Saturday, March 21, 2009

This week in school we learned, mainly, about three things:

1. Human rights abuse and environmental abuse are inextricably connected.
2. River ecosystems are extensive, delicate, and beautiful.
3. Dams are absurdly destructive.

Now for the next three weeks, we will:

1. Live, work, and sleep with communities suffering from environmental/human rights injustice.
2. Touch, see, and study river ecosystems that have been dying, out of balance, severed in half by dams.
3. Visit a whole lot of dams.

I'll update again when I get back!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We've been learning a lot and much has changed in the last week.
The first 'course' of the semester (overview of Thai history, culture, politics, etc...) has come to an end, and this means we are no longer living with our host families. We have moved into small apartments in the city and are preparing to embark on our first field course in Eastern Thailand.

Let me expand:
The first foundations course was wonderful. There was so much information to take in and all of it was new and fascinating. From the ancient Siamese kings to the informal sector of the economy, our professor, Christina Fink, was knowledgable and engaging in her lectures. I am better equipped to live and interact with the Thai people because I better understand where they came from and why things are the way they are. Good feeling.

The host family experience was nice. My host family was always kind and welcoming to me and I was sad to leave them. ISDSI held a celebration on Friday night to show thanks to the host families for their generosity. The evening took place in the most beautiful building I have seen here in Thailand. It is built in the traditional Lanna style (this is the Northern Thailand style) and is basically a tree house. The whole complex of dark wooden buildings are on stilts a whole story off the ground. Sometimes trees grew through the centers of rooms and balconies, huge trees with blossoming flowers, candles hanging in paper lanters, everyone dressed in traditional Lanna clothes, everyone in bare feet, all the students with their host families, little round floor tables with bowls of rice and curries, sweet tea in cups made out of bamboo sections, sweets and fruit wrapped in banana leaves. After the sun had set, candles everywhere, we sat on the floor and ate, watching traditional dances and music being performed. All the students gave thank-you speeches in Thai (tough), we took a lot of pictures, and the evening was beautiful.

The next day we moved into apartments. They are located in a wonderful location- close to internet cafes, the mall, and the old city. I live with the three other guys on the trip (two calvin students, one knox student) and the television in our room has a Japanese channel. We just moved in yesterday, but all of us have been exploring the area around us, eating different places, and buying a lot of iced coffee (thai iced coffee is the best on earth. they put in sweetened condensed milk...). Although I miss living with my host family, I am glad to be out on my own, exploring the city. We are able to walk to school every day, so that gives us a lot more free time (I am determined to use this free time constructively, seeing new things, learning new things, experiencing new things). Tonight some of us are going to the 'walking street', which is a market that only comes out on Sunday nights. There are a lot of local artists selling clothes, notebooks, postcards, and more.

For the next week, we will continue to attend Thai class every morning. In the afternoons, we will have lectures to prepare us for leaving on our first field course, "Human Rights and the Environment: Rivers, Dams, and Local Struggles". On our field course, we will travel to Eastern Thailand (Isarn), and kayak a portion of the Mekong River (5th largest river in the world), visit a lot of communities that have close relationships with rivers, and visit communities that have been displaced or affected by the construction of dams. There is a lot more we will be doing, but that is the gist.

I hope this finds all of you well, and if you are reading this regularly, please let me know who you are (post a comment?) because I want to write these posts directed toward my audience...