After three days of preparation at a central site (try to imagine how little Thai we know despite the excellence of the language instruction, although I did study in advance of our departure) we are now living with home-stay families. Mine is fabulous beyond belief. My host is administrator at the secondary school where our large group trainings are held and where a group of the Peace Corps trainees (including me) will gain a bit of experience in Thai classrooms. He and his wife have a son and two daughters; their son is here for a visit or perhaps for the weekend as he works in Bangkok.
You may now begin to see how lucky I am. My host speaks excellent English, as does his daughter G. I am able to benefit from their generous support in learning Thai and able to be of some use helping G with her English (and also the younger daughter if she is interested, I have not gotten to know her as well). My host, S, not only can rescue me with English but is also very kind in guiding me in practicing Thai. My home for the next few months is the closest of all placement homes to the site to which we must bicycle once or twice a week. My host and the family are warm, generous, and he is already coaching me on what’s important for integration into a Thai community (sawatdii is important, wai is important, gin is important — greeting, wai, smile). I made some mistakes at dinner yesterday and my family is helping me learn. I smiled a lot and managed to say a few things. More about dinner below.
The home itself is very beautiful, I have not seen this much teak in one building ever. It is constructed of teak. Upstairs the walls, floors, doors, and my bed are teak. The stairway is teak. The ceilings are high. the bedrooms are in the corners of the upstairs and have windows on two sides so that there is cross ventilation when there is the slightest air movement. This is the traditional building style for a Thai home, although this particular home is like a fantasy upgrade of the traditional Thai home. Downstairs the floor is tiled in a beautiful pattern, and the rooms are secured against mosquitoes with window screens and screen doors with magnetic catches. I am to use the mosquito net that has been issued, and I will do it in order to establish the habit and to practice so that in a few months when I go to my work site it will already be an automatic behavior.
The notable features of the outdoor area are tables and chairs, a big tree, and a small pond with koi. My language study group of four and an Ajan (teacher) will meet here on the days we do not go to the “hub” school for sessions with all the trainees. Our language lessons will include walking in the community, practice buying food, and making a map of the area. All these will be useful skills when we move to our sites.
I look forward to learning to help here, as household chores are different in this setting. Every new skill will help me later at my site. I enjoy cooking and my family is encouraging me that later I will be able to help with that.
Dinner last night was joyous. Our younger girl is a university student and some of her friends were here for a dinner. The meal was a special Thai style barbecue, with a charcoal stove and a pan that provides a ring of space for soup to simmer while the hotter center is a surface for grilling meats. The meats included bacon, ground pork, liver, and squid. The soup was broth with cabbage and greens that I cannot name yet and tofu. We had a spicy dip for the meats. Everything was arroi! (delicious) The young women chatted and laughed and often turned to me for small scraps of conversation, which was very encouraging. They corrected my Thai, particularly my tones, and asked me to name some things in English. We talked about where I am from and I was able to say each of the useful sentences we have learned in our language classes.
Peace Corps has miraculously been able to find me a site without a cat (disabling allergy), and with two dogs, one of whom is named Lucky. The new family member, me, is also lucky!