2th November 2015 – Day 64
I was asked to write an article about my experience here in Thailand as a Peace Village volunteer and an-already-retired journalist student. So where to begin? It has been 64 days since I left Belgium, and I kind of lost the time notion. 64 days doesn’t seem that much since I’ve been experiencing and travelling so much already. It’s crazy to think that I’ve done half part of my volunteering service yet, and I don’t know how to deal with this feeling. I had amazing, good and more difficult times, and I’ve been through a lot, but I could always get a life lesson from it and figure things out.
So 31th August 2015 was the day my life changed forever. I had decided 3 weeks earlier to leave Brussels to go living a whole new kind of adventure in Thailand. I contacted JAVVA ASBL, a Belgian agency who made an amazing work by setting the connection with VSA for me, and I got an answer very quickly saying that I was welcome to join the Peace Village Project in Hat Yai on the 1st of September! I couldn’t believe it! Neither could my mum, who was so surprised that I was going to leave her and my sister so soon. I had decided to join the Peace Village Project for 4 months, before starting backpacking through South East Asia for 6 months, and go back to Brussels in July 2016. For now, I can only say that I will go back in July, but only to organize a proper farewell party! I have already decided that I wouldn’t go back in Belgium before a very long time.
My first month at the learning home went pretty well. The peace village people are very welcoming, helpful and kind neighbors, and I had no problem feeling home, even only after a couple of days. I got used to the singing roosters at 5 A.M., the (very loud) Thai advertisements early in the morning, the National Anthem at 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. every day, eating meat with the bones, taking Song Taew – Actually, I took it from the very first day, got lost, found my way again, coming from the airport and arriving at the learning home 2 hours later than expected! – sitting on a motorbike behind 3 other people, eating rice 3 times a day, and by the way gain 4 kilos, speaking with my hands since most of Thai people do not speak English, walk barefoot, eat spicy, and very very very oily (this is still very shocking for me)!
I started teaching at Wat Khoak Moung School from Monday until Wednesday, and it has been a pleasure! Of course sometimes it was difficult to make myself understood since I do not speak Thai, or only a few words, but most of the time I could really get their attention. I really have a good connection with the kids, and they’re all super excited to have a Farang teacher! Teacher Tuk-Tuk was really nice to me and she invited me to a visiting temple day, a cooking lesson day and to spend some afternoons at her place.
Then I participated to the Songkhla zoo camp, but I couldn’t enjoy it that much since I was sick and very tired. But I met some very nice Indonesian people, and enjoyed the culture sharing day at Thaksin University.
I spent a week end in Koh Phagnan to reach 2 of my Belgian friends and I can say I fell in love with the island, but I’m not going to tell you everything about it since it is not VSA related!
We gave a two day conference at Thaksin University about volunteering, and I think we could convince a lot of the students, even if obviously, Thai teenagers do not consider volunteering as an interesting activity at all… They prefer to go shopping or…do nothing.
I also enjoyed going to Penang, Malaysia, at the end of September for my VISA. I stayed in a cool hostel and met amazing people there; I had the time of my life.
Sometimes, going back to the Peace Village was hard, because the more I travelled, the more I wanted to continue exploring! But then the feeling disappeared soon.
So basically, September was really great for me and I loved it.
But then, Pi Tum told us we had to head to Sisaket Province, in Northern Thailand, for a special volunteering mission there. I was really excited; more travelling was coming!! But, even if the kids were really great there and that I loved teaching them, I want to be honest and say that I was not happy in that place.
First, I was sick most of the time, I had no energy and I was really in pain, so every day was hard for me to handle and to stay positive.
Secondly, the culture gap was too wide and I hadn’t been prepared for that. I did my best, but sometimes it was too much and I needed to take time for myself, because I felt surrounded. Of course, people we’re trying to be nice and they wanted us to follow them everywhere to please us but sometimes, all that I was asking for was some rest, and I couldn’t get any. We had some organization troubles, and our host had another definition of volunteering than our, so it was quite difficult to deal with him. Again, the culture shock was too big.
There was no transportation from our village other than the teacher’s car sometimes, so our possibilities were very limited. There was only one market to buy food, and it was very small, so we had to go to the supermarket in town to get some food.
The accommodation was ok, but it was very different from the learning home; we had to sleep on the floor and the bathroom was very basic; a Thai toilet and a big water container with a recipe as a shower.
The people had quite unusual habits also; it was so hard to make them understand that they should not throw their garbage everywhere on the floor! The village was full of trashes. Plus, for a Western person, the education there was shocking… Our host didn’t even want to speak with Jam, our Thai camp leader, considering that as a woman she shouldn’t have any business to do and should not try to argue with him; therefore, he ruined the whole project by himself.
I still cried like a baby when we had to leave the kids, because I knew I was really going to miss some of them. Our ‘mommy’s neighbors’ were so nice too... I wish them all the best!
We headed then to Bangkok and I just came back from a MAGNIFICIENT week! I had a wonderful time there and this is really what I needed after Sisaket… I feel reborn, and ready to begin the second half of my volunteering service at the Peace Village… I can’t wait for new adventures here and also to see my babies tomorrow at school!
I’ll give you news soon!