Friday, July 29, 2011

Thai Elections

The national election took place early in July when I was in America. I was sorry to miss it. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and they elected their first woman Prime Minister. She is the sister of the previous prime minister who is currently in exile. It is expected that she will pardon him.
In late August, the local elections are held for nayoke (mayor) and council members. Today is the day (July25) that individuals can submit their intention to run. It is considered very important to turn your papers in first because your place on the ballot is determined by when you submit your completed papers. The office opens at 6 a.m. and everyone who submits by 8:30 a.m. is considered first and enters a random drawing for order on the ballot. My balat told me that candidates like to be first because some people, especially the elderly, just mark the first name - they can’t see very well!
In preparation for the elections, the current nayoke and council members up for reelection stepped down from their positions last Friday. That means for about 7 weeks (the election is in 4 and it takes a few weeks to seat the new officials) there is no nayoke and a limited council. The balat (city manager) acts as nayoke during that time. She is very funny about that and talks about all the new projects the new nayoke will do in her few weeks!

These signs are up around town and on the sides of pickups which blare who voters should support. There are two strong contingents in this area. The current nayoke and his group and the prior nayoke and his group. You see candidates roaming the streets talking to everyone. It is illegal to bribe, but apparently fairly common place!

Picking a number for his place on the ballot. This whole process of filing papers started at 6 a.m. and ended about 10 a.m. The very good news is the campaign period is only about 5 weeks. Can you even imagine how great that is!

The current nayoke arriving to file his papers with his bloc. There is a new law this year in Thailand that regulates conduct when candidates file papers to run for office. Apparently in the past, candidates would show up with drummers and dancers and lots of supporters and it frequently resulted in heated exchanges. Now, no supporters can come, only those running, no entertainment, and respectful behavior. Everyone was very nice, waiing each other.

This is my host dad. He is running for council. He has served before and is in the current nayoke's bloc. PCVs are not allowed to show preference for a particular candidate, that means no photos with them. This photo is only on my camera and of course this blog, but I am pretty sure no local voters follow my blog!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Public Health Parade

My first day back at site we had a Public Health Parade and Program to promote two ideas:
1 -The importance of iodine in salt – Lack of iodine in salt has been identified as a reason for low IQ scores by Thai children. There is a public health campaign to educate people on the issue and encourage them to buy salt with iodine. When I bought salt it was iodized and apparently more and more that is the case. At this event, everyone was given small packets of salt. The attendees at the event included government officials and health volunteers, two groups who probably are already aware of the issue. The goal is for them to spread the word.
2 – The importance of aerobic exercise – When Kayley was here, we attended a small part of a 2 day workshop for health volunteers to teach them to become aerobic instructors. I think most of them had already had some experience leading exercise classes. The health station near my home has sporadically held aerobic classes. At this program, an instructor from the provincial government led a class for the parade attendees. First time for me to do aerobics with an audience! This week a new program is being launched with free aerobics classes offered Monday – Friday afternoons. The first class was 5:30 pm today with a good turnout, all ages.
Thai public health continues to impress me.

My office participating in the parade

Health volunteers

Health volunteers trained as aerobics instructors

Always the official proclamations!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Returning to Post

I spent three weeks home with my mom. Never one to put things off, she got a lot done quickly. Closets were cleaned and organized, stuff given to the thrift shop, and yes even time and inclination for a little fun. Family members and friends came and went, all there to help mom ease into her new life. 60 years is a lifetime together, it will be difficult and lonely for her. She will continue her volunteer work at the hospital and will be busy taking care of our sick puppy, Kabi Jo. When she is ready, she will travel. I hope to see her in Thailand.
It was difficult to leave, maybe harder than the first time six months ago. Hard to say why, but probably because even though it is now a known entity, the knowing can be tough. I think the isolation is the hardest part. Struggling with the language means communicating can be a chore, working is more difficult and social interaction limited. Also, leaving mom and my kids after losing my dad is an emotional trial, for all of us. Seeing family and friends hit home how much I miss everyone.
So…why am I returning? Thoughts range from an unfinished job, miss my Thai friends and don’t want to let them down, and maybe a little pride (I finish what I start). My dad said that I would not leave early – he knew me well. It helps knowing that I will return in three months for Kristine’s wedding. Also, I joined the PC because I was not satisfied with my life in the states. I felt like I was treading water for the last three and a half years and needed to shake things up. PC Thailand is certainly doing that for me. I definitely feel challenged and am not treading water!
Some highlights from my trip home (I missed lots of photo opportunities. If anyone has some to share, please send them!):

Our send off from Thailand by our Thai friends

Kayaking with KayKay, Kabi Jo, and Diana

Taking the sky chair up the mountain and hiking down. You would think a big tree in the trail would be a clue we were going the wrong way!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Dad – Donald R. Schwaiger

2:30 in the afternoon Friday, June 17, Thai time – 14 hours ahead of CA, I was skyped by my cousin Judy. She said Karen Jo I have very sad news, your dad died. I thought to myself, Judy that is not a very nice thing to say. I slowly absorbed that what Judy was telling me, that my dad died, had really happened. I was half way around the world and had never felt so far away.
By chance my daughter, Kayley, was with me. Thank goodness. We had each other to hug and to share the enormous impact of how we felt. My Thai friends and the Peace Corps kicked into high gear and 3 plane rides later, had us home the next day.
When my dear husband died, I had many conversations with my kids about how family and friends get us through the tough times. When Doug was sick, my dad was always there, taking care of business, doing what needed to be done. No complaints and no questions asked (how many times did he put together and take apart that hospital bed!) – with my dad it just got taken care of. I know for him it was how he knew how to support those he loved. Under his tough German exterior was a very emotional man, a side of himself he was not completely comfortable with. So he did what he knew, he fixed, he organized, he managed, he loved.
My earliest memories of my mom and dad are all about community – family gatherings, scouts, sports, school. Mom ran the PTA and dad was in charge of the carnival. They led the scout meetings and were on a first name basis with all our teachers. When applying to the PC, I wrote several essays about why I was joining. I said I grew up with service as my model – grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles – it was what my family did. My dad continued that legacy in Big Bear joining the Elks and becoming a valued member always lending a hand and taking charge, doing what needed to be done. At my work in Orange County, Share Our Selves, everyone knew my dad. He lived 2 hours away, but whenever he was in town, he came and helped. I think he loved my work.
He wasn’t all about work and service. We had fun growing up. Our friends were always welcome at our house and went on our many camping trips – always on the water. The Colorado River, Lake Isabella, Lake Nacimiento, Kings River, house boating on Powell, Shasta, and Trinity Lakes. We had a blast. It always involved lots of friends, water skiing, and games. It was all about fun and doing it the right way. Countless friends know how to water ski because my dad taught them. He also taught how to throw a ski line and be a safe observer. You learned – it was never the driver’s fault!
Their motorhomes took them around the country, visiting grandkids and friends. My last trip in the motorhome was to our friend Andrew Evan’s wedding in Telluride, Colorado and on to visit cousins in Prineville, Oregon, and my brother and sister-in-law and their clan in Reno, Nevada – we had so much fun playing cards every night.
Over the last couple of weeks, through phone calls, visits, emails and cards, I have learned that many knew my dad – they mentioned his generosity, loyalty, work ethic, love of travel, love of family, and how much fun he was to be with. I hope I have learned at least a little of his tremendous qualities. His generosity is legendary wherever he lived – La Crescenta, Georgia, Big Bear. If Don could help, Don helped, you didn’t need to ask. He could fix anything. And when he said he would do something, he did it. Did he ever tell a lie, not follow through – I don’t think so.
We are all in a state of shock, not ready to lose this vibrant man so full of life. I am thankful he was my dad, loved me and took care of me. I am thankful; he and mom took the time to Skype me every week while I have been in Thailand. I loved those conversations. He missed me but I think was proud of me stepping out and looking for my personal answers.
Moving forward, living our lives, will be difficult – we will miss him. I am grateful my mom has so many close friends and family who will look after her and continue to share their lives with her. I am grateful he was my dad, my children’s Papa, and for the many memories I have growing up. And I encourage you, to take a minute today, every day, to say I love you to those you care about and take a minute to build those special memories.