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To Things That Crawl in the Night

November 4, 2011

Heading for adventures far

with 80 pounds packed in the car

I’ve learned some things and am prepared

for life ahead, to not be scared.

I’ll learn a language I don’t know

and face a future without snow.

I’ll live in heat so hot I’ll die

but go the distance, damn I’ll try!

In rain and floods I’ll live my days,

without the privacy I so crave,

and squat to poop and use a pail

to shower off my day’s travail.

I’ll live on rice and spicy food.

I’ll smile a lot to not be rude.

No shoulder, knee or chest, I’ll bare.

I’ll learn to live with fizzy hair………

But oh there are a few small things

with many legs and little wings

that I will live with if I must

but not with pleasure, not with trust.

And Buddha I will try to be

but sometimes I might kill with glee

the things that bite and sting and crawl,

I’ll take them down, I’ll make them fall.!

spider

They don’t carry malaria in Thailand but they swarm and bite and itch! Then there’s the Dengue

                                                       images

Okay, enough said. At 5-6 inches long, at least they won’t be hiding in my shoes! They do crunch when you kill them though.

Somebody kept these damn things as pets and now they’re on the loose!

There’s one of these in every Thai house. They’re cute and keep the bugs away but don’t judge me if I scream when they land on my bed.

Stray dogs- I’ll admit, I’m not a great dog lover but when stray dogs chase my bike, I become downright hostile. Not to worry, I purchased one of those hand-held machines that make a noise only dogs can hear. We’ll see

If you can’t beat them…eat them!

Thai Challenge- Round 1

October 21, 2011

I’m thinking this waiting process should be a participatory one.  So in between packing, studying and making copies of everything I own, I’ve put together this cool Thai-English crossword from words I’ll soon be using on a day-to-day basis. So come on, be brave, go for it.  Simply copy the image and paste it into a Word document.  I’ll provide the answers in my next post. (If you’re having difficulty you can always cheat by going here: http://www.thai-language.com/dict/)

Thailand Under Water

October 18, 2011

Dear Friends,

As I sit home waiting for my flight to Thailand in January to serve in the Peace Corps,  Thailand is witnessing some of the worst flooding in recent history, mainly affect the central region.  The central region is where we will spend our first 90 days in training, living with a host family.

As of October 14th, at least 281 Thai people have been killed as a result of these floods and the country is bracing for even more flooding.

I have heard heart-wrenching stories of entire families being forced out of their destroyed homes or parents sending their children away while they remain, living on the second story with no electricity and in unhygienic conditions.  The rice fields and factories where people make their livelihoods are also under water and families may lose months of income. The markets and over 400 year old temples are threatened with permanent damage from the flood waters.

There are presently 125 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Thailand.  These volunteers, who have, over the past 6 months become my friends, are attempting to help central Thailand with relief efforts. Please take a look at what they are doing and if you are at all able to contribute, I will be forever indebted!

Best always,  Kathleen

http://ayutthayaflooding.wordpress.com/

Dreaming Thailand

October 7, 2011

With only three months left before we leave for Thailand, I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming.  Here are just a few of the things that fill my nights.

What Not to Do In Thailand

September 12, 2011

As I prepare for my upcoming 27 months in Thailand as a US Peace Corps volunteer, I’ve done some research on Thai culture.  I’ve only touched the surface of the subject and will undoubtedly learn a lot more during pre-service training. however, for those of you dreaming of visiting this fabulous country one day, here is an initial list of things you should know before leaving home.

Things You Should NEVER Do With Your Arms and Hands

1.       Touch the head of a Thai, even a child, or pass an object over it.  The head is considered sacred in Thailand and must be respected.  Leroy Gibbs might get away with head slapping his colleagues on NCIS, but when in Thailand he’d best keep his hands to himself.

2.       Put your hands in your pocket while talking to someone.  I can only guess the reason.

3.       Touch someone of the opposite sex in a business setting (unless of course, touching someone of the opposite sex IS the business setting, then all bets are off.).  It is taboo.  In fact any public display of affection is considered impolite.

4.       Put your arms around the chair where someone is sitting, not even your spouse….and with those who are not your spouse, it’s just plain creepy any way.

5.       Wave your hands about as you talk.  Doesn’t matter how much Italian you’ve got in your lineage, waving your hands as you talk gives Thais the impression that you are angry.  Thais love harmony and don’t show negative emotions such as anger or sadness. So when in Thailand, keep those emotions you’ve finally learned to express through years of psychotherapy,  hidden nicely behind a smile.

6.       Pass anything with your left hand.  With squat toilets and water for toilet paper, the left hand has plenty of other things to do.

7.       Point with your hand and never, never with one finger. 

8.       Call a waiter or waitress with the fingers of your hand pointing up.  This is a real no-no and a Thai equivalent of flipping the bird. So unless you want a bowl of gaaeng khiaao waan dropped in your lap, find a less offensive gesture.

Things You Should NEVER Do With Your Legs and Feet

9.       Point your feet at anyone or use your feet to move anything or touch anyone. Feet are regarded as unclean and symbolically (as well as physically) the lowest part of the body. So when you get the urge to nudge that box across the floor with your foot or play footsie under the table with your dinner companion, know that your actions will be as appreciated as a frat boy barfing all over your Manolo Blahniks at a kegger.

10.   Cross your legs in the presence of the elderly or monks.  If you’re a guy, just don’t cross them period.

Things You Should NEVER Do when Interacting With Others

11.    Get Angry or Yell– Aggression and confrontational behavior are far less common in Thailand than in the West and will rarely produce any constructive result. So unless you want to be labeled jai raawn, smile and show the world your cool heart.

12.   Speak in a loud voice. You may think that  increasing the volume of your voice will help Thais better understand you, but again, loud voice = temper. (see # 5 above)

13.   Criticize anyone publicly– It will make a Thai lose face.  Actually it will make anyone lose face and should probably be added to the “Globally Offensive List.”  At the very least the gesture should be banned from US politics.

14.   Be overly frank.  Frankness is not appreciated in Thailand and it’s always best to be subtle in responding with a negative reply.  Yes, I know you’re thinking that frankness expedites communication, but a little less of it in our lives might be nice as well.

15.    Expose a lot of skin, especially the thighs, upper arms and cleavage.  Thais are a conservative and modest people.  Yes, you may see some skin in Bangkok or on the more trendy beaches in the south, but unless you want to be considered jai ngaai, cover up!

And finally, NEVER, EVER…

Speak poorly of the King.  The Thais think very highly of their royal family and show them a great deal of respect.  So should you.    Besides, criticizing the King is against the law and could get you thrown in jail!

Visiting Thailand

August 22, 2011

This is a map of the four major regions of Thailand

Thailand is a Great Place For Tourists

Thailand, Asia’s most popular tourist destination, is known as the Land of Smiles. It is a great country with fantastic food, ancient ruins, Buddhist temples, floating markets, fabulous national parks, and some of the most gorgeous beaches on the planet.

Bangkok has grown significantly from my first visit in 1977 and from a tourist’s point of view, not for the better. However, Chiang Mai, the country’s “artist center” in the North is still wonderful and, because of  improvements to Thailand’s road over the past 30+ years, it is now possible to experience much more of Thailand’s wonders.  Here is a list of the places I plan to visit during my 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer:

The Floating Market(outside of Bangkok)- a unique shopping experience because if you want to buy something here you will have to hail down a narrow long boat piled high with produce.

Chiang Mai –dotted with temples, craft shops, great restaurants, Thai massage and cooking schools the city has a somehow relaxed and comparatively tranquil atmosphere. Its location high in the north mountainous region of Thailand also makes it a perfect base for mountain treks.

Koh Samui and Koh Phangan –islands on the east side of Thailand known for their palm tree lined white sandy beaches.  Nearby, the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan are much less touristy due to their isolated locations.

Mae Hong Son – capital of Thailand’s northwestern-most province.  It’s close proximity to the Burmese border gives the city a very different feel to the rest of Thailand. Very quiet and isolated, this mountainous city is often shrouded in an atmospheric mist. Visitors come here for the unusual and beautiful natural scenery, the mountain trekking and to see the local hill tribe communities – one of which is the famous Karen long neck tribe.  

Railay and  Krabi province –a tropical paradise with towering rugged limestone cliffs, turquoise water and powder white sand. Railay is a beautiful secluded beach – accessible only by boat.

Koh Phi Phi – is simply gorgeous and seen by many as the ultimate island paradise.

Hin Daeng in Andaman Sea- often thought to be one of the top diving spots in Thailand – if not the world.

Isaan- The north-east of the Thailand is called Isaan.  By far the largest and poorest region in the country, Issan is easily overlooked by tourists.  However seeing Isaan is like seeing the “real” Thailand where local customs and traditions of the people are abundant.  Think green rice fields and water buffalo and lots of people on bikes. Then add monks in saffron robes, tons of festivals and the friendliest people on the planet.  Isaan is where a large majority of Peace Volunteers are located, so I plan to see a lot of it.

And then there’s Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma)

In 2008 the New York Times put Laos at the top of their list of “Places to Go”.  There are many ways to enter Laos but I’m going to try taking the ferry from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos, and then a Slow Boat (or Fast boat) down to Luang Prabang.  They say the city of Luang Prabang and the river trip to get there are fabulous.

In Cambodia, there’s always Angkor Wat as well as the infamous ‘killing fields’  but to quote the Lonely Planet, “Cambodia: beaches as beautiful as Thailand but without the tourist tide; wilds as remote as Laos but even less explored; cuisine as subtle as Vietnam but yet to be discovered; and temples that leave Burma and Indonesia in the shade.”    You can bet I’ll be hanging around when my 27 months are up to spend some quality time in Cambodia.      

Who knows if I’ll ever get to Burma in my lifetime but I hear its possible for Americans to visit as part of a guided tour. Given how little Myanmar has seen of the outside world, I’m going to try my best  to be one of them.                                                                                                                 

Other Cool Things You Might Want to Know

August 4, 2011

I’m learning to speak Thai

Yep, they speak Thai in Thailand and in the parts of the country where I will be serving, that’s pretty much all they speak.  So I’m working through the eight units of Rosetta Stone Thai learning to put together sentences like,  “Tomorrow I will ride a bike to work.” and “Three men are standing on the side of a house while a fourth man opens a window.”  Of course as a friend likes to tease me, I still can’t ask for directions to the bathroom, but I’ll get there sooner or later.

I’m losing weight and getting buff

There’s nothing like the prospect of having to ride a bike 10 miles a day with a bunch of fit and gorgeous 20 year olds to get you off that old couch and moving….except, perhaps,  for the results of your “look-in-every-crevice” Peace Corps medical review.

I’ll be trained

All sixty volunteers in Group 124 will fly over to Thailand together.  Once we arrive in Central Thailand, we will be placed with a home-site family for approximately 3 months, where, using our brand new bikes we will commute back and forth to school for pre-service training.  At pre-service training we will spend 4-5 hours a day, six days a week learning the language.  The remainder of our training will focus on technical training needed for our work, cultural training needed for integration into the community (so we don’t make a faux-pas like touching our feet in public), safety and health training needed for avoiding the bad guys like malaria or dengue-infested mosquitoes, and basic living training needed for:

  • Repairing our bikes when they break down
  • Integrating with our community and neighbors using our five words of Thai
  • Shopping, cooking, eating and engaging in the #1 Thai pastime, karaoke
  • Doing laundry by hand using two buckets and a scrub brush
  • Taking a cold bucket shower AND….
  • Using a squat toilet with Asian toilet paper (a cold splash of water!)

I’ll be sworn in

Only after successfully completing pre-service training (and passing an Oral Proficiency Exam in Thai) will I be invited to take my oath and be sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).

I’ll be assigned to a site

Sometime during my pre-service training, I’ll be interviewed for permanent site placement.  I’ll have some say in where I go but for the most part, placement will be based on my skill sets, language mastery, and ability to ride up and down mountains on my bike.  I’ll ask for Koh Phi Phi but will probably be sent Issan!

I’ll be living with a Thai family

For the first three months of pre-service training and then another two-three months at my permanent site, I will be living with a Thai family.  These wonderful Thai people, who do not speak English, will become my lifeline for the next 2 years, monitoring my safety and ensuring my integration into the community.  They will be my Ma, Pa, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles in a country where I will know no one.

I’ll move into my own house

Yep, when I’m all done being trained and integrated, I’ll get to move into my own home where I’ll finally be able to cook, entertain, blare my music and walk around as un-clothed as I want to!

Only then, can you come for a visit!

You’ve Been Invited

August 3, 2011

Congratulations! You have been invited to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.

That’s the email I received last week.  For those of you unfamiliar with Peace Corps practices, you aren’t really invited into the Peace Corps until the official “Blue Envelop” invitation arrives via UPS.  The ‘Blue Envelop” as they call it, isn’t really an envelope at all,  but rather an inch thick box of goodies including my official invitation, several handbooks and survival manuals, folders with instructions for passport and visa applications, resume and aspiration statements and warnings that I’d better get my dental work done fast or else!

For those interested, here are some highlights of my official invitation and an overview of my job description:

Dear Kathleen,

Congratulations!  It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Thailand for Peace Corps services.  You will be joining thousands of Americans who are building stronger communities around the world.  This call to action gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and to find the best in yourself.

Please read the enclosed Volunteer Assignment Description and other enclosed materials and consider the project description and primary assignment duties very carefully when making your decision.  In accepting this assignment, you are making a commitment to the project, country and the Peace Corps for the next 27 months.

Peace Corps Thailand has asked us to remind you that all volunteers are expected to know how to ride a bike. Volunteers in your program typically bike seven to ten miles daily.  The bicycle is the only mode of transportation between your ‘home-stay” family and your training site during the ten week pre-service training.

We look forward to hearing from you within seven days of your receipt of this invitation.

Country:                                    THAILAND

Program:                                   Community-based Organization Development

Staging Dates:                       6 January 2012

Pre-service Training:       8 January-20 March 2012 (in THAILAND)

Dates of Service:                  21 March 2012 – 22 March 2014

Description of Duties

Community-based Organization Development (CBOD) Volunteers will  meet the expressed needs of our Thai partners for capacity building of local government sub-district administrative offices (SAOs), other government agencies, community leaders and community groups.  The capacity-building approach focuses on what they would like to see changed, using their own strengths and assets and on building new skills to achieve what they believe is most important.  Your group (Group 124) will be the ninth group of CBOD Volunteers in Thailand.

Your specific work will include opportunities for collaboration in several realms of the following goals:

Networking and Communication –

Motivated community members, SAO and/or local government agency staff at all levels will network in order to share and develop information and opportunity that will optimize existing resources.

Professional and Leadership Development-

Participating community members, SAO and/or local government agency staff at all levels will enhance their personal and professional growth by strengthening their self-esteem, resilience, problem-solving, decision-making and goal setting abilities through skill-building activities and practical applications, including community service, career building, business skills, income-generating activities and/or other training and workshops.

Technical and Organizational Skill Building-

SAO, local government agency staff and community partners will gain appropriate technical and organizational skills and take advantage of personal, social and economic opportunities in order to use, improve and deliver quality services.

Cool beans!

Contortionist Extraordinaire

April 15, 2011

They say that the older we get, the less flexible we become.  That may be true…unless of course, you’re  Kathleen Williams, contortionist extraordinaire.  Where to begin?

I just completed my Peace Corps placement review.  The review involved a 45 minute telephone conversation with a Placement Officer who asked me some follow up questions about my commitment to serve and then presented me with my options.

She:  “Are you still concerned about a diet totally lacking in fruits, vegetables and protein?”  Me:  “No, I’ve changed my mind.  27 months of rice will do just fine, thank you. I’ll just use my 80 lb. luggage allowance on a two-year supply of Miralax.”

She:  “If you couldn’t go to Africa (uh oh) would you be open to other parts of the world?”  Me:  “WHAT HAPPENED TO AFRICA?  Sorry, I mean, of course I’d consider other alternatives.”

So let me start with the good news..

It turns out that after 9 months of security reviews, background checks and enough medical testing to challenge even the best of the Obama health care law, the Peace Corps REALLY wants me to serve and is willing to accommodate a few of my medical challenges (aka my psoriasis medication).  Okay, so far so good.

But…

It turns out that of all the countries on the planet Earth, there are only four that can accommodate me…. and they aren’t in Africa.  That’s right, nine months of intensive French language lessons to become fluent in a language I know and love and not a single Francophone country in the whole world can accommodate me.  And it gets worse.  Of these four countries,

  • One is in Latin America where it seems I don’t qualify because I don’t speak Spanish.  I tried to convince my Placement Officer that my experience working in the restaurant industry had to count for something.   But it seems that American universities these days are turning out lots of Peace Corps applicants who can say more than “Get back to work,” and “you’re late!”  Moving along,
  • Two of the countries that could accommodate me are in Asia.  Okay, I’d go to Asia.  Unfortunately neither country has a Business Development Program.   I tried to convince my placement officer that I was more than just a suit.  “I’m smart. I’ll just take a crash course in livestock management.  I’ll read “Sewage and Irrigation Systems For Dummies.”    Nope.  It seems that there are volunteers that have entire degrees in these disciplines.

So now what?

There is, however, a fourth country that can accommodate me.  It’s also in Asia and has an Organization Development program that fits my background and skill set.   Even better, though my placement officer would not tell me the exact country, there is really, really good chance that the country is Thailand.   THAILAND! – a country that’s got smiling, friendly people, electricity, occasional running water and access to fruits and vegetables. Did I mention the beaches?    Yes, some people call the assignment, “Posh Corps,”   but I didn’t sign up for Malaria, I signed up to serve.  Let other volunteers deal with flesh-eating bacteria.   I’ll call Thailand “home.”

But not for a while

The program in Thailand doesn’t leave until January, 2012!  That’s 9  more months of waiting, fretting and driving my recruiter nuts.  My Placement Officer asked my to think about it for a while.

But in the end..

I said yes,  I’ll do it” I’ll wait the 9 months.  I’ll learn the local language and save my French for a future life in Paris.  I’ll learn to Skype at 6:00 AM and practice riding my bike 5 miles a day.  I’ll study Small Enterprise Development and learn more about micro financing.   Most of all, I’ll remain young, flexible and open to all the changes life throws at me.

While We Wait…

April 9, 2011

The Peace Corps Placement Office sent me a somewhat ‘form’ email this week stating that they had received my file and that I would be hearing back from them in 4-6 weeks regarding my assignment.   Personally, I’m hoping that these are minimum performance standards aimed at ensuring an “exceeds expectations” rating when they call earlier. Meanwhile, I’ll sooth my soul with the following quotes.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had.”

Dorothy Dix

“In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.”


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