Our week of background lectures comes to a close today, and in our “alternative education model,” it won’t be returning. To talk about all of them would both bore you and possibly imprison me in Thailand, seeing as each of them were four hours long. I will draw attention to some of the highlights, though. The “Thai History and Politics” lecture was so intriguing. This country has such an interesting past and present—it is truly captivating. The first lecture we had, on Human Rights, was given by the most amazing woman I have met here. I should set the scene…
When we have exchanges or lectures, we are told to dress in “polite” attire. This means skirts past the knees and covered shoulders for girls, or our nifty– yes, nifty— school uniforms. Our lecturer, the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Commission on Human Rights, walked in wearing jeans and a jean jacket that faded into lace at the bottom. And let me tell you, not one of us doubted her for a second. She spoke with such confidence and passion for the subject, and to put it bluntly — she was a total boss. I learned after the lecture that she was once at a big party with Henry Kissinger and happened to be next to him on the buffet line. So naturally, she took that as her opportunity to tell him everything she thought he had done wrong. I could not stop writing as she spoke to us, and her wisdom on Human Rights was profound, to say the least.
The second half of the week was spent on our “mock-unit”, which was on HIV/AIDS. We had an exchange (a question & answer forum) with TNP+, which is a network for people in Thailand living with HIV/AIDS. After the question & answer period and an activity that demonstrated the spread of the virus using water cups and food dye, we got to visit a home of a person living with HIV/AIDS. What an experience. I must say that in a country where the culture seems to avoid the topic of sex, it is amazing how open both the organization heads and the individuals were with us. In small groups at the home visits, we were free to ask any questions, and I was overwhelmed with knowledge. The juxtaposition between Montclair, New Jersey (my hometown) and the community I visited were so drastically different. Here, the “norm” is to be ostracized, whereas at home, neighbors seem to do anything they can to help. The man I spoke with knows that the disease cannot be transmitted through objects, but still insists on having separate soap, and cups, and plates from his family to ensure his two daughters’ and wife’s protection. The struggle to fight the silence surrounding sex is obviously a struggle for education in Thailand, and it makes the Condom Caravan at school in Richmond seem like a godsend of information.
In other news, there is a family of geckos living in my room. I’m not too concerned, because as a friend put it when I was initially freaked out, “They are more afraid of me than I am of eating shellfish.”
And how do you turn a mango yellow? …more on that to come.