Goodbye-My Last Day Volunteering in Thailand

Latin Americans are known for being emotional people. Well, I even by Brazilian standards am considered “melted butter” (someone who gets emotional very, and I mean very very easily). So you can just begin to imagine how it was for me the end of the English Camp, and also my stay here at my little lovely Ban Nonpho school. I will start by telling about how the camp finished and then move to 3 episodes where I felt enormous pure joy during the camp.

This is going to be difficult to explain but I will try. In the end of them camp we all went to the big football field and made a circle. Not sure how to say that in English, in portuguese it is a “roda” ciranda. Anyway, basically everyone who was in the school joined this circle. And then the circle broke away next to me, so that this new beginning could “redo the way of the circle by greeting everyone. Which means that every single person was able to see everyone. As I was in the beginning I stood still while every single kid “way ed” me, shook my hand, and said good-bye. This was all happening while three teachers were singing a very sad tune with lyrics saying ” goodbye my friends”. I can say that I was fully present in every single hand I shoook. I looked attentively to each face. I observed the shy ones who avoided my look, the extroverted ones who shook my hand intensively, the smily ones who added kunkru Tchu after the goodbye, and I was doing quite well, for as long as no one from Ban Nonpho, my little school had arrived. But then the first one did, it was lovely Guem, and when I looked at him, with the same profound observation I had looked at the others my eyes started to overflow. I tried really hard not to cry and I was successful as the next kids were unknown to me. But then the kind teacher (who s mother had died), “Way ed” me and looked into my eyes for longer and with more kindness than I could take… and I started crying. I who had already cried in the funeral of her mother! So most of the time I was controlling my tears, trying to be present, but everytime I was fully present, and thought about the beauty of waying to everysingle kid, and especially saying goodbye to “my kids” I cried.

For lunch as usual I joined the kids. So much more fun than being with the adults. And most of Ban Nonpho students were inside of one classroom. They were playing so I joined in. And as they were turning upside down, I could not feel more at ease. I joined them in all kinds of acrobatics I knew. and they had sooooooooo much fun that the room got entirely packed from students from all of the other schoools. There were kids looking from the window outside, at the door, there was no room left whatsoever… which made it sliglhly dangerous… but well, these kids are so used to falling… and to playing and getting sometimes hurt… that it made me again think about how overly worried, and obsessive most of western countries have become… so we played…….. getting hit sometimes by falling bums and legs. They showed things they could do like putting legs behind their heads, and we tried it all. They laughed, and clapped, and fell, and giggled, and it was soooooooo much fun then when lunch was over they all came to me to say. “Kunkru Tchu thank you very much!!!.”

The day of camp itself was hilarious I had asked Non Nan to teach me a song in Thai the night before and I actually sang it to the whole school. In a microphone, while they all looked at me in total surprise ( just imagine how wrongly I probably sounded). They clapped in ecstasy! I was then made to dance with them, while the speakers played Thai pop music! we went wild!

As everything here begins with a meditation, so it ends. And to my complete surprise as all teachers know I am planning to go for vipassana, they ask ME to seat in meditation position in front of the kids. I first refused and said I would seat with them. But then as they were all so curious as to see how I was seating, i followed HOrn’s request and sat on the stage. I sat in lotus position, as I am quite used to it, and realized the kids were amazed. They copied me. And then to my complete surprise I close my eyes amidst enormous noise from teachers and kids, and suddenly the place went silent, and I felt totally in peace. When I opened my eyes much later and I saw all these little kids, 200 of them meditating, I felt so much happiness. I could not really place it. It felt totally surreal to be me a westerner meditating in front of Buddhist Thais, but there I was, and I felt so much love for these kids.

And then time to go came. And I being Brazilian went to hug everyone. Tanoy said to me ” I sad you are going” it was her way. They did not know very well the hugging thing. Ta, a little fat boy from year 4 gave me a kiss on the face. Most hugs were awkward. But they hang around and said bye many times, many, many times…. And then Tangmo who was not officially in the camp came, and she ran into me and totally hugged me. A real hug! A very strong hug… and then I being melted butter… well then I really cried….

English Camp- Volunteering in Thailand

Thailand is known as the land of smiles and I have never seen as many smiles together as I did yesterday during the first day of the English Camp. I was sooooooooooooo tired when i came back home that I had to really work hard to remain awake till 8pm, then I subsided to my fatigue and slept till this morning. The camp was really a big deal, not only the principals of the neighbouring schools came by, and the education supervisor, but even the director of education of the Kon Khaen province. And as you might imagine that meant me being on hundreds of pictures

First the kids arrived, being brought by their own principals in the back of pick up trucks. Just imagine the sight, many pick ups driving inside the school, with tons of 10, 11, and 12 year old kids in the back, suddenly jumping out on the football field behind our school, and walking towards us like little ants. Tables were put on the volleyball court for the kids to sign in and after a bit of mess, excitement, and confusion all kids were led to sit on the floor, in front of the stage built for the Opening ceremony.

Nothing starts here before paying respect to the Buddha, a little prayer, and a short mediation. So that is what happened. Then there were the speeches by the Principal of my school, and the provincial director of Education. Both written by me, and far too complicated for their level of English. It was not that the speeches were difficult, simply that they could not read English! As yo might be used by now, as nothing here is never to strict, during both speeches piratically no one but me paid attention.

And then the camp started. First every siingle kid stood in line to shake hands with me and Hans ( who was there just for that moment then left and say ” Hello my name is Kunkru Tchu, Hello my name is…. nice to meet you! “. The kids from my school were naturally super fine with that, but the others were quite shy. Apart from one or another more extroverted kid, they almost all spoke quite softly. I always said very good. Perfect, and helped the ones who couldnt but never insisting to much on the ones evidently too nervous. I could notice that these kids were also very poor. Some had some injuries like sacrs, a blind eye, some were wearing masks afraid of contracting the swine flue

There were 8 bases. Myself, my family, my school, culture, weather etc… I was allocated to Culture abnd was supposed to teach them about X-mas and Valentine’s day. The bases were located in the garden, around the football field, under huge trees to protect us from the blasting sun. The kids were separated in different groups, with different colours, and had to move from base to base. Each base had about 3 teachers, and 40 students. In my base no one but me spoke English. So I had to count in the enormous help of Ban Nonpho ( my little school) students! And quite proudly and “bias-ly” I thought they were by far the best Well, they also know me and are not shy.

I had myself written this little texts about X-mas and Valentines day. How can I still be so removed from reality? I had written it was a Christian Holiday, and that it celebrated the birth of Jesus. And of course about Santa Claus and trees. As my first group arrived and I started explaining and looking at their completely blank faces…. I realized “of course they have no idea..” So by group 4 we were only learning to say X-mas, 25th of December. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and making them draw which ever holiday they liked best. Yes it was way more fun and realistic!

Between groups I was made to sing in a Karaoke machine songs I had never never heard. It was hilarious. Little by little the other kids who do not know me, the less shy ones came by, we played, I asked them questions, they giggled and hid and laughed, but had lots of fun. HOrm is without a question the life of the whole event. She dances, and sings, and screams, and it just completely mazing to see how much eenrgy she has.

Anyway, I have to go now as one more camp day awaits me. And then I bid farewell to my very dear kids. I will definitely miss them. Year 3 was not there as the camp was supposedly for years 4,5,6 but Tangmo, and Neen, and Ta and many others from year 3 hung around the whole day. I played with them too.

My next stop is Nong Khai. From there I shall finally cross into Laos. With my heart still here. It is amazing It takes a while to feel entirely in place … and then it is time

Learning Names- Volunteering in Thailand

As a complete tiger balm lover (that little camphor mentol ointment) I could not be in a better place. Thais love that stuff even more than I do. They use it for it all. So I can totally indulge myself on it without being frowned upon like back home. I use it for headaches, muscles aches, sinusitis, to relax and even to cool off when it is too hot. As I have been feeling a bit “flu-ish” I have been using tiger balm more than ever. I dont feel anything severe or serious, just mild flu symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and a bit of sinus irritation. Enough for Horm to want to take me to the doctor in case I have swine flu! I of course completely reject the idea, as I am sure if that is a place I could get swine flu that might be in the hospital.

Today I was left alone again with year 3 and 4. But now it is lots of fun. I actually came up with a way to FINALLY learn their nicknames. Yesterday I did it with year 5 and 6. Basically I ask them to tell me their nicknames, I write it down as it phonetically sounds to me, and I ask them to hold the paper while I take a picture of their faces and name. It was great because by today I knew everybody in year 5 and 6! Today I decided to do the same with year 3 and 4 and it was soooooooo funny… because I realized they actually were copying from me what their names were. As obviously they write their names in Thai, they don’t really know how to spell them in English… and I who was writing them down in a mixture of Portuguese and French had to half way change them to what it would sound in English…. For instance Ai in Portuguese had to become EYE while Aí had to become AEE!

It was not long before Horm came by saying we had to go back home to prepare for the camp. The camp will be this Thursday and Friday so we spent the whole day doing a worksheet with games, and exercises for the camp. Apparently even schools from the other district want to come to our camp! There are already 7 schools coming and Horm is having to reject all others. Too many people for our little school!

As usual the day finishes with OH coming for massage. Her daughter who is 1,5 has an allergy since I arrived here. I have no idea how many times she has been to the doctor in vain. Sometimes I wish I was a doctor and could help her, or take her to a good doctor. So much I like Oh. But the doctor just makes her wait and wait. This little 1,5 who cries in agony with this spots in her skin can barely sleep!, Oh does not even know what they are. Today as she massaged me she gave me a gentle kiss on my back. She said she would miss me. So will I. It is amazing how we can become fond of people who we barely understand and who are sooo different but at the same time just soo alike. When my massage finished I decided to give her one. This lady works like 10 hours a day giving massages  definitely deserves one the most I thought!. It was a bold thing to do, to give a massage to an internationally trained masseuse. I just meant to help. She said I was very good, that I must have learned from receiving massages. She is kind, and tired I guess.

I must go now, apparently we are having vegetarian vietnamese food!

My Farang Behaviour- Volunteering in Thailand

I know this will sound repetitive, but today was the hottest day ever! I thought that yesterday was already too hot and that a storm was about to break out. But to my surprise the day started with no clouds in the sky, and by 10am the temperature was absolutely unbearable. I did not move and still could not stop sweating. As I was lethargically laying down on the wooden divan/sofa outside, i couldn’t help but feel like i was in a movie of those westerners who go to the east and “picturesquely” try to survive the heat by doing nothing while outside they still can see the farmers, the countrymen going about their work just naturally.

As i was lying down on my wooden couch Oye, a 7 year old little girl who was visiting, came to check what i was doing. As usual she just started speaking Thai to me, completely oblivious to the fact that i do not understand Thai. She eventually pointed at my iPod and i understood that she wanted to hear what i was listening to. I chose a song by Monica Salmaso with many clarinets, which i thought was quite child-like and that she might appreciate. She put one earplug in and then lay down next to me, so that we could listen to the music together. She was so cute, because she was very tiny and i could even notice when she liked one song more than another. Not that she said anything, she just paid more attention. She like Monica and she liked Debussy.

When it is that hot there is literally nothing that you can do around here. Even the garden bungalow, which is usually quite cool, was extremely hot. So i just alternated between the wooden couch on the porch and the bungalow trying to practice equanimity while just looking at the very slow pace of life around here. At some point it was actually quite enjoyable. And then of course when i gave up on fighting the heat a storm broke out. Horm was sitting in the hammock while the carpenter was building a swing and Non Nen was watering the plants. As they all moved into the bungalow to not get wet i went out wishing that the storm left me entirely soaked. It was just sooo wonderful!

Non Nen was really worried about me in the rain. In fact she is always very puzzled by my farang behaviour. For instance i always Way everybody. She explained me many times that i cannot Way her because she is a student. I can only Way people older than me. I tell her i like Way-ing everybody, but she just doesn’t understand.

Yesterday, I finally gave her the little book about Brazil. On the cover i wrote ‘from Kun Kru Ju to Non Nen’. It actually took her a while to understand that i was giving the book to her. And when she did she was extremely thankful and happy. A few minutes later she came to me with two laminated pictures. There was a very young couple in both of them. She said “my father, my mother”.

As i knew from Horm that her mother had disappeared and her father had left her to be taken care of by an older lady in the village who used to hit her and not care for her at all, when i saw the laminated pictures my heart shrank. I did not know what to say… All i could say was “they are beautiful”. She said “thank you”, smiling.

There are always many people stopping by at the house. I don’t think i have actually told you who lives here and who comes by every day. Well, there is of course Horm, her two sons whose nicknames are ‘Book’ and ‘Brain’ (she explained me that it was because she’s a teacher that she chose those nicknames), Hans (the Danish guy) and Non Nen and me.

Book and Brain are 17 and 18, and are very very shy. I rarely see them and when i do they avoid talking to me. Also here on a daily basis are Oom (Horm’s secretary, which is the lady that is married and that is having an affair with Hans), her two daughters, the carpenter, and Oh, the masseuse. One hour of massage costs 100 Thai Bhat, which is less than £2, and which basically means we’re having massages almost every day.

Oh came today to give me a 2 hours massage. While she was massaging me the storm that had subsided broke out again more violently than ever. With the storm the power went down. So i actually had a massage by candlelight and amazing lightning outside. I would love to tell you guys about how much i learned from Oh about Thai culture, Thai men, Thai prostitution, but as the power is down, and it is Haiko who is kindly writing down what i am dictating to him over the phone and therefore i cannot elaborate much more.
Lots of love from a completely dark house in South East Asia

Preparing for English Camp- Volunteering In Thailand

Today I was once again left alone in school. By now this is not even remotely surprising anymore. During the morning i divide my time between years 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. And as usual we play games. One of their favourites is having me write words (ball, book, fan) on the board, dividing the class in two groups and call out the word while one person from each group races towards the board in order to circle the correct one. Just like the number game i played yesterday, but way more difficult for them as i realized they can’t actually read English.

They just memorize what it sounds like, scribble a map of the board in their notebook with the Thai spelling of the words and when they have to find a word it is mayhem, and completely random. It actually took me a while to realize they couldn’t read English, and to understand how difficult it actually is for them to play this game. Year 5 and 6 understand a bit better how our alphabet works, so it becomes much easier for them to play the game. But my very megalomaniac dreams of teaching them grammar is gone down the drain.

The reason why i was left alone again today was because 4 principles from neighbouring rural schools had come to have a meeting with Horm, to organize an English camp next week for about 200 students in the area. It is not really what you would expect from a camp, basically all students of the surrounding area come to our little school to learn English with me! I have no idea how this is going to work out. But Horm, who is always very kind, told me not to worry, it’s just good for them to meet farang.

So i did not have lunch with the kids today, but instead with the principals and teachers of the visiting schools. It was quite an interesting lunch. They all wanted to take pictures with me, commented on my beauty, the shape of my body, and other things that i couldn’t understand… To celebrate the end of this promising camp they will take me to karaoke next week. Judging by how much they love Thai pop music around here this will be quite an event.

I am now taking a break while Horm is teaching Thai to the kids. She told me that the teachers are quite happy about running the camp. And then she said something that I thought was really nice:

‘Look Non Ju, how they are very happy to study with you’.

The other principles were really impressed seeing the kids playing unafraid of a farang. She continued:

‘You know, they don’t have to know a lot and be at the top. I just want them to be happy’.

And I had to think how much other schools could learn from this little, tiny, poor school here in the Thai countryside.

As some of you have asked me whether you could send something to the school, here follows the address:

Ban Nonpho School
206 Moo 15 Ban Nongarm
Naphiang Sub-district
Chum Phae District
Khon Kaen Province
Thailand 40130

Please, don’t send anything big or expensive, because here everything is very simple. If you want you can send pencils, colour pencils, pictures, or a little book or maps (there are no maps in the school at all). But nothing much, they will appreciate anything. If you do, just write ‘from a friend of Kun Kru Ju’, and put your name as well.
I better go back to the class room, i am already behaving like a Thai school teacher (just leaving..:)

Life in Isaan- Volunteering in Thailand

The time in rural Thailand passes slow. It is nice. The “littlest” things gain such an importance. Like observing the clouds pass, or the webbing of a spider, or the sounds of the rain. Slowly even a person coming from an enormous concrete city with millions of inhabitants suddenly feels at ease with life around. It is strange how we from big cities are so used to other people, but so afraid of other creatures. Now I am no longer frightened of the geckos, or beetles, or spiders, if I do not want to share room with them, i take them out. That is all.

This weekend, had a very slow pace. I could say I did nothing really, but it felt like so many things happened. No light when the storm broke out, many stars in the sky when there was no rain, and the eternal passing clouds. Brain ( Horm’s 17 year old son), brought his girlfriend over, and I could only tell she was his girlfriend because he combed her hair.

The Thai seem to be very very discrete in love matters. Brain usually avoids talking to me all together, this weekend he brought me sweets. He did not give them to me, he gave them to Non Nan who was in front of me, and she passed them on to me. But he had bought them for me! So when I later said “thank you” and he replied  “you are welcome” I was bewildered. Then I said I was hot, and he brought me the fan. I was not saying it to him, of to anyone, just saying something to Non Nan, something she could understand. I was surprised again. He understood me, and was relating to me. See the little things in rural Thailand suddenly mean much more. And in fact it is not so little. It is huge, it is getting closer to someone who is there, and is shy and takes his time, but in fact is always very aware of you. It is huge We from the big cities have lost that.

Sunday night ended with Hom, Oh ( masseuse) and I laughing in the porch. Horm and I were having massage, and talking about the silliest things. Lying down on the floor, looking at the sky. They were laughing at my shaved legs. Thais do not shave. Th’e like their hair. “Well, Asians barely have hair” I replied. They laughed! Oh shared with us the details of shaving practices of all countries she had worked in. Those were Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Korea, and Hungary. It was hilarious. She told us about all situations a masseuse can get into. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Today in school I was left alone the whole day. Horm was enormously busy planning for the English Camp. Most of the day went fine. I even joined the kids in cleaning the school. Can you believe that ? I have the most beautiful pictures ever of Ben washing up plates. I will hopefully post them soon.

I have not mentioned before, but Thai kids hit each other a lot!!! I tried to implement the “no hitting” policy in my class, but it was piratically a complete loss of time. They are simply soooo used to hitting each other, and kicking, and using the ruler over each other’s head, and screaming that even while I was saying no hitting, not nice to one, someone else was already kicking someone else. Well… again no one cries….So one side of me, who wants to respect their cultural ways feels I should say nothing, but when I see a kid with an enormous ruler smashing someone else s head, I cant take it. So I spent enormous time just stopping hitting. And being me, I did it in a totally calm, pacifist and eventually dismayed way.

Then there was game time, which was a total disaster, as Pai started crying, and I could not figure out why. And obviously she could not explain me even if she wanted to. This 12 year old, who is usually super helpful, just sat down, lowered her head, and did not want to play, or lift her head up. I sat next to her, asking ” why are you crying ?” and caressing her for about 10 minutes to no avail. In the end, Non Nan was able to explain me it was because she did not want to be in Tawit’s ( a little fat boy who is hipper active) team.

When things were finally resolved Horm, showed up to invite me to come talk to the supervisor ( or as she calls it ” the super advisor”) of the region. He wanted to meet me, and take pictures and ask me questions such as ” What do yo think about Thailand? ANd how about Thai Culture? Thai students? Thai teachers?” and so on. He also had more elaborate questions which his very poor English made it impossible for me to understand, and even harder for me to answer.

You have to remember, all of this is happening with people understanding only a few words of what you say. And you having to speak slowly, and clearly and simply. And lots of what they are saying is just lost. Lost in translation, in pronounciation, in smiles. It is lot of guessing. But he was kind, he told me he would like to take me to visit the region, and that when i return to Thailand he would show me all around. He said he could see in the eyes of the kids how happy they were. I “way-ed” saying “kop kum ka” ( thank you)

The principal of my school, who wants to take me to karaoke this week, decided to make a garden behind the volleyball court. Horm was super unhappy about it, as she thinks it not only reduces the playing area for the kids (being therefore a bad idea), but also that no flowers would grow being hit by balls all the time. And let me tell you Horm has a beautiful garden and loves plants!!!

I agreed with her, but as I was invited to plant, I did. The gardeners were completely amused at my farang performance:) They were nice though. And they took cell pictures of me -planting . Horm, said to me in English ” what a stupid idea, don’t u think?” She was delighted she could curse their plan in a language they cant understand. We laughed. And then we rode home. We stopped by the rice fields, the market, and as everybody knows me now, and as I know them as well, time passes slow, but I notice much more things then ever.

Volunteering in Thailand

The sun was stronger than ever this morning. I usually am very careful when taking my showers. As I have told before, I hate cold water! To my surprise however, I am not only totally getting used to the bucket bathing, but i am actually enjoying it a lot. There is something else quite strange about this place. It is like suddenly little things become quite delightful. I, for instance, love eating outside on a little wooden stool and washing my clothes by hand. Not many, just a couple inside of a bucket, lots of foam, the birds singing, the cool water, and my total inability to do it well. It is absolutely therapeutic. And it is not that i really need to, there is a very old and quite simple washing machine. But i just like to start my day having a bucket shower and then listening to the splashing of the water while i wash the few items i have worn the day before.

And then there is breakfast. Mind you, all of this before 7 am. Nothing hurried, nothing unpleasant. Almost a ritualistic morning routine. For breakfast i have the fruits of the garden and the region, which i will not even attempt to write the names, as many of them i have never seen before. And then we ride the scooter for 4 km into the little village until we reach the school.
Today it was once again PE day. Have i already explained about the colours of the clothes? On Monday they dress in blue and white, and the teachers in brown for the government, on Tuesday in pink for the king, on Wednesday they dress as scout boys and girls, on Thursday in black pants and red shirts for PE day, and on Friday in yellow for the Kon Khaen province. I guess it is a way to insure that kids change clothes every day. Thai people are very clean and usually shower twice a day. I really don’t see how to do otherwise in this heat, but then again in some other places people do.
Today, as we arrived in school, Horm told me ‘i am going to Chum Pae (a bigger village around here), wanna join me?’. Even though i have been here for a while it still surprises me how teachers can suddenly just leave the school and the students unattended. So, i said i would stay, and i was left taking care of year 3 and 4 on my own.

Picture this, i do not speak Thai and they do not speak English. In fact, nobody speaks English around here. I had absolutely no idea what to do, and luckily for me they were more than willing to help me by teaching me games we could play together. Everything here involves a lot of noise. So the games consisted in the kids either singing very loudly, or i had to write numbers on the board, divide the class in 2 groups and call the numbers out (a bit like bingo) while one person from each group raced towards the board to circle the correct number. I also made up a drawing game and they really enjoyed that.

As i teach them words in English they tell them to me in Thai. I cannot explain to you the laughter that is generated by my poor attempts in speaking Thai. In fact, I even suck in knowing their names. And when i ask them they give me nicknames, and then their names, and then something else, or just repeat what i am saying, or just say yes to whatever i said, which makes it impossible for me to know. When they say something to me in Thai which i don’t understand they think that by repeating it very slowly i might. If that doesn’t seem to work they try very loud. Then i go for help to year 5 and 6 to get Non Nan or Tangnoi. They come smiling and are very very helpful and always sort it out. Then i had to move to year 5 and 6, which were also left alone in school this morning, and they were also willing to teach me new games.

Lunchtime is also much better lately. Apart from the first day there was never again any hitting of the kids, and as i bring my own vegetarian food it is all fine. I never stay and eat with the teachers, i always go and play with the kids. So lunchtime is basically spent inside the classroom, where there is a fan, playing board games, singing games, clapping games, or just simply laying on the floor. Oh, i am also taking lots of pictures, and they love posing for them. In fact, so far, lunchtime and school time don’t seem to differ all that much. During the whole day in school there are kids who are not from our school, but always pop up to visit. ANd adults seem to come from everywhere, and teachers seem to disappear all the time. As you can see it is not at all what you might think of an Asian style school. The whole day there is lots and lots of laughter.