Sunrise at Ko Pha Ngan by Oliver on Flickr
Month 9 (May) End of Holidays, Returning to Phana & Work and the Military Coup
The last two weeks of our holidays were spent on the islands of Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao. Unfortunately throughout this time Jelle (one of the volunteers I was travelling with) and I suffered a rather nasty stomach bug that rendered us almost useless. Thankfully this has been the only time this has happened whilst in Thailand which rather shocked me, however it made me well aware of the severity of the infamous dodgy rice!! So needless to say in the closing stages of my holiday I did a lot of relaxing and soaking up as much of the beautiful beaches as I could. The prospect of going back to my project in Phana was always playing on the back of my mind and I found myself extremely excited about going back to my small town in the middle of nowhere. I felt at the beginning of the holiday that I needed a small break from teaching and to get out and explore a little bit more of Thailand however, now it was the opposite feeling and I was relishing the thought of stepping back into my classes of little screaming children. Knowing that this is also to be my last term of teaching before I head back to Britain has really given me the drive to keep making the most of what each day has to offer to me.
2 months is a long time to be away from anywhere but upon arriving back into Phana it seemed like I had only left for 2 minutes and not months. Despite my worries that some people may have forgotten who I was and why I was here I neednt have worried. I was still greeted with ear to ear smiles and the shouts of where are you going? from the locals that I was used to. I would probably have to say that arriving back was the moment the sense of community I had gained here really hit home. Having been away for a large chunk of time and always meeting new faces every other day it was good to recognize people that also knew who I was. I have never quite respected being able to put a name to a face as well as I do now. It felt like I was returning to my home and I was never sure that this would be the case with my project town when I set off 9 months ago. The only changes were the scenery. When I had left it had been the height of the summer dry season and the ground was baked. Now it was heading towards the rainy season and the more frequent rain had made the surrounding rice fields burst into vibrant shades of green. The trees around our house were also beginning to grow as we headed into the mango season which the locals all look forward too. It was beginning to look similar to when we very first arrived in Phana all that time ago.
I had just a day to unpack and settle back into the swing of things, catch up on my backlog of washing before it was back to work. The only downside to this was the early mornings that I had gotten used to missing as most days I was in no rush whatsoever! Its a small price to pay however for all the enjoyment I am getting out of teaching. I had missed the daily life of a teacher greatly, from attending morning assembly, the national anthem and flag raising, to eating lunch with all the teachers and playing sports after hours. On our first week back at school we got to make sure all the kids were behaving at an event that was being held for all the pupils at a local temple. The temple is directly behind one of the primary schools and the reasoning behind it was to teach all the students the importance of behaving. Since Buddhism is so prominent the idea was that if you did not behave you would be punished in the next life in many nasty ways. I thought that this may have been quite a scary idea for some of the younger pupils but as they are brought up with the religion it is a well-known concept to them and I believed that the lesson of being well behaved was a great idea nonetheless.
Both Kevin and I had been following the protests that had been happening in Bangkok through the news for some time although they had never affected us until now. On the 22nd of May we read online that the whole of Thailand was now on a Military Coup. I had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time and so had to go and do some research on the matter and found that the military had taken control over the political disputes that had been erupting throughout my time in Thailand. I found this quite a scary concept as at first I imagined having an army presence everywhere I went and things to escalate and find myself in not a very pleasant situation for the remainder of my year. This however was not quite the case, thankfully! We found out that there was to be a curfew at night however our host told us that this would not affect us here in Phana as it is such a small town that there would be no military personnel deployed here. The other part of their regime was that school was to be closed in the whole of Thailand for one day as I found out that Friday when I arrived at school prepared to teach to see a notice saying school closed! So Phana went on as if nothing was happening and it was very easy to forget that most of the rest of Thailand was under much stricter rules. There was a reminder any time we venture out of Phana however as there were military checkpoints on roads and groups of soldiers and military vehicles everywhere in cities and especially around government buildings. It made me very thankful that this was not the case in Phana as it would have made the overall atmosphere a lot tenser.
Towards the end of May saw another day to celebrate teachers. The job of a teacher is of such high authority and I believe it is quite prestigious to be a teacher regardless of your rank in a school. Since we are just volunteer teachers our role in this event was not too taxing. The day before we got to spend our lesson time making gifts that were to be given to the teachers form the pupils. Making decorations is something that Thai people really are incredible at doing. Simple pieces of paper, leaves and foil will suddenly be a beautiful arrangement for some flowers or fruit in no time at all. The event itself was very similar to the other teacher day we had before and consisted of some speeches and the kids all giving gifts to the teachers. Nothing too fancy but that is the way with many Thai events, simple but the idea behind the events is always important and respected.