Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mid-Service Reflections and Gender in Thailand: One Persons Experience.

I have been serving as a Youth Development Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand for a over year now. Time is a trippy thing especially in the Peace Corps. As I watch a new group of trainees swear in as official Peace Corps Thailand volunteers, I can’t help but think it feels like just yesterday I stepped off that plane and began this journey.

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to be a resource volunteer for PCT (Peace Corps Training).  Each week of PCT a few current PCV’s go to training and help.  I vividly remember the volunteers who came to my training, some of them I later became great friends with. I remember being in training and looking at the current volunteers like they were famous. They had lived in Thailand already 1 or 2 years and I thought they surely knew so much and were PC Thailand professionals.

Returning to training a few weeks ago made me realize what I have learned over the last year. I really have learned a lot.  It also showed me that I don’t know anything at all and I related more than I thought I would to the new trainees who have only experienced 9 weeks of Thailand.

My days are not 9-5 here as a volunteer. I rarely know what to expect each day. Sometimes I make plans and they never happen. I am learning not to do that so much but…I am a planner. It is how I deal with chaos, change, and uncertainty…a good skill that helped me a lot in the past but one that I don’t need anymore while I am here in Thailand.  I completed college, always taking more than the minimum classes and then went directly into Grad School. I survived best staying as busy as possible. Grad School and internships kept me so incredibly busy up until the moment I took my diploma. Then I transitioned into Thailand.  School and studying and working 40 hours a week had been my normal. I liked staying busy because then I felt like I was accomplishing things but I never took the time to stop and enjoy my accomplishments I was already moved onto my next task.

My first 10 weeks of being in Thailand, while I was a trainee, were so hard.  I hated training but I knew what to expect. There was a schedule and we stuck to it very strictly and I liked that. There was a plan and I knew what would happen next.  The plans in my life stopped working the moment after I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Thailand Volunteer and all Group 126 went their own ways to their new homes for the next two years.

The first month of service when I was the only volunteer in my town all on my own was one of the hardest months of service.  I was not good at the language, honestly learning Thai tried to kick my ass, and everything was an effort. Every time I stepped out of the house I tried to become Thai Kaya…adjusting myself to Thai culture and being as appropriate as I could. 

Life in Thailand was not a Monday-Friday 40 hour a week job.  There was no schedule, no expectations, no job description, and compared to American work culture people seemed not to care about doing any work.  My type A personality wanted to organize, outline, plan and implement every task I would do for the next two years….but I couldn’t do that.  I had to build relationships with my new community and the people first before I did any work. In order to build a relationship I had to talk to them and if I wanted to talk to them I had to speak Thai.  That was my job…speak Thai and get to know people and get to know Thai culture.

Thai people are quick to compare each other and tell you how you look physically. If they think you are fatter than yesterday or a week ago…they will tell you. If you have a zit they will point at it and ask you what it is called in English.  In my case, if they can’t tell if you are a girl or a boy they will ask you….EVERY day.

Growing up my mom did an amazing job helping me to build self-esteem and self-confidence.  She was body positive before she knew what it was.  During high school when all the girls world compare themselves, my mom taught me to honor and appreciate the beauty in other people “but never be upset about who you are or what you have because you are Kaya Cassidy and there is no one like you.” That is the foundation of my self confidence, I knew I had to be real to myself, be the best Kaya I could be and be happy with who I am.  I am Real.

My gender has been a surprising challenge in Thailand, a challenge I couldn’t plan for until I experienced it.  A challenge that has been an occurrence nearly everyday I have been here.

When I first arrived in Thailand I had very short hair.  During training I regularly wore dresses and ear rings and kept my lipstick on point because it made me feel a little better despite looking like sweaty wet mess every waking moment.  My little host sister was the first person to ask if I was a boy or a girl. It was expected, gotta love kids rawness. My host family figured out I was queer and asked me in a round about Thai way week 3 of training at a KFC. It was very casual and we all laughed.

Most people think of Thailand like a gay paradise and while it is true it is not illegal to be queer here…it is still far from a paradise unless you are middle class cis-gender (someone who is not transgender) gay man…that I am not.  It is true…I have been here for a year, I am out to nearly everyone and have yet to be told I am going to hell or that what I am doing is wrong.  That is more to say for America, but it is still far from a paradise. Like America, most people in Thailand think Gender and Sexuality are the same or somehow linked.  This means that because I like women and had short hair I was assumed to be a man. 

In relationships between women in Thailand most of the times there is a Tom and a Dee.  Toms are masculine presenting and Dees are their partners.  Lesbian in not a term in Thailand, well it is but it is not a good term.  Dees only get their identity of a Dee if they are in a relationship with a Tom. If they are single they are not a Dee.  Toms are immediately assumed to be men.  They use male pronouns, others use male pronouns while referring to them, if someone is a Tom or is assumed to be a Tom they are automatically assigned the gender of male. Dees are women, Toms are men therefore the relationship is viewed as heterosexual.

From my first day at my site in Surin I was assumed to be a Tom. I was a man.  When I wore lipstick and earrings people would laugh and make fun of me saying that I was the prettiest boy they had every seen. 

My gender became a regular question people asked me.

“Yaya have you eaten yet?”

“Yaya where are you going?”

“Yaya do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”

“Yaya are you a boy or a girl?”

Everyday. Nearly every interaction I had with people my first three months at site followed the above pattern.  Several times a day I would be asked my gender. It was exhausting.  Gender is a hard enough conversation for people to have in English, let alone trying to explain it in Thai.  As hard and annoying, as this was I was able to experience something I never imagined I would every experience: Male privilege.  Since most of the society viewed me as a man I got away with more.  Women in Thailand are supposed to be quite and small, two things I am defiantly not.

I started growing my hair out last year because I wanted to.  I also thought a perk might be that it would also help with the gender questions since one of the main reasons assumed I was male was because of my hair.  Little did I know the effect this would have.

Today one year later sporting a short bob haircut that lands right under my ears I was told that I am not a proper lady.  I walk too loud. I laugh to loud. I don’t sit pretty and women are supposed to sit pretty. Also, my favorite, I whistle while I walk…apparently women who whistle are bad girls.  Because my appearance has changed, certain action I now do that were acceptable when I was viewed as a man and now seen as bad because I am a woman (or now appear more to be a woman).

When I was seen as a man I was never told my behavior was inappropriate. However, now that I am seen as a woman I have been told to “sit pretty” literally. I have been told not to speak so loud and walk so loud. Women are supposed to take small steps and be as quiet as possible.  I feel like being here a year and building relationships has allowed me the opportunity to finally challenge some of these ideas of how a woman should act with my Thai friends and help them learn some new things.

The other day a friend came over to my house, a male friend. He told me that a woman’s house should be clean all the time but a mans house is no problem.  I told him with a smile on my face that if he wanted to comment on my house or my looks inside my own home…he was welcome to leave.  I still am the person I was when I first came to Thailand with my short hair. I will not change how I act because my appearance is now more feminine in Thai standards.

Internalized oppression is a trip.  It took me a few weeks to realize I was conforming to Thai standards for what a woman should act like. I began to feel guilty of my actions until I realized that if I were a man, none of my actions would be seen as bad.  Men in Thailand have a huge privilege over women, they can do almost anything they want without being viewed as “bad”. However for woman, if they step outside even a little bit about how they are supposed to act as a woman…they are viewed as bad.

Every awkward conversation is a learning experience…for everyone involved.  I know that my actions and who I am make some people in my community uncomfortable because I do not  fit into their idea of what a “good girl” is. I have been out about my sexuality and my gender, two things that do not fit into the Thai box.  It has made people uncomfortable but being uncomfortable is not bad. I have been uncomfortable many times. I have had discussions with kids and adults alike. It is actually amazing how many people actually “get it” once I have explained. No matter what I ‘look like’ the Thai people love and accept me whether I am a boy/girl or a girl/boy. It has been a cross cultural learning experience for both myself and Thailand.

I'm grateful for the process. I am learning that who I am is exactly the person that I am supposed to be. I don't have to conform and being myself will hopefully help others to gain the strength of being true to themselves.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A letter to my 2013 PCT self.

A new group of Peace Corps volunteers are getting ready in America to start an adventure similar to mine. In a few months Group 127 will get on an airplane fly to America and begin the Peace Corps Thailand adventure. I can't believe it, it seems like I just walked off that airplane myself. Here is a letter I would write to myself one year ago on the beginning of my Peace Corps journey. 

Dear 2013 Peace Corps Trainee Kaya, 

Congratulations making it off the plane. I know you weren't sure if you could even make it that far. It's ok, over this year you will realize you are stronger than you ever knew. From the moment you get to Thailand you will be sick you will fight through this and learn the spoons theory to help you make sense of just never having as many spoons as you need or as most people have. You will make friends with some amazing people.  You lucked out big time by getting the best roommate ever, soon you will know how perfect of a match it is when you go back to your hotel room exhausted and just listen to the Grateful Dead with Lauren Anderson. Little do you know that your roommate from staging will be your roommate for every Peace Corps Thailand event here on out. 

You don't realize it now, but getting your MSW (Masters of Social Work) totally changed you. Becoming aware of your own privilege and oppressed identities, microaggressions, and social justice has opened your eyes and you can't ever turn blind eye again.  You will realize that for the past two years you have been very fortunate to live in a bubble where people call out each other and hold one another accountable for oppression, not everyone in the world is like that.  You will make friends with people in Group 126 that you would probably never have been friends with in America. You will all get on each others nerves, but honestly what else can you expect. You will spend 10 weeks with these people seeing them 6 days a week for at least 8 hours a day....seeing anyone that much is a lot even someone you love let alone stranger.  After you get sworn in you will miss every last person no matter how much they got on your nerves in training. 

Kaya you really luck out in the host family department.  I know that you are asking all the current volunteers about their housing situation because you already know that you want to move into your own house. I'm going to let you in on a secret, you score a housing situation better than you could have ever thought and you still live with a host family. Also you will get 3 dogs who all have names of Thai drinks you will be scared at them at first and they will almost eat you but you never end up actually getting hurt and they fall in love with you.  Your host family during PST (Pre-Service Training) will become your family faster than you could have imagined. They will be a perfect match for you. You end up first coming out to your host sisters week 3 of PST at a KFC...its great. You have the best little host sister in the world and Matthew will become a part of your family too. Weeks during PST will be hard but soon you will discover "Sunday Funday" and you and Matt will become the best of friends.  Your second host family will be nothing like your first and no one will tell you this.  When you first arrive at site it will be like ripping a band aid off and you will feel very alone.  Actually if I am being honest with you the hardest part of your experience will be your first month at site.  You will grow so much and you will survive.  I know that you want to learn how to be alone with yourself and fall in love with Kaya, you get plenty of time to do that.  You actually get in touch with your introvert side and start needing alone time.  You will be lonely but you will make friends.  The first month with your new host family will be so awkward. Like I said this will be the hardest month, but once you start picking up Thai more you will realize how amazing your host mom is! Seriously you have the best host mom ever, just keep your chin up kid! 

Learning Thai will frustrate the hell out of you. You will have a break down day 3 of being in Thailand and cry during a Language lesson and scare your poor Thai teacher by breaking face.  There will be some people in your group that pick it up so easy and this may discourage you. You will learn that some people are just really good at picking up languages and you Kaya... just aren't one of those people.  You will not pass the Language test the first time but you won't care.  Actually as it turns out in your town people will speak Khmer, Laos, Sohi, and Thai so it won't really matter that you didn't make it to Intermediate Low level of Thai. You will go to site and start from basically square one with Language. Its ok you will be eventually get it, you pass the language test with an Intermediate Low at Reconnect 6 months into your service. 

I know that you say that you don't have any expectations now do. Deep down inside I know that you want to be placed in Southern Thailand because...beaches, am I right. Well I hate to burst your bubble but you end up no where close to a beach.  Actually on the day you find out your site you look on a map and think you are on an Ocean and then you realize....its not an Ocean it is Cambodia. You are placed in Issan on the Cambodian boarder. You will not be happy about being placed in Surin at first because, like I said, you had some expectations. You will create worries in your head about your site and none of those worries will be valid.  Actually you will come to learn that you were placed at the most perfect site for you. Issan is the culture capitol of Thailand, there will be parites every week in your community for another holiday. The people of Surin know how to party. They are the best people in Thailand.  You will be yourself from day one showing your tattoos and piercings and no one will bat an eye. Not only will you get to experience Thai tradition but Khmer culture as well! Trust me when I say that you end up right where you are supposed to be, but there will be heartbreak...Matthew will be placed really far away from you.  Actually you end up being the only Group 126 volunteer in Surin, but don't fear. You get placed by someone who becomes one of your best friends and greatest support system in Thailand. Just wait until you meet Meredith!! You will know you love her when you go into town to meet her for a burger and a beer and she is wearing the cute David Bowie shirt.  She is amazing and your host mom falls in love with her too! 

You will come to detest the question.."So what are you doing in Thailand?" wont actually have any projects come to fruition in Thailand until 10 months into your service.  Don't worry about that, just focus on spending time with people and becoming a part of your community.  You will go to some weird things and see some crazy stuff...enjoy it. Just wait it keeps getting better. Soon you too will just say Oh, Thailand! 

Right now, just focus on spending time with all the people you love back in America. You will have plenty of time to worry about Thailand in Thailand.  Snuggle with your mom as much as you can, seriously anytime that woman is around just hold her.  Go out with your friends.  Pet your dog so much your hand gets numb, you will miss Sebastian just as much as you think you will but don't worry he falls in love with your mom... but he doesnt forget you. His ears will perk up on Skype dates with your mom and he will learn the Viber ring tone is you calling.  I know you are beginning to realize how amazing and perfect Katie is.. just wait she gets better.  She is always with you, the distance will be hard but she is always there. Eat all the food you can in America. Don't worry about getting in shape or blah blah blah for Thailand, eat. Eat all the cheese you are going to be missing. Rub butter all over your body because you won't see it again for a long ass time.  

Most of all enjoy the ride.  You will soon realize you have absolutely no control in Thailand.  Throw up your hands and go.  You are about to go on a better adventure than you ever could have expected. The crazy stories you will be able to tell a year from now will be amazing.   


Your slightly older 2014 PCV Kaya 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stories to tell the grandkids...

I have always had a love for people who were about 50-70 years older than me. Growing up  I was regularly around my great-grand parents and grandparents on both sides of my family. My mom also has a love for people who are older. She taught me to always take the time to listen to an older person story. My mom is a talker, she will make a friend in any place she goes. During my last years of high school my mom started regularly volunteering weekly, sometime daily at a retirement home down the corner.  I swear my mother knew each and every person in that complex, not only did she know their name but she knew where each person lived and she knew a lot of life stories. One thing I learned about growing old from being around old people stay the same its the body that changes not the mind.  My mom also had the luck of knowing all the gossip about the retirement home, and i'll let you in on a secret...from elementary school to a retirement home the themes of gossip never change. High school is something I would never wish to go back and re-do, I hated it, but having the opportunity to process some teenage "drama" with an older wiser people helped me tremendously. I realized there will be people throughout my whole life who I don't like and I will have to work with in some capacity or I better start learning to deal with them. I survived high school. People often comment on  me being "wise beyond my years" I think that is because when I was growing up my mom taught me to listen to wisdom, different from advice.

One thing about my friend Katie that constantly draws me to her is her love of growing, in many aspects. Katie is up for the journey of growing up, enjoying every moment as it comes but also believing that everything gets better with age, even life. Katie and I have spent hours talking about how fierce we will be old ladies and what kind of Grandma's we will be. Embracing every gray hair, wrinkle, body change that comes with old age. We also talked about the kinds of stories we will tell our grandchildren. It was during a talk with Katie, I came to another small realization of life, for me, I want to live a life that will be amazing stories to tell my grandchildren. Not perfect stories, amazing stories, raw stories, WTF I can't believe grandma did that stories. 

So here I am, 24. I think I have a grand collections of stories to share already. Some stories I tell don't even seem real. I want my life to be like the movie Big Fish. I think I am on a good path so far, but I am so happy that the stories will only get better. 

Everyday in Thailand is a story. The other day the weather was beautiful and my windows were open in the early afternoon. From my room I could hear chickens, dogs, loud music, and a sound I can only explain as a water buffalo giving birth...I will be honest it very well could have been a cow but water buffalo sounds better. A noise that at first horrified me, then made complete sense in my little neighborhood here in rural Thailand. Biking around chickens, dogs, cats, children, motorcycles, and any random thing that pops up in the middle of the street is my normal right now. I take it in. It won't be my normal forever but it will be a great story to tell the grandkids. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let me tell ya bout my Mae.

I have been really lucky in the Mom department. Like really lucky. I have my Mom whose loins I come from, you all should know by now what a fan I am of her. Many adopted Mammas like crazy Kelly, Cynthia, and Renee...they add love to my mom bucket. I also have an amazing Mae in Suphanburi, who I first lived with when I got to Thailand during training. But....let me tell you about my Mae, my host mom who I have been living with for 6 months and plan on staying with for the rest of my time here in Surin. 

Her name is Dik. I never call her that, to me she is Mae. I live with her and my host dad Paw, his name is this day I can not correctly pronounce his name correctly. I have to say it about 5 times differently for people to understand what I am saying. Both my Mae and Paw are retired teachers. Neither one of them speak English, but sometimes they know a few words that surprise me. They have 3 kids all grown and working in Bangkok. So I think when I moved here my Mae really liked it because now there was a kid at home. It took a while for us to bond, only because there was this huge language barrier. As I started to understand more Thai I began to realize that my Mae........... is absolutely positively hilarious.  This woman cracks me up all day everyday. The few volunteers who have been to my house have all said it after meeting her, she is a hoot. We also adapted our communication styles, Mae and I communicate 40% speaking Thai, 40% acting things out, and 20% using translation apps. We have had some good conversations...but todays was so special I had to stop what I was doing and share with the world. 

She comes into my room most nights around 8 or 9.  There is ac in the whole house, but I am the only one that uses it so she likes to come in my room for an evening cool down and chat. Today I had something to show her, my Mom in America sent me some pictures of little Kaya about 6 years old. I knew my Mae would love to look at them.
I show her the first picture of me from 1996, in a beautiful forest green mystery fabric outfit standing by the Christmas tree. He first comment is...

"Yaya, Uaan"...translation..."Kaya you are fat in this picture" but she didn't mean it bad. Then she burst out with the english word 'Innocent' ( I was like woah Mae where did you get that word from!)..... She was telling me I was that innocent kind of fat. And white. She was just amazed by how white I was. I showed her other pictures but she kept coming back to that one and saying the word "Innocent".  She just thought I was the cutest kid. Kept saying "you are so cute" in Thai.  She told me she loves "Farang" kids (Farang means foreigner). She said boys girls it doesn't matter Farang kids are so cute. 

Then she asked if anyone in my family had kids, so I showed her pictures of my cousins Alan and Lindsays' kids. She just wanted to keep looking at pictures because the kids were SO cute.  With a mischievous grin she leans over to me and says in Thai "You have to get them to come visit you so I can hold those kids!" After that we went back to the "Innocent" picture of me...

I love my Mae because she doesn't let anything get in the way of getting to know me.  We both worked through the awkwardness and found our own way to communicate. Sometimes she even likes to ask me really tough questions. Todays tough question translates to "So Yaya, when babies are born is there a daycare the parents can use so they can go back to work?? And does the government pay for the daycare like here in Thailand?" My Thai is ok, but not great so when she was asking me that question in Thai...I had no clue what she was asking. So my Mae took to acting it out...she should be a world champion in charades. We were both cracking up as she acted like she was pregnant, gave birth, and then put the "kid" somewhere while she went off to "work". This moment goes right up there with the time she wanted to know how student loans work in America...

Im thankful for moments like this, this is what the Peace Corps is about. Me this tall, tatted, white girl from America and her this little older lady from a small village in Thailand building a relationship. Making memories. Becoming family.  I am her daughter. She is my Mae. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Heart of the matter...

I think I have figured why writing is so hard for me...I don't want to write about the now. When I start to write and tell about Thailand a million memories come to my mind, I get so overwhelmed I don't know where to start. Not just Thailand memories but life memories. I think to myself "I should write that down" then I get discouraged because I have lived quite the life and have never been a writer. Then I realize I am 24, I still have a lot of life to live and a lot of time to write.

It has been intense over here in my mind, body, and heart. Such a growing process. I think the way Peace Corps changes the world is by changing the hearts and opening the minds of Americans. For me, I am changing the world because I am changing my heart. That is a big deal.

My idea of being a Peace Corps volunteer was never that I would serve and bring all these great ideas to people. As a social worker and a human it is important for me to be aware of culture and respect it, to never think I have all the answers, and to always look for strengths.

I want to share with you some strengths about Thailand and my community that I have noticed...

Thais always take care of their Elders and each other. Old people are honored and respected. This last week was mothers day. My whole family came into town from Bangkok. All my host sisters and brothers are grown and out of the house. It is so beautiful to see the family interact when everyone is here. My Yai (grandma) is very old and my Mae spends her days taking care of her, but when the kids come into town they help.  Help shower her, help feed her, help change her, snuggle her, and love her so much. My Yai is loved. So very loved and honored. Along with every other elderly person in my village. They never go hungry and they are always honored no matter what.

Thais also take care of each other.  I have a few individuals in my village that developmentally disabled.  They all have friends and they all live together. Everyone sees them as family. They are always fed and no one is afraid of them like some people may be in America. They are loved. We don't have any homeless people in my village. If you don't have a place to sleep, you can sleep at the Wat. You could never possible go hungary in my town. Everyone is always asking everyone if they ate, when, what, and are they ready to eat again!

Today I went to my Tessaban (government office) and found out some things that had recently happened in my community.....which I had no clue about.  Apparently on Mothers Day all of the kids, Tessaban Workers, and families planted trees and made compost. I had this great idea that I was going to start up a compost and gardening club that would just be amazing. Today I found out they have it already.  At first I was really bummed that no one told me about this tree planting party or that they had a super awesome compost system at the school...but then I is great they don't need me for that! They already have those skills and systems in place and that is awesome.

They also did a Global Warming Campaign with the school. Teaching about all different ways that we can do our part to help Global Warming. Now this....this was comical to me because here I am serving in the peace corps in a 3rd world country and they RECOGNIZE Global Warming. It also gave me hope.  The World is not just one nation, country or is all of us and we all have to work together to take care of it.

To close this out I would like to answer the question everyone has been asking me.."What exactly do you do?"

I am working on my heart. I am learning how to be a better global citizen. I am building relationships. I am becoming part of a family. I am becoming part of a community. I will never be the same.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Thai-way or the highway. Embracing the difference.

Peace Corps is unlike anything I have ever done in my life. It continues to challenge me daily and I don't plan on it getting less challenging anytime soon. I feel like I have had a personal breakthrough recently and have discovered some revelations that are true for myself. I still struggle with the challenge of writing down all the thoughts I have in my head and explaining this experience in words. So bear with me as I try. First I will lay some foundation....

#1 Culture Shock. Cultural differences.

Here in Thailand up is down. Left is right. Towels for your feet are used for your face. Toilet paper is kept in the kitchen to use as a napkin and there is a sprayer in the bathroom for your bottom. They put corn in sweet treats such as ice cream. Busses, trains, vans, and all forms of transportation come and go as they please and people wait without complaint because this is Thailand.

I remember one of my first papers in Grad School was about my world view. How my growing up determined how I viewed things. How my world view was shaped and what I see as right and wrong. I have gone back to that paper. Re-read it and re-wrote it. In the two years since I wrote that paper my world view has completely changed and I know that after being in Thailand for two years my world view will continue to change.

Through my current world view, here are some cultural aspects about Thailand that are challenging for me:

Kids are still hit in schools. It starts young, like preschool. It is hard, not on the butt and usually done in front of others to cause embarrassment.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. You do not challenge your teacher. What the teacher says is truth. Your teacher is seen as a second parent raising you.

If you have a problem with someone, it more appropriate for you to tell your problem to the persons friend rather then directly to them. The friend can then tell the friend.

Nothing is direct.

Yes means no sometimes. You can agree to go somewhere and know right well you don't plan on going but say yes anyway. When you don't show up....its ok.

There is a concept called "saving face" this means that self control, self respect, and the respect of others in the social hierarchy are VERY important. To put it in other terms, saving face is a major case of keeping up appearances. If you "break someones face" it is more on you than them. You are making a fool out of yourself, not the other person.
Gentle example: A man who works at high level in the local health office liked making fun of me for being a boy. Saying I was the prettiest boy ever. Making fun of me in a less than kind way. If I would have said to him something along the lines of "why are you being a jerk to me?" or  "stop being rude" I would have broken his face. In turn showing that I am not mature enough to handle my emotions.
Not so gentle example: You see a man physically abusing a woman near your house. You start yelling for it to stop and don't know what to do. Someone tells you that the two individuals are part of your host families extended family, and the correct action to take during this is to stand back and let the elder of the family handle it.  By intervening in such a scene would result in you disrespecting the Elder of your house, the man abusing the woman, and the woman being abused. You broke their face.
To fully understand the concept of saving face, you have to also understand how Buddhism influences this cultural rule. One of the main points in Buddhism is to remain equanamous, neutral. Not to show aversion or desire to anything.

Now I know that after reading some of those things you yourself are thinking holy shit balls that is so fucked

I have to/choose to live in this different society for two years. The first step in understand cultural things that I think are so wrong is to recognize my own world view. Recognize what has shaped me to be the person that I am. How those experiences helped me determine what is right and what is wrong. I have full freedom not to agree with these examples, but I feel like I have an obligation to my community and this society to begin to understand them. To understanding how the general world views of Thais became to be, what influences how they see right and wrong, understanding Thai Buddhism and respecting it. Finding the resiliency in this society. It is not my responsibility to bring my American world views to Thailand and say "you're doing it all wrong".  It is my responsibility to come to Thailand and say, show me your culture, I will respect your culture. I am in your culture now, I need to adjust to see things differently.

Step 1...Know your personal world view
Step 2...Be aware of the differences in your personal world view and the world view of the society you are living in.
Step 3...Know that no world view is right or wrong, it is different.
Step 4...Breath in, breath out. Check yourself. Thank the people around you for putting up with you, Don't expect for the society you are living in to apologize to you for the fact that they do things differently from you...Realize you need to change to be more culturally appropriate to them, not visa versa.
Step 5...Recognize your personal judgements, become aware, understand them, and let them go. Don't feel guilty for having judgments. Just recognize them and move on.

Rinse. Repete.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oh the places you'll go!


Today is your day.
You're off to great places!
You're off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any
direction you choose.
You're on your own and you know what to do…

So I am on my own. Have been at my site, for two weeks now. This is the place I will live for the next two years.  There is one other volunteer in my Province, she is a 125 volunteer from the group before me. Let me tell you about my new home.

I live in the Surin province. It is in the northeastern part of Thailand know as Isan. When I found out about my placement a lll people could tell me about it was that it is the elephant capitol. Ohhh lots of elephants….no there aren't any elephants in my village.
My province is on the boarder of Cambodia, because of this there is a huge Khmer influence here. Khmer is Cambodian. This means that the people in my community don't just speak Thai. Actually when they are talking to one another they very rarely speak Thai so……the 10 weeks of intense Thai language training was great and people still understand Thai here but it has not gotten me too far. I still don't know what is going on about 95% of the time. Just smile and nod. Smile and nod.
So at any given time there are 3 different languages going on at once: Thai, Isan, and Khmer. Smile and nod Kaya…smile and nod.
Surin is not just known for elephants but also the silk that is made here. It is absolutely gorgeous.
The motto of Surin is….."Surin the land of elephants, splendid silk, beautiful silver beads, stone castles, sweet cabbage, aromatic rice, beautiful culture"
My community is quite Urban. Lots more people then the village I trained in for 10 weeks. I live in a lovely house with an older couple who are fabulous. I have some amazing accommodations that I did not have in Suphanburi such as: AC (glorious beautiful AC), a washing machine, a heated shower, an inside stove complete with an oven and a microwave. The upstairs is all to myself and…I have a real king sized bed. I also have a balcony. There are 3 dogs at my house named Chai Yen (Iced tea), Coffee, and Ovaltine. They are vicious. We had a little disagreement my first few days here.
The disagreement happened when I came home and my host family was gone. They did not want to let me in the house. Then they threw a complete and total BF (bitch fit) when I kept trying to get into my house. This resulted in me blocking myself with my bike. Holding a chair in one had to protect myself, a broom in the other hand to poke them back and me yelling "NO OVALTINE, BACK COFFEE, STOP CHAI YEN". I felt like a lion tamer, pushing them back with my chair, poking with my broom, and having them on the other end growling (roaring) and showing their teeth like they were going to eat me. My life was flashing before my eyes. I called for help, help came and then they acted like sweet little harmless creatures again. Since then we have worked our relationship troubles out a bit. Coffee still likes to pee on my bike every time I come home, and I let him. Id pee on it too if I could. Chai Yen barks at me every time but stays back, I get it sometimes I like to just hear myself speak too.
They like to eat some fried bugs here. I have tried quite a few kinds. Not my favorite thing but, gotta try it. They love laughing at me when they offer me bugs and my eyes get big.
I have shown my tattoos and had my piercings since day one. Everyone loves my tattoos, especially my best friends at the day care. I have a P'Yaya fan club, about 15 kids between the ages of 2-4. I visit them every day and when I do, the crowd roars..and by that I mean they leach only my legs, climb on me and point at all my tattoos and ask what they are. Everyday. Its the best.
I tried to add some pictures but it is being challenging today, maybe another day when I have another spurt of writing motivation!