January was here and gone before I could catch my breath. I spent the first week of January in the northern part of Thailand with my host family. Then back at site for a week followed by a Tessaban trip and finishing January in Singburi Province where I was a resource volunteer at Pre-Service Training for the group 127 volunteers.
Here are some highlights from January
Camped in Nan with my Suphan host family
Learned/ helped prepare meals. This is one of the most delicious “dips” I’ve had here and I made it myself. Nam Prik Jeen. Peppers, garlic, pork, lime, salt, onion. YUM.
Meet with community leaders and police officers to discuss our drug prevention camp
Highlights from the Tessaban trip
Being able to wear a scarf and act silly with friends!
Witness my counterparts see and eat macadamia nuts for the first time!
Hear P’Ding sing karaoke, it was like a rockstar had come on stage and everyone was up dancing and singing.
Had a good conversation with my Nayoke
Mountains, Temples, Monks.
Pre-Service training for group 127 highlights
Facilitated a presentation on community integration tools
Realized that I really enjoy training/facilitating and logistics of it all
Met the new volunteers and saw them shine in the classrooms as well as their first real interactions with the organizations they’ll be working with throughout their training.
Witnessed, participated and have a better understanding of all the hard work that the staff, teachers and resource volunteers put into PST, Thank you!
All that aside, it’s now February. I’m sitting here reflecting on my presentation at PST, about community integration. I remember when I was in training we talked about Intentional Relationship Building (IRBing) and community entry, we practiced going out to different locations and interviewing key players and community members and gathering data. Back then it was hard to imagine what this might actually look like at site, in real life in our new homes. I moved to site and met a ton of new people, was introduced at every meeting, walked around my community. I was introduced to so many people. For about ¾ of them I forgot their names or couldn’t understand what they did (things that would be very helpful in this community integration process). Some of those people I met upon first arriving I don’t see anymore, others I see frequently and now work with. Thankfully my community is very kind and would only call me out on not knowing someone’s name for the first 5 months of my living here, they’d say “Hey Kaimook, what’s his name” and I’d just look at the person with a blank stare, I knew his face but couldn’t remember if his nickname was P’A or P’Guy or what…
I’m also grateful that they understand I’m one person in a community of 5000+ new people with what I used to think were silly and foreign nicknames.
Anyway, it was hard to see in training how all of this might fit together. I now have a better understanding of it all, how the tools help and how I am a part of the Khaojeak community.
One day early in my first few weeks at site, a coworker stopped by with a car full of kids and invited me to Lotus (the supermarket) for some shopping and KFC. Little did I know at that time that that co-worker and children in the car would soon become my neighbors and friends. Nong Mook—one of the children in the car—just stared at me as we ate KFC, she didn’t know what to think and well, neither did I. We had some basic conversation about her family and mine and whether we liked French fries with ketchup or chili sauce. I didn’t know where she lived, who her parents were. I knew she was at 6th grade at the school I would be teaching at, but it was vacation when I arrived and school wouldn’t start for another month or so. I didn’t see her again for a few weeks. She then showed up at my attempt at Sunday afternoon English lessons. I remember she cried one Sunday because she was feeling overwhelmed, I thought for sure I’d never see her again…That’s not the case. I see her now more than I did before! She has connected me with so many children in the community. She bikes with me to go swimming, shopping and just for fun. She has sleepovers at my house, confides in me, invites me to do things with her, pulls me by the arm to show me things and runs up to me after I’ve been gone for a week, she’s my little sister and friend.
Baa Meek the leader of the elders group in my community, one of the greatest women in my community. She can’t speak central Thai, so she just talks at me in the southern dialect. Six months ago I definitely couldn’t understand her nowadays I can understand about 60% of what she says. While passing her house I always say hello! When she came to my first meeting at the Tessaban when Peace Corps visited she said how much she liked my big smile and saying hello because I had no idea how happy it made her feel, regardless of the language barrier! Upon moving into my apartment I learned that Baa Meek and my landlady were sisters! We are all family now. She calls me her niece and takes very good care of me.
Another example would be P’J. I met her during my first days at the Tessaban, she spoke some English because she worked in many hotels in touristy areas. She dressed well and always said hello when she saw me. Just back in November did I finally learn what her role actually was at the Tessaban, accounting outputs. November was when we really seemed to click, she went to Camp GLOW with me, I went with her to turn in her masters thesis, I helped her edit her abstract in English, we talked about our passion for development work and our concerns with the way development work in our Tambon had been handled in the past. In January she moved up to being the Community Development officer therefore we work together a lot more now. We understand each other in terms of goals for development of our community. I’m pleased that we built our relationship before we started working together so that we can work together well.
All I know is that intentional relationship building has been significant to my life here at site and I will take these tools with me wherever I go after Peace Corps Service.