Saturday, February 6, 2010

Being alone in a Thai homestay for four nights really makes you realize...

... how much Spanish you know. I mean if someone's speaking in foreign tongue, you immediately jump to the one language you speak best. Unfortunately, Spanish doesn't work nearly as well in Thailand. Miraculously, I just survived a four night homestay with a 10 year old girl and her father and had an amazing time. Her father, or "paw" in pasa thaiee (Thai language) is a soldier so I was staying in free military housing, which was quite nice for Thailand, I guess. We had two stories, tile floors, a real shower head as opposed to a large tub of water with a bucket, and an indoor bathroom and kitchen. I got sent upstairs with Fern after dinner each night (paw needs his alone time), and was in bed by 7:50 my first night there. That night, Fern and I shared her huge king sized mattress on the floor, but after we rolled together and she swatted me away, I'm pretty sure I got demoted to the small mattress next to her own for the rest of my stay. Fern is such a sweetheart; we played snakes and ladders, listened to her favorite song by Gee over and over, watched both Thai and American TV, did really cool arts and crafts that I had never done in the states before, practiced our English and Thai together, and managed to communicate. The first night, Fern, Paw, and I had dinner together in their living room. Paw had bought moo (pork) and  green curry from the market and made cow neow (sticky rice). In Thailand, most families eat on the floor and with your hands using the sticky rice as a sort of scooping utensil. Trying to fit in, I did so for the curry, but got corrected and was told to use the spoon; they looked at me as if I was a savage and for the rest of my stay always motioned for me to use my fork and spoon, as if that wouldn't be my first instincts... Our first day at school, we had to introduce ourselves in Thai in front of all of the students and faculty. They had exercises as part of their morning ceremony, a dance I will never forget and will demonstrate the next time I see you. Hysterical. That evening, the school threw us a welcoming party with traditional Thai dances and music, and a monk who said a blessing. He would also not stop talking to me in Thai, but would get really upset when I just smiled and nodded at him and said, "My cow djai" (I do not understand). The ceremony was really nice and it was cool to see that part of Thai culture. I was thinking of the equivalent "ceremony" in the states. To welcome someone, we would throw some burgers and corn on a grill, hopefully have a pool or a beach nearby, and stay up late with loud music playing. Just as traditional...So I think this takes me to Thursday. We were all transported to another school, where 1/3 of our group was staying. Here we played with 30 of their students and they kicked our butts in a game called duck walk where you need to keep "the duck" off of the extra space in the area. We shared a bit about our culture and them about theirs, and exchanged paintings. I painted a mountain and snow scene, since a lot of the children said that if they went to America, they would want to see snow. We then were briefed for Thursday's exchange, a visit with an HIV/AIDS hospital and successful support group, TNP+. TNP+ works to help People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) gain access to healthcare and acceptance into their communities, as well as educating community members so as to break down stereotypes that only bad people get AIDS and that HIV is an untreatable disease. We conducted a dialogue with a group of TNP+ workers who explained how their organization operated and functioned within community settings, and then broke into groups and did home visits of four people living with HIV/AIDS. We were able to hear personal stories and ask whatever question we'd like regarding their situation and feelings regarding living with HIV. My home visit was quite inspiring. I talked with a woman who has combated both HIV and cancer, both of which are currently in recession or completely treated. My group was taken aback when she said that of her two illnesses, she was more scared to hear she had cancer. We all felt the opposite, but couldn't decide if that was because one was actually scarier than other, or if we just knew more people with cancer and therefore it was more familiar, or if we still had a stigma associated with getting HIV even after our exchange today. She spoke of how she functions happily and successfully in her community and has a healthy relationship with her new boyfriend. She asked us for our impressions of HIV/AIDS in America, and we responded that from what we could tell, it's quite invisible at home, in that we're sure it's there, but it is thought of as global, as opposed to American issue. I added that the people I know with HIV/AIDS are/were loved members of their communities, and their illness never affected their relationships. We debriefed with the group and talked about sexuality cross-culturally, and learned about the difficulties Thais are having with getting the second line of HIV meds, because the American pharmaceutical company that makes them will not open a FTA with Thailand because of their lax intellectual property rights/ copyright laws. More on this issue that can be fought in the states to come. I'll post the newspaper article that someone in my group will right on the topic. It was an amazing day, and in our workshop Saturday, we talked a lot about pity and whether or not pity is the appropriate response for PLWHA, whether or not they have appropriate access to medicine. I said that pity is a stereotype something that we apply to someone who we believe is in a worse position that us, a place that we are glad we are not inhabiting. You pity someone based on hearing a short snippet about their hardships, before you gain the knowledge regarding the rest of their life story. Once you meet someone in a "pitiful situation," that feeling turns into a much more constructive emotion, maybe inspired or respectful, or maybe something that evokes you to help as opposed to pity.

No comments:

Post a Comment