Thursday, February 12, 2009

Starting off, Settling In [Missive 1]

Loved ones,

I had to add in the "missive" part to the subject because my Mammaw, before her death, sent out these wonderful weekly emails keeping everyone abreast of family goings-on. She titled them "Missive 1, 2, etc," and they were often a catalyst for emails back and forth between family members who might not otherwise have talked. She was a master at building community and while I'm only informing you on my singular expriences abroad, I am working toward making myself an agent of better connection between everyone. I won't promise to write weekly. Love you guys, but I could be out eating thom moo instead of shackled to this machine.

If you just can't get enough of the adventures, read more at There will also be pictures on the blog (and of course on Facebook). If you want off of this list just let me know.

Yesterday I rode on the back of a motorcycle for the first time. It was quite something to experience for the first time among the daring drivers on the rutted highways of a developing country! My host family insisted that I ride side-saddle because my school uniform is a skirt, so I had a nice panorama of the blood-red sun rising through thick smog over the fields and marshes north of Chiang Mai. Though, I was too worried that I might die to really think about Thailand's smog problem. After a few times riding with my mae on the motorcycle it was less frightening and I started to enjoy it, especially driving home through the quiet fields late last night. I was coming back late because I was studying the Thai alphabet on the mini-bus (really just a souped up pick-up truck) after school and ended up two villages beyond where my family lives. They are already paranoid that I will be kidnapped and sold to Burma, so it didn't help to have to call and attempt to explain what had happened between my elementary Thai and their pidgin English. All I got was shouting from the other end and then an envoy of motorcycles sent out to find me. Meanwhile, I was walking back toward Chiang Mai along the side of the highway. In Thailand, NO ONE walks. Like, ever. And especially not alone along the highway. In the 15 minutes that I trudged onward, literally 10 different cars stopped to offer me a ride. Because the first car that stopped was full of college-aged males I was not inclined to do this (and the fact that hitchhiking is grounds for dismissal from my program). The whole transportation situation made me realize that the scary back of a motorcycle with people who care about me is better than alone on the side of the highway any day!

We moved in with our Thai families on Saturday afternoon and classes started on Monday. I'm waiting for culture shock to kick in, but things seem to be plugging along just fine so far. Life is certainly different from what I'm used to. For one, I don't think I have ever been so clean in all my life. My host family insists that I take two showers per day, iron everything, and never wear anything twice before washing. So much for my slovenly American ways. Second, I am terrified of unconsciously insulting my family, so I feel more self-aware than usual. Mostly, though, I'm just plumb happy. After only three days of Thai language class, I have retained so much because of my host family. Every night so far, my paw sits with me and pronounces the alphabet (and laughs when I open the preschool workbook we are using to practice writing characters). They spend so much time helping me with Thai language. I can't get enough of the food-- my family makes fun of me because I tell them everything is arroy maa (very delicious). Maybe they think I'm lying. They can't possibly understand how ridiculously wonderful homemade Thai food is in comparison to the Barnard dining hall. It beats all, except perhaps my own mama's cooking. What I love most about this so far is how comfortable I feel despite the inherent discomforts of being in a strange new place. I'm well-rested, well-fed, cared for, inspired, hopeful, and excited to practically and directly apply what I'm learning.

My only complaint is the dearth of chocolate.
Please send!


Acadia Roher
International Sustainable Development Studies Institute
48/1 Chiang Mai Lampang Road
Muang Chiang Mai 50300

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