Everyone asks what it's like to live here in Thailand on the border. "Great, and weird" is how I like to sum it up—the country is beautiful; the food is ridiculously good and cheap enough to eat out every day; there's always something fun to do around; great! Most people think the "weird" part comes from maybe the animist spirit houses everywhere, or the stalls serving fried crickets and grubs at the night market, or finding snails climbing up the inside of your kitchen pipes and poking up into your sink, or salad made out of fermented tea leaves? But no; all that stuff becomes everyday eventually. What's much harder to come to grips with is just being here, living a life of relative ease, and not knowing how to help the people around you who are going through difficulties you have a hard time even wrapping your head around.
The Charis Project, which we are working under, doesn't really have projects for which it makes sense for me to be directly involved right now, so I have been looking for other ways to help out in, mostly the field of education. I began with trying to start a string of small projects on my own, but each of them so far has fizzled out or not gotten off the ground to begin with. I've heard from others with more field experience that long-term volunteers should expect it to take a while before they are really effective here.
There is a pattern of westerners naively coming in and thinking that they can dive right in and contribute without understanding the context, and this often results in projects that end up abandoned after a year or so because there was no buy-in from the people they were intended to help. In order to avoid this I've come to the conclusion that it makes much more sense to partner with and learn from some of the larger organizations who have been involved in that kind of work here for a long time instead of trying to kick off my own thing right off the bat. What works, what doesn't? What communities are receptive? What context am I dropping into the middle of unawares?
So that's been where I've been focusing more recently. It's a little rough to have come this far without more to show, but the language-learning front has proceeded better, and that is always time well-spent. Here's to seeing what year two brings.
Update: I moved back to the US with my family in late 2016 to live in Washington state.