Tuesday, July 28, 2009

6 Months in the Peace Corps

As of today, I have been in Thailand for 6 months.

I can definitely say that my experiences are not at all what I expected. Then again, I also tried really hard to come without expectations, so I can't say if that is good or bad.

I don't have anything specific to write about right now, so maybe this is the perfect time to just ramble a bit. It just seems kinda like a momentous occasion, and I really ought to say something.

More than anything, I am impressed by the Thai people. There is a near universal sense of genuinely caring about the well-being of others. Sometimes it can come across as nosy ("Why these fools all up in my business?!"), but it's important to remember that the concern/interest behind the question is legit.
There is also a feeling that everything has value. There is no sense of futility, and nothing is wasted. This means that work is done efficiently and with care. Priorities might get in the way of some projects, like road work but put on hold indefinitely, but others, like planting rice fields and building houses rally the community to roll up their sleeves and help one another.
No cut of meat cannot be turned into dinner (I can't emphasize that enough), and no one is to poor to smile, dance or sing a song.
I'm sure this country has it's share of lazy, ne'er-do-wells, but they just don't stand out here.

On a less positive note, I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the role of English teachers on a continuous basis, especially in the countryside. If one of my students works very hard and learns English well, they can... go to one of the cities and sell crap to tourists? Yes, they could do other, better things, but the likelihood is exceedingly slim. And really, what's wrong with being a farmer? I feel like I'm supposed to think there's something wrong with the way the people in my community live and that I'm here to make everyones' lives better, but I just can't do that. They have been fine for a long, long time without me, and they will continue to be fine after I am gone.
So I have more or less decided to not care if my students learn English or not. Instead, I will spend my required time in the classroom, and try to build my relationships with my co-teachers to develop teacher trainings for non-English teachers. I have posed the idea to my teachers and they sound interested, so now I need to do some brain-storming and planning and keep pushing this. I also have some other ideas, but I think I've talked about these before. And even if I haven't, I want to keep my mind rolling right now.

I am very aware of there being a LOT of things that I WANT to do, and a lot of things that I am NOT doing. But, I need to remember that it's important to take things one step at a time. For example, I have just decided to take a walk around the neighborhood when I'm done writing this. It's something I did a fair amount when I first came here, but I've stopped doing lately. Yes, I've been busy(ish), and after a first meeting, I don't have much to say with my Thai, but, SNAP. It's the effort that counts.

So now I'm antsy to go out for a walk. I will finish with some general thoughts on the Peace Corps.

Does Thailand NEED the Peace Corps? Of course not! Peace Corps is here because Thailand has requested our presence. That is WHY the Peace Corps sends volunteers to countries. Am I going to revolutionize teaching practices and cause a dramatic improvement in student performance in my area? Probably not. It IS possible that I will find one project that will have a positive, lasting effect, and that is my current goal, probably something with a youth group (or maybe agriculturally related). But what I DO know is that when I leave, a few hundred or thousand people will remember a farang who lived with them for a few years. And he didn't come here to find a Thai woman to take care of him, and he made efforts to learn the language, and... I don't know what. That's the part that I think matters. That's the part that I can count on happening. The rest is valid and worthwhile, but whether or not anything actually comes of it is highly questionable.

While I was out of site for the second round of training and everything, we watched the movie "Volunteers" from the 80s, starring John Candy and Tom Hanks who play Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand (though I like to say the ended up in Peace Corps Generic Asia). I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone who wasn't in the Peace Corps (in Thailand, gah-dai), but it did kind of strike a chord. The project they were sent to their village for was to build a bridge over the river. In the end, they have to blow up the bridge to save the day, and when Tom Hanks apologizes to the villagers, he is informed that nobody cares, because they never really wanted the bridge in the first place! This really emphasizes the need to align your goals. I may come up with the most brilliant project idea ever that will revolutionize and improve everything around me, but if nobody wants what I'm selling, it doesn't matter. And again, who am I to say that my "improvement" will actually make anything better?

We also got the line, "Lying, malignant stink-infested yankee Peace Corps! Ptui!" from the communist contingency in the movie, so that was good, too.

OK. Time for that walk.


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