Sunday, October 28, 2007


Pete and I on the morning of our first day. The fog rolls in every night now days.
Sheila and I a few ours on. Still doing pretty well despite the fact that the trail we were following for the first couple hours was actually just a stream!
We weren't really as lost as it looks, but it did take us quite a while to figure out where we were. Good thing our guide (my neighbor Sa-oo) was able to yell some Karen through the woods and find some people to show us the way!
We ended up in the middle of the rice field that was cut out of the forest.

Sheila and Pete rest their tired legs after many hours of hiking up and down mountains. This is the first village we stayed in.

Sa-oo visited with his family members while we complained about how bad our legs hurt!

Here the three of us are enjoying the early morning on our second day. The field behind us is rice. I can't imagine having to harvest that!
Sa-oo is a pretty small guy but that doesn't discount the fact that we had on big packs. The views are unbeatable!

This is a typical Karen house in the mountains of Northern Thailand

Another rice field in the river valley. This is the perfect season for this hike!

This bridge was a lot more sturdy than it looked. We took a rest at this river and actually got to bathe for the first time in two days. It was pretty nice.

This was one of the largest stand of bamboo I have seen.

We arrived at a village that had no more than five houses. We sat there and ate pomelo, drank Karen tea and chatted with the few people who could speak Thai.

We soon attracted the whole village. I'm pretty sure random farangs don't show up at their village all that often!

Our second night we arrived at this beautiful mountain lake. We decided to camp instead of stay with a family. We were quite the celebrities there as well and we had about 10 girls help us set up our camp.

The lake in the early morning was truly amazing. It was pretty cold and there was steam coming off the lake. I could think of anything better to wake up to!

It was amazing!

Traditional Karen houses all have fires inside to cook over. They have no chimneys so the inside of the roof is covered in thick black soot. The smoke just seeps out of the roof as you can see here.

Just another amazing view during our hike.

We made it down and we were exhausted. In order to develop this into a tourist trip another day would surely have to be added. It was a grueling trip, but one I will never forget!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Beetle Battle

Living abroad can be so challenging, monotonous, exciting, and undecipherable among many other adjectives. Just as you think you have integrated into the culture and have a well rounded understanding of the customs of the country you reside in, you encounter an elderly man sitting in the back of the famous Chiang Mai red passenger pickups with a stick of bamboo. This stick of bamboo is covered in half of a plastic two liter bottle with two giant horned insects that have string tied around their horns and then connected to the bamboo. Apparently not only good for eating, but also for entertaining beetle battles! This country, WOW!

David Vs. Goliath

I think I have finally met my match in Thailand and it has driven me to the edge of insanity. You are probably thinking it could possibly be the exotic food, the remoteness of my village, the language barrier, but you are wrong! My arch nemesis has become the most unassuming of creatures: the ant! Now if you are a Peace Corps Thailand volunteer you are most likely nodding your head and wondering why it has taken me such a long time to come to this simple understanding of everyday Thai life. If you have not been directly exposed to ants in Thailand there are other ways that you could come to the realization that there may be a few of these pesky creatures roaming around in Thailand. I suppose one of the main clues would be that upon entering a Thai grocery store you will most likely be confronted with at least an entire aisle devoted solely to their destruction. After hearing, but not fully understanding, other volunteer’s horror stories about the black and red menace I have unfortunately come to a somewhat dramatic realization of the psychological harm they can inflict on an unknowing Peace Corps volunteer.

Now I know in the US we have ants, but we also have a harsh climate that impedes the proliferation of a million varieties these six legged creatures. Secondly, we have houses that are largely sealed off from the outside environment. I think there is no other place that could be more opposite than my village in the mountains of Thailand. My house looks like a sort of chalet when viewed from the outside, but is in reality a very simple structure. The only barrier from the outside world are the boards that have enough cracks in between that they could quite seriously be considered more of a curtain than a wall as understood in the American sense. Furthermore, the moist warm climate seems to be the type of environment that ants must consider a true paradise.

In this paradise Darwin’s theory has taken hold to create a plethora of ant types. They are big, small, red, black, fast, slow, communal, solitary, dangerous, harmless, which all adds up to one giant headache. Everyday it is a battle between me and the ants for the supremacy of this wooden structure that apparently both of us want to call home. As I stroll through my house it is inevitable that I will see ants. Sometimes they are marching in a long line hurriedly following their scent trail to what I suppose must be the ant’s golden city of Dorado, while at other times there is the solitary ant who seems to have lost his way and is in a frantic scramble to find his buddies. Upon moving into my house I attacked each and every ant, or line of ants, with reckless abandon. Ant spray in hand, I would haunt every corner inside and outside of my house in order to rid myself of this infestation. All the while I was inhaling the fumes that take a mere seconds before my unfortunate victims are left squirming on their death bed. I’m sure it has done wonders on my brain and has most likely sapped what little intelligence I have left.

After a couple months I tried to get into the minds of the ants so that I could possibly wage a psychological war on them. I decided that maybe if I left the battle victims laying around my house that it may act as a deterrent to their onward march. After a week test all it left me with was a very dirty house, on to my next contemplation. Where on God’s earth could they be going? The weird thing is that most of my ant problems are not because of food left out. These ants just seemed to love to do their marching exercises throughout my house. They are very strange little animals. My first week at my house I came across hundreds of them with the butts stuck to the porcelain of my toilet. They were just chillin with not to much concern except for keeps their butts stuck to my toilet. After that I encountered groups of them in this same manner with seemingly no explanation for their behavior. I came to the conclusion that maybe my house was just an obstacle in their journey to another destination and that they were just asking for a temporary easement to pass through my property and the occasional overnight stay on my toilet. I decided to leave them be for a short while....what a mistake that was!

I for some reason was looking through my clothes hanging on my bamboo pole. As I went about my business out of the corner of my eye I saw some ants scrambling out of site on the floor. I kept an eye on them and followed them a clump of ants on the floor under my hanging clothes. From this clump exited a line of ants that I then followed until they eventually went out of site into my expensive suit that I brought all the way from the US but have yet to wear. As I pulled off the jacket from the hanger I was inundated with a swarm of black ants. Luckily these ants are not vicious biters so I shook the jacket for a few seconds and then discovered that their destination was not my jacket but rather the hanger it was on. The hanger is a fancy one that is rather large and has a hollowed out backside. It appears that these ants had decided that it would be a perfect place for their new nest! I took it outside and gassed it good. I must have killed a half billion ants! As hard as it may be to believe, this was not the end to the day’s adventures.

A few hours later I decided, given my recent experience, that I needed to investigate where some much larger red ants that I kept on encountering on my desk had their hideout. As stealthy as a black cat at night, I stalked a solitary ant as he crossed the expanse of my desk. He cautiously crept forward and then quickly scaled a box made of handmade paper that we had been given by Peace Corps to store our HIV/AIDS material. I was prepared with my bottle of ant spray in hand as I opened the lid. Sure enough these guys had decided as well that they had found a perfect home. Chalk another couple hundred thousand dead thanks to my war effort.

I find myself today only a few days removed from that dramatic day’s event and wondering what can I do. I think it is a never ending battle, much like Bush’s war on terror. The million dollar question is; how do I avoid the blunders that have plagued our great president in Iraq with relation to my war on my six legged enemies. I think I’m going to sit down and have a summit with them. I’ll be sure to let you know the outcome after it is over!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Busy, Me?

I haven’t written on my blog for quite some time and I can actually say it is because I have been somewhat busy (I am saying this without a smirk on my face!). For the past few weeks I have been at site for a week and then away at meetings for a week. I am actually getting sick of all the traveling mainly because it takes forever to get to any destination from my hilltop perch. This excessively long duration of travel is due to the fact that Northern Thailand is very mountainous and the roads snake through jungles, canyons, and peaks. It is very scenic, but after traveling the same road on a bi-weekly basis it gets somewhat hard to enjoy. Anyway, the following is what my life has consisted of in the last month.

My journeys began with a trip to Bangkok for a Community Enterprise Committee (CEC) meeting. CEC works on facilitating PCV’s work with small business generation and income generation development as well as helping to build the capacity of the interested members of the PCV’s community. I have decided that I want to be part of the committee because many projects that PC Thailand volunteers work with deal with small business and income generation. The goals are ambitious but realistic and in the end I have lots of time on my hands. Right now there are three of us from group 119 that will be taking over the committee once the members from group 118 leave in about six months.

I returned to site for about two weeks and I was once again on the go. I left my mountain for the wedding of one of the volunteers from my group. John is in his 50’s and has found his true love here in Thailand. Although it is not common, given his age and determination he was able to get married in the city of Pitsanulok on September 9. The wedding was an interesting occasion where we got to view the traditional Thai customs interspersed with the random farang gesture. After the wedding was over I rode with several other volunteers to Bangkok in order to attend a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting. The meeting was scheduled for the whole week and it was promised that the outcome would “revolutionize” Peace Corps Thailand volunteer training. Mr. Stephen Moles was sent from Washington to conduct the training on “Training Evaluation and Design.” The outcome was to create more realistic and measurable competencies that should be achieved during Pre-Service Training and for each competency write new learning objectives. It was a fairly complex process but the results were excellent. The end result will be that volunteers will have a clearer idea of what is expected from them during the training period and the results will be measurable, which is something highly important when seeking funding from the government.

After the training was finished I was once again on the train back to my mountain villa. On the train I met a Chinese guy who had chosen the English name Mark. Mark spoke impeccable English to the extant that when I first started to talking to him I assumed he was an American. We talked for quite some time and by the time we arrived in Chiang Mai he had decided that he wanted to come visit my village. He stayed in Chiang Mai for a few days and then he took a bus up to the town of Pai which is the closest city to my village. I went to Pai to meet him because it is pretty difficult to find where and when the pickup truck leaves for my village. While we were waiting for the pickup to leave we ran into a French couple that Mark had met in Chiang Mai. After a short discussion Cloe and Regis had asked if it were possible that they could visit my village as well. The more the merrier so I invited them up. Mark came up with me that day and we spent the next day checking out the other villages, attending a small Christian mass, and eating dinner with my neighbors. The following day, before Cloe and Regis’s arrival Mark and I toiled all day to construct a table for my house. Cloe and Regis arrived in the afternoon and I then had a full house. It was fun to host people and they really enjoyed their stay. Mark promised me that he would be up to visit the following year.

Along with two people from my tambon, Mark, Cloe, Regis, and I boarded the pickup for Pai. The two members from my tambon, See La and Mae Tome, were accompanying me to a CEC conference in Pitsanulok and my new found friends would continue their journeys in Thailand. We left my site at 7:00 a.m. and See La, Mae Tome, and I arrived in Pitsanulok 13 hours latter. What a ride! Mae Tome is the leader of a women’s group that sews and also does a little baking while See La is starting a farm to raise animals in order to sell the meat in the tambon. The CEC conference went over many business skills including accounting, the cooperative lifecycle, marketing, and Successful Case Replication among others. It was also a chance for them to display their goods and network with other participants at the conference. Around 10 volunteers and 20 counterparts were present and I think it was a big success. I will be working with Mae Tome to create unique packaging for their weavings as well as look to expand the market for the products. I will also help See La create packaging for his product and create an accounting scheme.

While at the conference I was chatting with Erica who is a volunteer from group 118. She told me that she was taking some vacation to go to Pai and wondered if I was heading back that way. Of course I was so we ended up hanging out in Pai for a night. The allures of my site caught the imagination of yet another person and soon Erica and I were on the pickup up to my site. Actually Erica had met Mae Tome on the bus ride back to Chiang Mai and had been persuaded that she needed to go visit her house. That night we ended up walking 45 minutes each way to Mae Tome’s house for a Karen dinner. It was excellent food and Mae Tome was thrilled that she got to host two farangs for dinner. She told me that I could come back and have dinner whenever I wanted and that I was more than welcome to stay as well so that I didn’t have to walk or ride my bike home in the dark. It was a great experience. Erica left today and now I have a few days before I have to leave once again for Bangkok for a follow-up PAC meeting where we will finish writing all of the learning objectives for the Community-Based Organizational Development program.

You have just relived, in a shortened version, my life for the past month and a half. I feel like I am becoming an actual Peace Corps volunteer and not just a language learner and very patient listener! I hope everyone finds themselves well!