Thursday, August 27, 2009

Frog's legs: the new white meat.

The past few days have been so full, and so humid! I sit in the computer room at Mae Kok, waiting for the ever-looming clouds to dump buckets; it's been all day, and still no rain. Honestly, I have never wanted rain more than I do in Thailand.

Last night, we had quite a storm! The day began like this one, very hot and sunny, but progressed into thunderstorms as evening came, and by nightfall, we were surrounded by lightning and clouds like I have never seen. We stood outside, undercover, and took it all in. One ominous, coal colored cloud rose up from behind the hills, put on a show, and dissapated within a couple hours... but not before letting loads of rain down onto the earth! Luckily, I had already gone inside, but the deafening sound of tropical rain on the roof is unmistakable.

Needless to say, I'm hoping for another show tonight. I've only just gotten used to taking photos of lightning.

As for the rest of our time here at Mae Kok, it's been really productive. Our group is working on rennovating the children's dormitories still; we've spent this week painting the boys' dorm, which involves sweeping out large bugs, painting several coats of new color, and working the yard around the building. In the heat of the day, there are times I find it difficult to be at the top of my game, I'll admit. But these wonderful children... they are completely worth it. Not to mention, I've been so blessed (and so priveledged) all my life. Using a hoe, getting over my fear of large bugs, and peeling off layers of paint, sweat, and dirt at the end of the day hardly compares to the life these children have. Mae Kok is a pseudo-sanctuary for them, and I am honored to improve it for the kids who live and work here.

Mae Kok Foundation, as our group learned today, is the product of a 20-year project, started by AnuLuck's husband. Originally, it was a drug rehabilitation center for the Hill Tribe people (who all immigated from Burma and have not protection or support from the Thai government), but has now become a foundation strictly for children, most of whom, as I've stated before, have little to no family structure. With so much use of Opium, crack cocaine, and with human trafficking so predominant in these village societies, Mae Kok is an outstanding alternative to the lifestyle these children would otherwise be exposed or forced into. What makes Mae Kok so much more sustainable than other shelters is the value the foundation places on personal responsibility: each child has community chores (such as cooking meals, sweeping, and the like), as well as personal chores, such as laundry. From a Human Services point of view, this makes the prospect of transitioning into everyday adult life positively and autonomously much more viable over foundations who cater to the child's need, but do not instill values within them.

Aside from our volunteer work and education about Mae Kok, I've had some interesting experiences over the last few days:

The night bazaar in downtown Chaing Rai was amazing! Everything is so inexpensive (33 Baht is equal to 1USD!) and well-made, from dresses to artwork to jewelry to games and textiles. It all was amazing, and Thai culture is so much more pleasureable to shop in.... the locals are all much more gracious and happy to have you at their stand. This is especially true in comparison to my personal experiences in Mexico (the only other international shopping I've done), where the local feel is a little more pushy, as if you owe the community money. Thai culture is extremely polite and dilligent; all the products are wonderful, and I love the authentic feel of bartering in the marketplace.

Another market excursion we recently had was to shop for food. As part of our volunteer work, my friend Melissa and I went to the markets with AnuLuck. Although we made several stops, the one which stood out to me was when we went to get meat. Everything is fresh, and I mean fresh! We saw chickens de-headed and cut for sale, and fish, still flipping around in a basket, gasping for dear life, be pulled out, scaled, gutted, and cut for our dinner. The smells werer almost enough to make me queasy, but the topper was carrying the bag of cut fish out of the market, and still feeling it wiggle in my hand!... we had fried fish for dinner that night, if anyone is wondering. Along with our meat purchases, we picked up a couple specialty items: dried frog, maggots, and grasshoppers, oh my! For the first time in my life, I ate a new meat. Typically I only eat fish, but due to the incredibly rare nature of this meal, I decided that one frog really wasn't going to hurt. :)

The weekend is coming up soon, and out group gets to take a holiday on Monday and Tuesday... much more sight-seeing, food tasting, and a possible venture across the border if we are permitted.

Hope you are all well! Sending happiness your way from Thailand!
Love, Laura
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Monday, August 24, 2009


After 30 hours of travel (that's 3 flights and a bus ride), my new-found friends and I made it to Thailand! We are currently stationed in Chaing Rai at the Mae Kok Foundation. We are 30 minutes from civilization, in what first appears to be the middle of the jungle (right on the Burma and Laos borders). However, after staying here for only a few days, I can tell you there is much more.

This Christian-based shelter for Hill Tribe children is such a calm and safe environment, with a true family feel in a time when these children have none. It is amazing to be a part of this particular group, as less then 0.1% of the Thai population is Christian. I feel so blessed to be welcomed into this organization with the other children and staff; it is almost as if I was always living here. The director of Mae Kok, Anluck (we call her 'Mom'), hosts the volunteers, cooks, cleans, shops, instructs the children, and oversees all the projects completed here. She, in one word, is strong. So strong and amazing, and so very giving. I feel as if this community is so gracious it is difficult to give enough back... but we are all working hard in hopes to earn how welcomed we have been.

The food is amazing, and aside from a slight lack of appetite in the humidity, I've been eating quite well. Anluck and the children make all the meals, which are typically traditional Thai foods: Pad Thai, Drunken Noodle, Fried Rice, Jasmine Rice, Curries, and many others. There is always a vegetarian alternative to each dish, which makes me so happy! I cannot wait to help cook!

We also have the opportunity to try rare fruits I cannot even begin to describe, such as Rambutan (we called it "Angry Strawberry" before we knew the name), Asian Pears, and much more. Our first day in Chaing Rai, we visited the largest supermarket in town (which is nothing in comparison to a Fred Meyer or Hagen), and we were a little frightened to see these fruits on the shelves, all written in Thai. However, now that we are able to see and taste them in the context of a Thai meal or dessert, it is much easier to understand the culture... and there is so much to understand!

The weather here is incredible as well. Quite tropical and humid... one minute it will be sunny, in the upper 90's or low 100's, and suddenly the clouds will come billowing over the hills to give us a shower! I had concerns about not bringing a rain coat, but my ponchos are doing just fine. As predicted, the rain here is so extreme that it soaks through most jackets, making my poncho the envy of many in my group (thank you for the advice, Brian!).

Our volunteer activities include teaching English lessons off-site at 2 different schools, morning chores, building reconstruction/maintenence, and traveling with Anluck to the market. We have a schedule so each group member gets to do a little bit of everything, which is nice. Today, we painted the closet doors in the girls' dormitories, and later went to teach for a couple hours. I wish we had more time to work with the children at the school; they are so eager to learn but the school does not have enough teachers to go around.

In our free time, there is much we can do (surprisingly, due to our remote location!). Yesterday, we took a long-tailed boat across the nearby river and visited an elephant camp. I had mixed feelings about this tourist attraction at first, due to the rate of abused elephants in Thailand. However, the community in Chaing Rai is dedicated to the livelihood of elephants and puts them to work logging and giving rides to foreigners as a way to keep the elephant camp running, which is one of the best ways to protect them from poachers and other dangers. The ride was completely worth it, and something I will never forget: we saw rice paddies, local huts, and other beautiful sights of the lush atmosphere. Afterward, we fed our friends bananas, roots, and corn, and took a walk through the nearby village. We spent a couple hours at flea markets as well, where Claire, our project leader, helped us to barter with the local Hill Tribe vendors. How lucky are we to have a translator! Tomorrow we will visit the night bazaar, where my bartering skills will really be put to use.

So much more has happened, but it is time for me to go. Thank you all for your well-wishes and support; it really does mean so much to me. Sending love to each of you from Thailand!

Until next time,
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

I've got a 30lb pack, & I'm not afraid to use it!

Today, Laura is

1 part confident
1 part ready to regress into fetal position
Mix well with a sprinkle of butterflies and more Malaria medication
DO NOT BAKE. This is a recipe made to-go. :)

Thank you all for your well-wishes yesterday and today! I'm ready to rock!
Please pray for my safety and send kind throughts from your end of the world.

I'll be writing as I am able! Take care, everyone!

Love, Laura
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Five. That is exactly how many days I have until I take off for my big adventure.

Am I excited? You betcha.
Nervous? Yeah, sure.
Scared I'm going to see an bug the size of my head?!
Yes, very scared... Let's move on.

In all seriousness, I feel pretty good about my trip so far, and my 'To Do' list is narrowing down.
Let's see how things have been going:

1. Shots completed- check
2. Made it through all my medications without hurling (yet)- check
3. Purchased all my traveling supplies- check (I think; you know how last minute things always seem to fall from the sky.)
4. Copies of all my documents- check
5. Buy textbooks, finish work projects, etc. for when I return home - check

Okay, okay... not too shabby. Here's what I have left:

6. Put new music on my ipod
7. Pack the huge pile of what I've been calling 'Thailand stuff' taking up a corner of my room into an equally huge backpack
8. Withdraw enough funds to exchange for bahat (Thai currency)
9. Show up at the airport on August 20th

So... I guess all I really have to do now is show up, which is both gratifying and terrifying.

On another note, I wanted to share an article with you on the sex trade in Thailand. I recently received this article from a loved one; it is not only informative, but summed up many of the reasons I want to continue working for women's health and education:

With that said, I don't imagine our group leaders will take us through the red district in Bangkok.

Looking forward to taking pictures, discovering culture, and obtaining adventures to share with you all. Keep safe, keep happy.

Love, Laura
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