasteful when you have a large bucket of water and your left hand. It sort of cuts out the middle man.