Wednesday, July 06, 2005

day 2.5 at WTK

ok, now i have time to write a bit before my EFL class at 1. so anyway, where was i?
i spent the weekend in BKK, with claudia and chris and karen & sarah siler, then, gradually, alone. They left bit by bit and by Sunday evening i had BKK to myself. Originally i was a bit worried about that, but it turned out fine, and time went quickly in a bookstore and internet cafe.
Monday morning i got up and had to get my visa renewed for 10 days. I took my first mototaxi to the bureau of immigration--i'd been avoiding them up to this point. It wasn't that bad, but i didn't enjoy it, and tried not to cling onto the driver's shoulder. Since i was wearing a skirt, i was perched sidesaddle (that's what they do here-- it's easier to stay on than you'd think), so i was in charge of keeping my own feet off the ground and my knees tucked close as we squeezed between cars. I think it's probably easier for Thai people. One case in which long legs are a disadvantage.
Anyway, i arrived safe and sound at the door of the bureau of immigration, which is similar to the DMV only in Thai. I had to fill out some forms, stand in lines, walk across the street twice to get photocopies, and give them 1900 baht (almost $50). Not so bad, but i recommend just applying for a 2-month tourist visa if you're coming here, rather than doing that.
So, success there. Took a tuk-tuk back to my guest house and checked out, then lugged my crap about 2 blocks to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) office. There, behind an unmarked door ("knock loudly," i was instructed; fortunately i knocked on the correct door), i met Peter, who's a nice guy, and he shipped me off in an IOM van to Wat Tra Krabock, where the camp is located.
I got here in the early afternoon and met a few people who work here, and after a short tour they tossed me in a classroom with about 30 Hmong refugees, all scheduled to leave for the US within the next few days or weeks, all of whom speak zero English (Thai is their second language, and old people don't speak that either). There were 2 young Hmong guys who speak fragments of English there to help me. They gave me a ditto (yes, 1), but it was a 2-hour class, so i was a little at a loss. Luckily Hmong uses the same alphabet as English, so I can write stuff on the board-- of course, most of the people are illiterate anyway, because they've never gone to school at all. It went ok, though, i guess... they're not very responsive or eager to learn. And the women are very shy and won't talk at all. I think it will get better as they get to know me a little more, though. I want the women to talk.
After that i had a little time to hang around and watch some refugees load themselves and their worldly possessions onto a bus bound for BKK and beyond. Groups of refugees leave here daily for the airport, and ultimately for various destinations in the US, mainly Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California. They each take one large rainbow-striped bag containing all their belongings, medical records (scant) and paperwork, and weighing no more than 20 kilos. When they arrive in the US, their first task will be to pay back the cost of their plane tickets, and after that they can begin to get on their feet.
While i stood there, i mostly just took a few pictures and made faces at babies (there are quite a few). One man trained his video camera on me for like 2 minutes straight as i just stood there doing nothing. Another old man came up to me and asked me (en francais) whether i speak French! Fortunately i do, a bit. That was the first time i've met a Thai person who speaks any "Farang" language other than English! It was cute.
At 4pm i hopped back into an IOM van and went to my hotel, known as Residence 2. I was given a choice between Residences 1 and 2 and chose 2 because it was cheaper. Unfortunately, it is also totally isolated-- not within walking distance of anything, and there aren't really any taxis, sawng thaews, or tuk tuks here. Confused, and anticipating a week of completely lonely boredom (and not knowing how or where to go to eat, do laundry, etc) starting at 5:30 pm and going until i fell asleep, i didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure yet what my place was at the camp-- felt a little superfluous (and maybe i am, at least in the CO capacity, but teaching EFL makes me feel a little more useful) and underfoot. Since Allison, Sarah, Darrion, and Ken are still wandering Thailand, I was tempted to just jump ship and go visit awesome national parks with them (it still sounds tempting). I decided to give it another day, though, and was glad i did.
Yesterday was a lot better. I went with Touger, a CO (cultural orientation) trainer, to teach his morning class, so i talked mainly about traffic law. After that, I had a while to walk around camp and take pictures, and I was accompanied by Touger's assistant, a really nice little Hmong-Thai guy who speaks good English (I can't remember his name...), so i didn't feel to obtrusive. He showed me a place to find good mang-sa-wi-rat (vegetarian) lunch, too. Walking around camp is amazing. It's pretty squalid, and it poured Monday night so it's flooded everywhere, too. After a family moves out, the gov't immediately destroys their house so that more people can't move in, so everywhere between the inhabited huts are piles of rubble or sometimes just sticks and stuff. There are dogs, naked children, and chickens everywhere.
At 1, i went to teach EFL again. This time i had only 5 students, all men. I was still unprepared but this time had a better expectation and a place to start from, so i think we made a little progress. It's very basic, and moves reeeeeally slowly, but i think maybe they actually got down the numbers. Introductions are a little more difficult for them. Some of them are going to America today, tomorrow, next week-- but they will be resettled in communities with other Hmong families, some of whom have been there for a while and speak English... still, i can't imagine how hard of an adjustment it must be.
After EFL i went out to watch another bus being loaded. Everyone was crying and hugging. Some of these people, who have lived here for years, will never see each other again. While I was standing around i met another young volunteer, Mack, who is originally from the Philippines, studies in France, and is currently living in BKK. It was so graet to meet another young person! He's been here for a few weeks so we walked around and he told me a lot of stuff. Like the fact that the Hmong practice polygamy (it's not legal in Thailand). When they are going to come to the US, though, the husband can only bring 1 wife, so he is forced to choose which one he wants, and then the other wives are left here with their children. Some of them have 7 or 8 children-- Mack has been doing paperwork, and said he's seen families with as many as 13. God, who could give birth 13 times? Anyway, though the situation is incredibly sad. And just difficult. These people's culture is sooo different from American culture. And they're totally uneducated. They do not have an easy road ahead.
I also met Shannon, Jan's friend, who has been extremely helpful and friendly, and got me moved to Residence 1, the hotel in town. Things feel a lot better now. I can wash my stinky clothes today!
This morning i talked about education in the CO classes. I also walked over the the office of the resettlement unit with Touger, and got to hear a little bit about the medical stuff that's going on. There has been a recent outbreak of TB here, which threw a monkeywrench into some of the operations, but they are getting it under control now. It's hard, though, because the Hmong people don't believe in bacteria and stuff; apparently, for them, you're not sick till you can't get out of bed anymore, and if you can't see it, it's not there. So public health here is a challenge, and translating even a lot of symptoms is not easy.
After EFL today, the assistant guy is taking me to Lopburi to see the monkeys and the palace, and i think tomorrow i will explore the temple, which is also an opium rehab center, and the bat cave. I think i may also have plans to go to karaoke (the verb for me with karaoke is not "sing," but rather "watch") tomorrow night with Mack and some other people from here. Ha. We'll see about that.
That about brings us up to date!
Miss you all, email me!


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