Our sixth week of training was the beginning of our downward trek through PST. Think of a bike ride (I do that a lot here, so it’s easy to relate to). On your bike ride you come to a big hill. After downshifting and working as hard as you possibly can, you come to the top and then, all too quickly, you’re reaching for the brakes as your downward journey picks up speed. This is kind of how I feel about pre-service training thus far. When I look back at how far we’ve come, I’m so proud of our accomplishments and very excited for what lies ahead, but at the same time I am trying to slow down and take each moment and each day as they come. All too soon, we’ll be headed to our permanent sites, away from each other and from the comforts of training, so the here-and-now is becoming more and more significant.
Monday was another all-YinD day at the SAO. After a quick check-in, which is usually more like “who had a weird experience they’d like cultural clarification about”, we had a really interesting session on Buddhism. The session was presented by our Ajaans (Thai teachers), one of whom was actually an ordained female monk for three months. Ajaan Pornapa is my Thai teacher right now, so I’ve had many unique opportunities to talk with her about her experiences, practices and Buddhism in general.
Ajaan Pornapa led a really interesting and perfectly timed session on meditation. I’m certainly not the best at meditating, but I really liked the idea and certainly think I’ll give it another try. My favorite take-away from the session was the Buddhist idea of being present in the present moment. Since then, I’ve used the teaching as a good reminder to do my best, give my all, and pay full attention to what’s happening right in front of me. This lesson was another one that I’m sure will come in handy during the next couple of years.
Our second morning session was about gender equality and issues in Thailand, which turned out to be one of my favorite technical sessions we’ve had during PST. We talked a lot about opportunities for female students, women’s rights and expectations, and gender equality. The subject is not going to be an easy one to tackle, but I look forward to future opportunities that will allow me to combat some of the current barriers in Thailand. Even during our few weeks of practicum, I’ve noticed huge discrepancies in our classroom with things as simple as girls and boys not wanting to partner together or stand in the same line. The overarching issue of gender equality will certainly not be solved in 27 months, but we must keep in mind each learning opportunity we’re able to teach upon will be a small step in the right direction.
The rest of our week was spent in morning language sessions and afternoon practicum lessons. My partner, Diana, and I spent a lot of the week teaching lessons that involved teamwork, partner work and communication. We didn’t have to teach on Friday because our school was organizing a Scout Day for the students grades 4-9. Each student at our school is a scout and they wear their scouts uniforms to school once a week. On this particular day, they didn’t have organized classes, but rather physical activities and tasks.
To start their day, the students walked a 5K route (without supervision) between teachers’ stations, where they got their faces painted. After finding their way back to school, students made fires and cooked their own lunch over the fire. Now, if a similar thing were to take place at an American school, I would imagine it’d involve a pre-cooked hot dog and, quite possibly, a s’more. No such thing here in Thailand! These kids had whole fish, chopped (raw) pork, noodles, eggs, rice and vegetables that they prepared. The meals were fit for a king!
After lunch, students cycled through six physical activity stations: vertical rope climb, money rope climb, barrel roll, rope bridge, plank walk and tire climb-through. The stations were really fun and the American teachers (aka PC trainees) even got to join in the fun! We manned the tire climb-through station, which was definitely the least-intense, but enjoyed watching the kids struggle through the old, beat-up tires.
Saturday was a super fun full-group day, Sports Day! Each of us was pre-assigned to a color team for the day, with roughly 12-15 people on each team. I was on the purple team – yay! To start the day off, each team had to come up with a unique cheer, which, of course, had to incorporate Thai and English words. Luckily, we had a couple of the Thai staff on each team to help us out. I became the self-appointed flag bearer for Team Purple, which really just involved running around my fellow purple people as they said our chant. At the end of our cheer, the team made a pyramid while I stood in the back and waved our flag proudly. All was fine and dandy until I realized my hand was covered in blood because I’d cut myself on the bamboo flagpole.
After a quick iodine and band-aid treatment, I was back to the games! Each team played another team in one of three events: takraw, pétanque and ultimate frisbee. The latter of the two games are traditional Thai sports that we’ll most likely see played in our communities. It’s amazing how competitive a group of Americans can be about games they’ve never played before!
Takraw is a mix between soccer and volleyball. Three players stand on each side court, which is divided by a net a couple of feet off the ground. Using only their feet, legs, heads and bodies (but no arms or hands), the team of three people has to successfully get the takraw ball over to the other side of the net. The rules and serving complicate things a little bit, so I won’t go into all the details, but it was a very fun game to play and watch!
Pétanque was essentially the Thai version of bocce ball, so it was a little easier to understand and play. Other than playing within defined boundaries, the most notable difference between pétanque and bocce ball is that players must toss the ball with their fingers up rather than down. It doesn’t sound all that difficult, but it definitely affects the ball’s final resting place, especially if there is a lot of backspin on it.
Because Peace Corps is not only about absorbing another culture but also about sharing American culture, we included ultimate frisbee in Sports Day. In complete honesty, I hated playing ultimate frisbee in high school gym class and have not played since then, but it was actually really fun to play and I even scored a touchdown (or whatever the score equivalent in ultimate is).
After Sports Day, a group of us set off on our bikes to explore the surrounding area. We literally just started biking to see what we could find. We biked for about 20 minutes before seeing a sign that said “Welcome to Ang-Thong”, but we didn’t really think anything of it at the time. We stopped in a couple of random rice fields to take pictures and soon found a super cool temple we decided to explore.
When we’d arrived and locked up our bikes, one of our brave group members called our training manager, as we’re supposed to do whenever we leave our training towns. The phone call went something like this: “Hi Rumpai, this is Megan…no, no, nothing is wrong…a group of us are in Ang-Thong at a wat…oh, sorry…um, okay…yeah, there’s nine of us, but we’re fine…thank you for understanding…bye!” The long-and-short of it is that we had accidentally biked into the next state, which we’re definitely not supposed to do. Whoops! Since it was an accident, Rumpai was very understanding and told us to enjoy the temple but then head back to our training area. After doing so, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring picturesque locations in our training village, stopping to take pictures and eat ice cream along the way. All in all, someone calculated our bike ride at around 25 kilometers, which was definitely the most I’ve biked in one day since being in Thailand!
Sunday was a very relaxed day. I did my laundry and coined the phrase “saak-pa Sunday”, which means “laundry Sunday” in Thai. A few of us taught English to local children for an hour at the nearby riverside pavilion and then spent the afternoon at the traditional market. After a busy week and exhausting Saturday, a relaxing Sunday was exactly what I needed!