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-You feel genuinely offended/squicked out when tourists point their feet at you.

-You measure distance in kilometers and heat in Celsius.

-You keep wishing people would turn OFF the air conditioner.

-It’s 30 degrees Celsius and you are wearing a sweater.

-You wish you had an umbrella anytime you go walking in the sunshine.

-You worry that only bringing three boxes of cake back from vacation is not enough. (It wasn’t enough. I should have brought back at least six cakes. Next time!)

While I was out of town on vacation, my landlord put a SHOWER in my bathroom. No more bucket baths for Grace Teacher! I’m never leaving site again.*

*Except for the tomorrow, when I head to a ten day camp extravaganza. Travel and mid service posts coming soon!

The Peace Corps was the most democratic experience I have had of my country and the people who inhabit it. We crossed economic class, education level, age; we were an intensive kind of motley crew. We all had that feeling of, What are we doing here? I tried to have thoughtful conversations, tried to be a good guest and do what I was supposed to do as a presence. For me it was liberating to not be so aggressively climbing. I learned how to be alone. But it is true: the people who went with the best of intentions about helping the world were the ones who quit in the first six months. They didn’t make it because there was nothing to sustain that.

There were moments, yes, that were rude awakenings to what being American is. However liberal our sensibilities to our politics we seem maybe not to learn. I think maybe when you are Peace Corps or a teacher or writer, you continue to see yourself as an exception, and suddenly you realize others aren’t seeing that exception.

I’m sitting on a tropical island on the Southwest Thai coast in the Andaman Sea, but I’d be lying if I said that my mind wasn’t a million miles away plotting a solo through hike of the John Muir Trail next year. (Ansel Adams Wilderness pictured above)

”-If you want to change the world, change yourself. You cannot effectively contribute toward growth unless you are growing yourself. If you want to grow, drop your ego. Learn to identify when your ego is in play and develop strategies to quell it. Empowerment is the capacity to bear power responsibly. You cannot empower another person. But you can empower yourself.

-Development is disruptive.
a) It implies changes in power relationships that result in uncertainty and loss. Few people willingly give up power unless they can see there will be gain.
b) Most poor people cannot afford to change radically. It takes a huge amount of energy (physical and emotional) for average rural folk to maintain daily life, let alone try to break out of the poverty cycle.

-Do not expect a smooth ride. Do not expect people to fall over their feet to listen to you. Do not expect people to go out of their way to listen to you. Do not expect. People had a life before you came. They will continue to have a life after you leave. You are probably not a messiah. If you are, forgive me. If not, your two years is a furrow in their field in a single agricultural year. Most of their years your furrow is not there.

-There is no “us and them”. Human beings are the same everywhere. Could you do it if it were you in their shoes? Don’t think for a moment that because you live in a hut and don’t make much money that you are in their shoes. In your life in the USA, how much of your achievements to date really reflect on you? Or did you just make good use of the opportunities provided you?

-Do not think for a minute that your attitude towards people is unfelt. Everyone feels when they are being put down. Make people feel that they have grown in your presence.

-Do not give up and do not give in. Unfortunately, the process of development can not be shortened. Respect that those you work with drew the short straw, appreciate that you did not

-Peace Corps is first and foremost a cultural exchange program. You will learn more than you will give. Be prepared to change your understandings. You can only balance the formula if you change both sides of the equation. This may not seem like much but refer back to step 1. It may impact a co-worker a lot.”

A lot of Peace Corps reflection pieces miss the mark, but these “Tips for Peace Corps Volunteers” are mostly right on the money. More here

This is exactly how I feel trying to speak Thai sometimes.

-Lows: The past few months have marked a number of Peace Corps milestones for my group: One year in Thailand in January, 50% service completion in February, and one year at site in a few days. With these milestones has come a lot of reflection, progress evaluation, and the (inevitable?) Mid Service Crisis. (Oh Peace Corps mental health chart: you predicted me too well.) My own service slump came in the middle of a particularly slow time at site: Almost all of my post-New Years classes were cancelled so students could prepare for standardized tests and all Thailand PCVs were grounded to site due to violent political protests. These circumstances left me feeling stir crazy, frustrated, and  … not great. I’m feeling good now, but there were definitely a few days in there when I was ready to pack my bags and head home.

-Highs: I snapped out of my funk thanks in large part to my amazing family/PCV support system (bless you Skype and 12Call), as well as some great work opportunities in February. I had the privilege of judging the Thai National Debate competitions in Pattaya, where I was totally blown away by gifted, hard-working high school students from across the country.

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Then, I spent a week in Suphan Buri at Pre Service Training for the incoming class of Thailand PCVs. I worked with them on setting up and planning a Training event for local teachers to learn new ESL teaching techniques and practice their conversation skills. It was so great to spend time with the new trainees and I came away totally reenergized by their enthusiasm and optimism. (It was also great to hang out with the Thai Peace Corps staff who are basically the funniest, kindest, most hard-working people on the continent. Jing jing.)

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-Work: Teaching has been pretty slow lately, but it’s not because I have unmotivated students. I’ve had third graders in my room at lunch every day this week, telling me how excited they are to study with me next year. And, I’ve started teaching a small group of high school students after school who want to study during their summer vacation. No matter what else is going on at work or at home, it always cheers me up and warms my heart to work with bright, motivated kids. I’ve got some interesting work prospects for next year, so we’ll see if anything pans out as a 2nd Year project.

-What’s next? School is out in a few weeks yay! I’ll be heading to my Mid Service Conference in Bangkok, then going on vacation in south Thailand for a few weeks of R&R on the beach. After vacation,  my co-teacher and I will get into warp-speed teaching mode as we do a 20 day training/camp marathon to prepare for the new school year. 

This is the stuff my Thai nightmares are made of. Where did the snake go????

Today in Fail: I tried to take the mythical city bus. “Ride your bike to the bus stop and wait for an hour,” said everyone. After an hour and a half of waiting and a lot of Beyonce songs, I gave up. It would be nice to have access to a bus to get me to the busier areas of my city, but nothing is worth waiting that long.

Today in Win: I made A LOT of nice new friends at the bus stop. And on my way home, I went to the opening of a new bakery/coffee shop near my school. The owner (above) is 20(ish) years old and has been selling baked goods in front of school for the past year. She finally made enough money to expand and I am super excited! Cake + coffee= very happy Grace. Happy International Ladies Getting It Done Day!

Thinking of Peace Corps Ukraine this week