Sunday, August 28, 2011

And the Winner Is…

DEMOCRACY! I’m such a sap! A PCV friend eloquently wrote about what she misses in America and that it is the promise of America that she misses. I think I saw that promise today in Thailand, and it gives me hope.
I have watched the local elections for a month, from candidates declaring their intent to run to the election. Thais take this process very seriously and work diligently to avoid the corruption that we hear so much about. There were endless meetings for the candidates, election officials, volunteers, and the villagers. We spent days passing out literature about how to vote and how candidates were to behave. And, the whole campaign is only 1 month…refreshing!
So today, Sunday, was the big day. Eight polling places, one for each village, were open from 8 am to 3 pm. It is expected that if you are 18 years + you will vote. I don’t have the percent, but it is very high. I saw people from out of town who came back just to vote, you have to vote in your village – or at least where your ID card says you are from, which is your village. No voter registration, your ID card (everyone has one from 7 years old) is your ticket to vote. Each polling place has about 15 people working, mostly volunteers from the village.
After all votes are in and returned to the tessabaan office, the voting officially closes. Everything is sent to the provincial capital and from there to Bangkok. There is one month to appeal and for Bangkok to certify the results. That is a new law. Last time there was a local election, Bangkok (i.e. the national government) took 7 months! That means 7 months with no mayor or city council, very hard on local governments.
I was impressed at the inclusiveness of the process, the integrity of the process, and how engaged the community was in the process. Good job Thailand!

This is the group I visited all 8 polling places with from 9 am to 11:30 am. The polls opened at 8 am. Every polling place (EVERY) had an issue. We would arrive and rearrange the police tape, move the ballot boxes, make the observers move, and change what was on the election poster. Amazing process and I think the pu yu baans (village leaders) who were in charge, were not always happy about it!

A group of nuns arriving to vote. You don't see them out and about much.

A line of voters waiting their turn. You will notice the older women are wearing pasins, long Thai cotton skirts. Younger women typically do not wear them out in public. A definite generational shift.

This is when it gets exciting - 3 pm and time to count the ballots! This gentlemen is pulling each ballot out of the ballot box in village 17, my village (8 villages, no numerical order - don't ask). There are about 50 people watching, he announcing what is on the ballot, someone else repeats what he said and marks it on a giant tally sheet. He gives the ballot to another official who punches a hole in it, folds it, and puts it in the correct basket (there are 3 - one for a counted ballot, one for blank ballots, and one for ballots not counted because there is a problem with it). This process takes a couple of hours.

The first sealed ballot box delivered to the tessabaan office. Lots of cheers. The entire staff has been working all weekend for this moment. Everyone already knows who is the new nayoke (phones have been ringing off the hook - if there was one)! It is the previous nayoke, my boss, who is wildly popular. He has won by a land slide. The samachik (council) will take longer to figure out, lots of candidates and the top 6 in each zone (2 zones) win. I left the office at 6:30, when I go in in the morning they will know.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

PC Work

Most of my blogs have been about Thai cultural stuff, my village, or my personal issues. I actually am working and getting some stuff done! Mostly I teach English, to my office staff, the kindergarten, and village kids for a Saturday morning storytime. English instruction is probably the most requested service of a volunteer worldwide, so if you are not serving as a teacher (I am not) it can eat up your time and prevent you from doing projects related to your job. I think I have a good balance, keeping to 3 sessions a week and suggesting additional requests join a group already in progress.
I thought my first project would be related to the elderly in my area. I frequently go on social welfare visits with community development people in the office. Many elderly (over 60!) live in poverty, especially those whose family has moved to the city for work. Traditionally, multiple generations live together and care for each other. This is breaking down somewhat due to economics and younger people not wanting to stay in the village. I had done some research on the issue and was discussing with the community development people when my balat said no, that the elderly were fine and already had services and she wanted me to work with youth. Sooooo, take a deep breath, remember it is not about me, and change gears.
I am actually excited to be working on the Children’s English Library and love how my family and friends at home have joined the project. It started out as a request for books to supplement my teaching and has blossomed to a library that will be part of a new cultural center nearing completion. I am energized by the project and writing grants to organizations I am hoping will contribute. Next week I am attending a PC workshop on project development with my counterpart. It is funny how things work out, as in a previous life (many moons ago) I was a reading specialist and when my kids were growing up loved volunteering for the reading and library programs. Story time at our house was always a priority! So I guess this is a natural path for me to take. I’ll update you along the way.

Interviewing an elderly woman with community development staff.

The Children's English Library and Cultural Center under construction.

Storytime at my house.

I spend a lot of time making flannel stories for storytime! I can't find flannel or felt anywhere in Thailand so many thanks go to my Mom and Dad, Aunt Nan, and Steve and Kristine for sending me a great supply. This one is Duck Duck Goose compliments of the Dennis family in Reno. Thanks guys!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thai Elections Some More

The local election is this Sunday so it is heating up around here!

What is interesting about this picture is how modern these gals are, and I am not talking about the video camera and nikon camera and tripod! One has on a tank top, VERY rare in these parts and one has her sunglasses on her head, a very farang thing to do and I have never seen it done in my village - except for me.

the entire office staff has been pulled to work on the election. Every ballot is checked and every page stamped as approved. This is Tuesday and will continue until the election on Sunday.

At 3:30 the students walked to the market to hear the candidates. NO candidates showed! The students had some snacks and went home. Two hours later, no kidding, the candidates showed up. Each block of candidates(3 of them)had an hour to make their case to the audience. Last year, the forum was held at the tessabaan office and no one came. This year it was outside the market and about 300 people came. I think my balat was pretty happy about that. The election board was there also and reminded everyone how to run a clean election. They are really trying.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thai Hospitality

I mentioned to my tutor and friend, Kruu Rath, that I was going to Surin to bpai tiao with PCVs and she said she had a friend who lived near there and would be happy to take me. So Thai to extend hospitality so easily and freely. It never occurred to her that he might not want to or would not be available. Sure enough he said yes and declined my offer to pay for the gas. His comment was that I was a guest in his country and he would be honored to take me.
The drive took three hours to his home, an hour longer than usual, because we stopped along the way and saw monkeys at a Wat and ruins at several locations. He lives in my village during the week with his dad, teaching math at the school and helping his father grow rice. On the weekends he visits his wife who lives with her parents. Most of the village is her family of 10 siblings. I spent the night and was the guest of honor. We shared photographs of families and homes and vacations. On Mothers’ Day, they gave me a corsage! So sweet and made me feel very special. In the morning they drove me into Surin and would not leave the hotel until I connected with my friends. What is amazing about Thailand is that this is not unusual; it is a way of life. Fruit shows up at my house, ka-noms (sweets) arrive at my desk and an umbrella appears on my bike in the rain. It is Thai!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms in my Life

Friday, August 12, is the Queen’s birthday and Mothers’ Day. In honor of the Queen and mothers, schools have programs honoring the students’ mothers and special ceremonies take place at the Wats. Government offices plant vegetables and release fish symbolizing the Queen’s support of sufficiency economy.

Honoring the Queen, releasing fish into the lake.

Children honoring their mothers at the Child Development Center ceremony. The students wai their moms, give them a big hug, and a dok-ma-li, a jasmine flower wreath! Very touching!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Royal Family and An Office Birthday

Her Royal Highness Princess Bejaratana, the only daughter of Thailand's late King Rama VI and Queen Suvadhana, passed away last Wednesday at the age of 85. In her honor flags are flying at half mast for 15 days and most people are wearing black and white for that time period. The royal family is much loved by the Thai's and in fact it is illegal to speak negatively about the family. You will go to jail. The current King is very ill.

In this photo, the only people not wearing B & W are the 3 pregnant ladies. The Thai birth rate has been dropping, however, I think my office is single handedly trying to reverse the trend!

It is Mii's 30th birthday! She is the attorney in our office and just a great person!