A Learning Space

The more that you read, the more things you will know

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!

When I arrived, the “library” space looked as if it was being used for storage – thousands of old books and textbooks, papers, broken shelves and other equipment all packed inside the dusty room; my counterpart told me that for years it was a sanctuary from the sun or rain for older middle school students who wanted to take a nap during lunch.

The first step was organizing all the books – students helped me to stack and shelve books – I made it a race or a contest to see who could make the highest pile to increase productivity and so they thought the  overwhelming work was fun.

Then we came on the weekend to paint:

I applied to 3 book donation companies and 2 of them (One Book One Week and Darien Book Aid) sent a box to the school with an assortment of used English books. The Kindergartners were the first to visit the new books:

The library is a transformed place where my counterpart Kru Doll can hold class with the 1st-3rd graders and all students can come at lunch to play games, color, browse books (yet, not quite read) and relax in the safe place.

There is still a lot more work to do to help these kids to learn a second language; even so, I am proud of our efforts that have created fun and safe learning environment.

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Language and Culture. Thai and English.

Although I am missing a language training this week (provided by Peace Corps in Hua Hin to support volunteers with our Thai), I wanted to share some reflections about language and the interesting connections I’ve seen between language and culture.

Language is a way to discover cultural values. For instance:

 

  • Thai does not have verb tenses, just a word or two added to the context of a sentence to indicate the time – this seems to reflect the Thai people’s relaxed view of time (they are unconcerned with punctuality or planning ahead of time) and the Buddhist tradition of being present more than speaking of the future or past.

 

  • Also, one word that exemplifies Thai people is “naam-jai” which means “water of the heart” and roughly translates to “generosity” – Thais value water, see it as a giving entity (a river is “me-naam” or “mother water”) and the heart as the seat of our experiences (many emotions have the word “jai” or “heart” attached to them).

 

  • Thai people go by nicknames that are one syllable, having nothing to do with their real name, and are often shared by many others (communal). Thais will put a Pi or Non to start a name in order to indicate age (respect for elders) as well as kinship (everyone is family).

 

The inherent values I’ve seen in the English language that reflect at least American values are:

 

  • an over complication and obsession with time (we have 11 different verb tenses)
  • a sense of individual possession (possessive nouns)
  • breaking the rules (often)
  • diversity, incorporating components of many cultures (latin, modern romance languages, Germanic, Hindi, Sanskrit, Slavic, Baltic, Celtic, Greek)
  • continually growing and morphing with new words (an American value)
  • attempting to dominate the world although it is not the biggest fish in the sea (3x as many people speak Chinese natively at 1.2 billion and 100 million more people speak Spanish than English, and yet while only 360 million people speak English natively, it is estimated that another half billion speak it as their second-language)

 

 

Tarot Cards read my stars

At the very beginning of my Peace Corps journey, a wonderfully warm and open volunteer, who I am now glad to call my close friend Libby Ferris, did a reading for me, that I still find relevant today. Taro readings are just another tool or lens to look at one’s situation and to explore the depths of oneself.

1st card: The Situation

08traveling

The tiny figure moving on the path through this beautiful landscape is not concerned about the goal. He or she knows that the journey is the goal, the pilgrimage itself is the sacred place. Each step on the path is important in itself. When this card appears in a reading, it indicates a time of movement and change. It may be a physical movement from one place to the next, or an inner movement from one way of being to another. But whatever the case, this card promises that the going will be easy and will bring a sense of adventure and growth; there is no need to struggle or plan too much.

The Traveling card also reminds us to accept and embrace the new, just as when we travel to another country with a different culture and environment than the one we are accustomed to. This attitude of openness and acceptance invites new friends and experiences into our lives.

2nd card: Internal Struggle

knight-fighting

The figure in this card is completely covered in armor. Only his glare of rage is visible, and the whites of the knuckles on his clenched fists. If you look closely at the armor, you can see it’s covered with buttons, ready to detonate if anybody so much as brushes up against them. In the background we see the shadowy movie that plays in this man’s mind–two figures fighting for a castle. An explosive temper or a smoldering rage often masks a deep feeling of pain.

We think that if we frighten people away, we can avoid being hurt even more. In fact, just the opposite is the case. By covering our wounds with armor we are preventing them from being healed. By lashing out at others we keep ourselves from getting the love and nourishment we need. If this description seems to fit you, it’s time to stop fighting. There is so much love available to you if you just let it in. Start by forgiving yourself: you’re worth it.

3rd card: External Struggle

03ice-olation

In our society, men in particular have been taught not to cry, to put a brave face on things when they get hurt and not show that they are in pain. But women can fall into this trap too, and all of us at one time or another might feel that the only way to survive is to close off our feelings and emotions so we can’t be hurt again. If our pain is particularly deep, we might even try to hide it from ourselves. This can make us frozen, rigid, because deep down we know that one small break in the ice will free the hurt to start circulating through us again.

The rainbow-colored tears on this person’s face hold the key to breaking out of this ‘ice-olation’. The tears, and only the tears, have the power to melt the ice. It’s okay to cry, and there is no reason to feel ashamed of your tears. Crying helps us to let go of pain, allows us to be gentle with ourselves, and finally helps us to heal.

4th card: The Solution

knight-intensity

The figure in this card has taken on the shape of an arrow, moving with the single-pointed focus of one who knows precisely where she is going. She is moving so fast that she has become almost pure energy. But this intensity should not be mistaken for the manic energy that makes people drive their cars at top speed to get from point A to point B. That kind of intensity belongs to the horizontal world of space and time.

The intensity represented by the Knight of Fire belongs to the vertical world of the present moment–a recognition that now is the only moment there is, and here is the only space.

When you act with the intensity of the Knight of Fire it is likely to create ripples in the waters around you. Some will feel uplifted and refreshed by your presence, others may feel threatened or annoyed. But the opinions of others matter little; nothing can hold you back right now.

5th card: The Result

05clinging

The figure pictured in this card is so preoccupied with clutching her box of memories that she has turned her back on the sparkling champagne glass of blessings available here and now. Her nostalgia for the past really makes her a ‘blockhead’, and a beggar besides, as we can see from her patched and ragged clothes. She needn’t be a beggar, of course–but she is not available to taste the pleasures that offer themselves in the present.

It’s time to face up to the fact that the past is gone, and any effort to repeat it is a sure way to stay stuck in old blueprints that you would have already outgrown if you hadn’t been so busy clinging to what you have already been through. Take a deep breath, put the box down, tie it up in a pretty ribbon if you must, and bid it a fond and reverent farewell.