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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