Alex Khan, 127 YinD
Living with a host family is everything you can imagine and more. Its filled with awkward dinners, love, confusion, and of course lots of rice! Hi there! My name is Alex and i’m a Volunteer from group 127 living in Mahasarakham. Isaan folks in my experience have a unique way of life and I get a dose of that daily. I am one of the few Volunteers from group 127 that still remain with their host family, so I have decided to share my experience with you all. There are pros and cons to living with a host family and I have experienced just about all of them. We have seen the good, bad, and the ugly in one another but at the end of the day we are still family and have much love for one another. I have learned a lot the past 19 months with my host family. Not only about myself but Thai culture as well. Here is an inside look at my host families situation and how they have impacted my Peace Corps experience.
My host family may seem like your average family, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. My host father is a short, stockier man with lots of energy and knows how to get the crowd going. His official title technically is the “gamnan” (village leader), but his real job in my opinion is farming with my mom. The majority of my fathers time is dedicated to farming and taking care of our cows. I never knew how much work a few cows required till I came to Thailand…..Sheesh. Feeding them, escorting them to the fields and back, bagging their feces, I mean the list could go on forever. On top of farming he is also the gamnan which does require some effort on his behalf. Responsibilities range from dictating meetings with village officials in the morning or at night all the way Bangkok trips where he reports yearly stats to government officials. These meetings can be rather entertaining and seem more like parties from time to time.
Its always a great time when you get a bunch of village leaders together at one table. They will have lots of traditional Isaan style dishes along with a splash of lao kao. Even though my paa may be a jokester at heart, he does know how to get down and take care of business. He always seems to be going somewhere or doing something, the work never seems to end here in Tambon Ban Wai. Now, this may come off as a shocker but he really likes to talk a lot. Sometimes after a few cold ones its like a stand up comedy. He will make jokes, talk about the farms, or how he has this bearded farang child that he takes care of. Sometimes it can be a bit much leaving you with no other choice but to just zone him out. The fact that he is the gamnan does wonders for my social life and ability to get things done. There is a 10 mile radius of people that know who I am and it never ceases to amaze me. I can be in the city 20 minutes away and people will shout “Lek!” “Lek!”. Thats how Thai people pronounce my name. They know who I am, what I do, and even know what I like to eat. This makes me feel extremely valued and a tad bit creeped out at the same time. When presenting ideas to my SAO (Sub Administrative Office) they tend to say yes more often than not and I have a strong feeling there is correlation between all the love I receive and my father being the big cheese in the village.
My host mother is a farmer as well and although she does not have a fancy title like gamnan, she is one hell of woman. I have the most upright respect for her and all that she does. She wakes up every morning around 5 am and begins her daily routine. This goes on until 8:30-9 pm where she then goes to lay down only to repeat in a few hours. I feel a lot closer to my mom than my father. She is more understanding and patient, not knocking my paa because he is awesome in many ways as well. During dinner I find myself talking to her more than anyone else because I can understand the majority of what she says. My host father speaks extremely fast and does not take into consideration if I understand completely or not, he just keeps going….and going. My mom cooks three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner and they’re all amazing. I tend to partake in dinner only because I usually eat lunch at the schools and breakfast on my own. I have learned to make a few basic dishes from this wonderful woman, but no matter what I do they never taste the same. She is always telling me how to make this or that so when I go to the States I will never go hungry. She often jokes about sending me home with sticky rice and as time goes on I’m coming to learn this may not be a joke after all. She once asked me if the airlines would allow me to take a duffle bag full of rice with me and I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.
Everyone meet yai…yai is one of the toughest old ladies that I know here in Thailand. Now that I think about it- State side as well. She is around 91 years old and was born in the house I currently live in. I say ‘around’ because she tells me she does not know her exact B-day but knows she is around 91. Don’t let her sweet smile and age fool you, this lady is one active son of a gun. On any given day you can catch her pulling weeds and maintaining our garden as seen in the picture above. She also enjoys going through rice grains and filtering out the bad stuff or asking me if I have eaten yet. She is always so concerned if I have eaten yet or had enough to eat and its the cutest thing ever. I swear every morning for the past 19 months she has told me, not asked, but told me to eat breakfast and day after day I say the same thing….”No, thank you”. I don’t think she will ever stop asking and in time I have come to terms with that.
Yai is great for improving Thai speaking and listening skills. Whenever talking with yai you must speak extremely clear and a tad bit louder than usual forcing you to perfect your tones. She is also great for improving your ability to understand country Thai folks. I swear they speak a different language. Till this day, I still have trouble comprehending elderly country folks, but thanks to yai it has gotten a lot better. It always brightens my day to see her after a long day of work. When its been a rough day, I can always rely on her cute toothless smile to greet me at the gate and ask me if I am hungry. I truly value yai and everything she brings to the table.
My hat goes off to my host family and all the other host families that have taken in an American and treated them as one of their own. It’s a big step no matter where you’re from to take in a foreigner and look after them for 2 years. In Peace Corps Thailand we have an option of living alone or with a family after the mandatory 1 month period. In the beginning I was unsure whether or not I was going to stay with a host family. It can be strenuous and make the journey a lot harder than it needs to be if you and your family don’t connect. Luckily for me this has never been a problem. My host family respects my privacy while making me feel included in every way possible. They no longer come to my room and ask if I would like to eat. We have a mutual understanding that if I am at the table when its dinner time I am eating, and if I am nowhere to be seen then I will not be participating in tonights dinner. Some host families can be rather strict when it comes to visitors, especially if that visitor is a female. Mine have embraced everyone with open arms and allowed us to do as we please. My family has been there for me on my darkest days here in Thailand. Days I thought I could no longer do Peace Corps. Days I wanted to just call it quits and throw in the towel- they were there for me. My host family in time has become real family to me. It feels great knowing that the love is mutual and I can return here anytime post Peace Corps as they often tell me. I look forward to the next 5 1/2 half months we have together and what the future has in store.