Feeling melancholic – Reflections on peacebuilding

Bangkok, Friday, January 17, 2014

 Today was our last day with Michael Fryer and Rita Manchanda, I can’t believe the 1st week of class is already over! So many things we learned and many others to go back to -like a delicious buffet!

 Michael closed the week reading Jean Paul Lederach’s The Poetic Unfolding of the Human Spiritand telling us the touching story of a group of peasants from La India (Colombia), who started a non violent movement, of which Josué Vargas and his family are protagonists. Lederach introduced the book by telling us about a personal and professional crisis:

“(…) The professional crisis: after three decades of work, I had noticed that the most interesting peacebuilding emerged spontaneously and seemed to have little to do with all our peacebuilding work. Was this work worth the effort? And what, if anything, seems to be the core that holds it together?

(…) 

Here’s an excerpt of one my favorite parts of this poem…

“I learned from these people. Simple things. Simple principles that when combined create movement and echo. They were visionaries. They had the capacity to envision a web of human connections that included building relationships with their enemies. They refused to accept a dualist “you are with us or against us” approach. They embraced complexity. They held a firm belief in the human capacity for creativity. In the face of violent threat, they forged ways forward that did not depend on weapons. None of them ever picked up a gun. And of course, they took the risk to step into the unknown, armed only with love and courage in the midst of hate.”

Tears… I don’t know if it’s the melancholy of the week ending or the power of the subject that we’re discussing, but I’ve been full of emotions this week, discovering new worlds and learning about conflicts that I knew very little of and learning about myself, trying to be more aware of the situations that upset me and trying to center myself more.

The day closed with a special security briefing by Director Surichai and the Thai Violence Watch team. There were some explosions (we were told “firecrackers”) near the Tesco that we usually go to…Apparently they were targeting the opposition leader, Sunthep. This was quite scary to us, as we felt more misinformed and isolated than we have already been. We were asked to avoid protest areas.

Friday night we had our first social event of the course: a party on the 5th floor. I was in charge of mojitos (and of music for a little bit), which was fun. We met Spencer (Peace Fellow from the June 2013 class) and talked for a while. Before saying goodbye, Michael read our poem -which surprisingly was very in sync and taught us how to play a game called “Grand  National”. It was hilarious! 

Many things to remember!

 

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No wi-fi yet… Quick hello to all my friends out there!

(via Facebook – Bangkok, Thursday, January 16, 2014)

Here’s a bit of my second Thursday in Bangkok: early run around campus; fulfilling day of class discussing gender and conflict and a super interesting panel with journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (some pictured here… BBC’s Jonathan Head, Al Jazeera English’s Veronica Pedrosa, Prachathai’s Pinpaka Ngamsom and Blue Sky TV). I’ve got very limited wi-fi, sorry for the radio silence! Miss you all! 

 

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Shutdown Bangkok

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 13, 2014

Today was Shutdown Bangkok, which meant that 7 major intersections that provided access to the city were closed, to impede government workers to get to their jobs. All this was part of a massive protest, asking Prime Minister Yingluck Shinnawat to resign and cancel the February 2 elections. People were marching on the streets, with black shirts that read “Shutdown Bangkok” and gathering together at these strategic points to occupy the city and shut it down.

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For us, it meant that the university gates were closed, so we went through a construction site and cut across the little creek to get to our building. We proceeded with class without interruptions. It was out first formal day of the program, in which Michael Fryer and Rita Machanda introduced us to the field of conflict resolution, influential scholars and schools of thought. It was an intense day, but we had a couple of group exercises that were very interesting. I specially liked the one about the 5 presidents and the UN Security Council.

While we were learning about the theory of peace and conflict, outside of our classroom things were heating up and next door to us, some of the Chula political science students had set up a watchdog website called Thai Violence Watch, through which people could report the incidence of violence on the street. They developed questionnaires and surveyed people that were calling them -and others that they crossed on the streets. With indicators such as hate speech, tools used, etc. they were measuring how hot the situation was getting. I thought of Syria Tracker and my friend Hend and the wonders of crowdsourcing to document human rights abuses.

After class, I decided to stay to use Internet and set up our Class’ Facebook group. It’s been a week and we didn’t have one yet? How did this happen?! I also worked a little bit and worried a bit about some of my clients, who will be needing services while I’m gone. After a couple of hours of getting back to people via emails and talking to our Deputy Director about several ideas, we went for dinner with 6 other fellows. On the way back, I tried to help L set up his Skype, so that he can see his family -but the wifi challenge here continues.

Things to remember:  waking up early to have a decent Facetime conversation with Freddy -even if it meant being bitten by a hungry mosquito that was lonely all night in the common living room of the International housing. Second favorite thing: the opening of our class  when Michael used the example of how in Syria they are worried about foreigners influencing internal politics and then putting our picture of the protest on Sunday night…

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Busy Sunday!

Bangkok, January 12, 2014

First Sunday in Bangkok, and it was one full of activities. We had the Rotary Orientation first thing in the morning and I had not been able to talk to my husband Freddy all day on Saturday, so I went downstairs early to try to have a FaceTime and it hit me suddenly: I miss him so much! It was a good start of the day, touring our casita via iPhone and seeing him get ready to go to the West Side (Alpha Table Tennis Club) 🙂

At the Rotary meeting, I met Penny and my co-counselor, Siri and we spent some quality time together today. Yesterday I learned that Penny is a music teacher and that she runs her own music academy, what a coincidence!  I loved hearing how active Siri and his wife Ben are with the political movement that is going on in Thailand. Also, I enjoyed very much talking more to Penny during the lunch and after the meeting.  She took me to a mall to walk around called Terminal 21, where every floor is named after a city or tourist destination. After a quick pit stop at the supermarket to get some food before tomorrow’s strike, I came back to the dorm to change quickly and leave for the Siam Sinfonietta’s concert. Here’s a couple of pictures of the Rotary orientation…

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Today’s afternoon concert was very special, as it was in commemoration of Children’s Day in Thailand.  Martine organized this for us, and told us how special the conductor was. Indeed! Somtow Sucharitkul is amazing.  With concerts like this, he’s making music more inclusive and participatory in Thailand and giving the opportunity to many children to get involved in music programs.  While guest conductor Trisdeena Patalung took over, he narrated Peter and the Wolf, explaining all the animals of the forest and how they were represented in the orchestra.

Post concert, some of us went for dinner in Siam Square, with our guest lecturer for this week, Michael Fryer. We had some good chats and walked back to the dorms while doing a couple of detours -first through the demonstration and last at the marching band competition. It made me think that while the city prepares for a huge strike tomorrow Monday, there’s a part of the city that wants to carry on, that would like Thailand to be bright and vibrant like their uniforms and that want to believe again that there will be a future free of corruption, where hard work and dedication will open doors for them, no matter their social status.

Little did we know that this competition would be going all night at the nearby stadium and that at 10:15 PM massive fireworks would cover the sky of the city. Those of us in the West side of the building heard the explosions and were not sure of what was happening. I went to my balcony and saw the reflection of the colors, so ran to my neighbor’s balcony to get some good shots. 3 minutes later, everybody started coming to the corridor, with the same question/concern regarding the explosions. 

 

Fireworks National Stadium

 

 

First Long Run in Bangkok

Saturday morning…missing my irreplaceable morning run with the Pasadena Pacers so I decided to go for a long run to Lumpini Park, the Central Park of Bangkok. Thanks to Khun Jun for the recommendation! It was GREAT! There was some sort of 5K going on, since I saw a group of runners with bibs. Here’s a picture of the victorious return to the University campus in this super humid weather…

Came back and headed out for breakfast, which it was not Europane as my normal Saturdays, but I did treat myself to a real Starbucks coffee and decided that could only do that once a month (100 Baht!). After that, I helped my friend LaMonte get some clothes and bargained prices for the first time -not sure yet if we got a good price but it seemed fair.

Back to the dorm to chill for a bit -tried to read- and headed out early to the soft opening of the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra at Mahidol University. Ipek’s counselor, President Santi drove us there -in heavy traffic, for 2 hours -so thankful for not being behind the wheel. She told us that the tickets were an invitation of the Argentinean Ambassador, whom we met. The program included some popular classics from Strauss, Rossini and Verdi and the audience was ecstatic. For the first time I saw a conductor direct 360º, as there were young musicians in the balcony who performed the opening with the Fanfare to Mahidol Suttakarn -a military march, of course. There were a couple of very well thought moments at the concert, such as special guests giving a gift to the young sopranos and tenors, and immediately after that, keeping them all in stage singing “Libiamo” from La Traviata all together. It was a nice evening, and good to hear the impressions from my other fellows who had not experienced this kind of concert before. On the drive back, Stephen’s co-counselor drove us back to Central Bangkok and I found out that during the last Fellowship session he was my friend Matthias’s counselor -what a coincidence!

After almost 2 hours to get back to central Bangkok we tried to go out for dinner but Sasa was closed so I ended up having a sandwich in my room for the first time, which was different. While I was getting ready to go to bed I got a call from Mezhghan, who’s in the hospital with baby Kivan. She told me not to worry, but that she would still meet us for the Rotary meeting in the morning. How scary this situation! I was glad that her counselor was taking care of her and to see that we’ve become community and that we check on each other.Run Pacer Run

Individual Conflict Analysis – Presentations

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 10, 2014

Somehow, after a long day of presentations, I’m not tired. I’m excited to know that all my peers will be researching and analyzing very interesting topics and that we’ll be learning together. What an amazing group of practitioners! Today, we were joined by one of the lecturers, Michael, who happens to live in San Diego and who is also friends with my Rotary home counselor Manisha and who happened to have visited my lovely hometown before coming to BKK. Yes, I miss Pasadena!

It’s Friday, 2 PM, my turn to present to the group, so I had to use my classic secret weapon:  stretch and wake up! It went better than I though, given that it’s a topic that I’m still not very familiar with: Central African Republic, but which I will be immersed in it for the next 12 weeks. After class, some of us ventured out of campus, trying to get some air.  On the way to the BTS we came across a protest and one of the fellows fell ill.

In 15 minutes, we went from 10 to 9 as one of the fellows fell ill. Our deputy director Martine came to the rescue -not knowing- and took her back to the dorms. For our Friday night outing, there were various options of where we’d be going and we ended up at some random night market with an Irish pub in the middle of some sketchy part of town. Some of us refused to stay there and started walking -hope no feelings were hurt. This neighborhood was full of darkness and what looked like trashy tourists -sadly. Still, I know that this was not one of the ugly ones. After going up and down streets, we ended up by a great 3-story building with amazing seafood (Somboon Seafood). We tried and loved their specialty: fried curry crab. No pictures, sorry!

To wrap up the day, we walked back to the CU International House, crossing town and campus at night, which was quite phenomenal -as we didn’t get lost! Tomorrow: starting the week with a group run.

Things to remember: LaMonte’s presentation and his phrase: “The uniform is my career, but doesn’t define me as a human being”. Ipek giving all of us a lovely bracelet with Kurdistan’s beads. And lastly: the protest of white shirts saying “Respect My Vote” and people singing with candles in their hands.

Fellowship Orientation – Day 2

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 9, 2014

The morning started with a series of videos about Chulalongkorn University and the Rotary World Peace Fellowship and after reviewing the history of Thailand, we were asked to write a letter to ourselves, which we will be opening at the end of March, when we finish the program. In the afternoon, we had a live discussion about the current political situation in Bangkok and about what could happen next week and I reminisced about the agitation in Caracas. I keep seeing parallels in different contexts, this time with the Red Shirts and the Chavistas (aggressiveness aside, of course) and the exaltation of the people (the young students) whose political consciences have been awaken and who want to be involved and participate in the process. However, the issues at stake here are very different and the division in the population is more evident between red and yellows.

The day ended with dinner at SASA House with some of the fellows, lots of laughs and some decent vegan soup, followed by a long night of studying/preparing for my presentation on Friday: refugees in war/conflict zones.

Things to remember: waking up to a smog-free skyline and seeing the red sunrise over Bangkok; bumping into students meditating by the pond on my run around campus. Having lunch with the Center’s staff, sharing stories about family and life back home. And one very boring but lovely: quiet time in my room for the first time, preparing my Individual Conflict Presentation and in between that, escaping for dinner with some of the fellows and Martine -and admiring the special combination of characters that our class has.

Fellowship Orientation – Day 1

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 8, 2014

Our first day of orientation was fascinating. From what I had seen in paper, I knew the group of fellows was an impressive one, but being there, hearing their stories, their motivations and aspirations, blew me away. From homemakers that went to become fearless NGO advocates later in life to entrepreneurs that have become crucial engines in the development of their countries, to a new mother that brought her baby to Thailand to complete this program. I can’t wait for what’s to come, for the exchanges of opinions, experiences, cultural practices, etc. Yes, there are many readings that we will be doing together, but I have the feeling that a lot of the learning will be coming from the participation in class.

The program is very well structured, not only academically, but also psychologically. I’m sure there’s a group dynamic that has been studied and analyzed, and that around those, Rotary International, the Peace Center, coordinators and administrators prepare the expectations and goals for a three month fully packed adventure.

I also was pleased to hear the interim deputy director warn us about the risks of burnout and secondary trauma in our professions and how we will be addressing this during the course.  I hope I can share some of the resources that I’ve been using through the years at LAFLA.

After class, I managed to get a full hour online wi-fi session with loved ones back home -all at different challenging time zones, which was comforting. Later on, I adventured myself back again into another mall odyssey, in the search of my computer’s power adapter -yes, of all things, this is what I ended up forgetting! So now, after a successful mission, I can write again from my laptop.

 Things to remember from today: meeting baby Kivan (Mezhghan’s 4 month old) and sipping juice frappées in Au Bon Pain while sharing stories with Anuradha, Turid and Mezhghan; the Thai culture session with Khun Sun from Chiang Mai; the exercise that made us go around the room to learn more from the skills/abilities of the others.

 For the record: I’m still debating with the idea of writing a blog while here,  but on the meantime I will keep logging these stories in Caro’s log.  I’m not sure if I can have enough interesting content for the outside audience? Will you read me?

 ¡Hasta mañana!

Running errands in a tuk-tuk

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 8, 2014

Today’s afternoon included: a mission to Tesco to do some food shopping and sip cappuccino for the first time in the city and -of course- a great tuk-tuk ride back to the dorms (with groceries included). 

Things to remember: F.B. phone at MBK mall and “Beer”, the unstoppable salesperson that unlocked my phone after getting into a fight with us for asking too many questions and wasting his time. Somehow he ended up doing great business with us, so I wonder if all this was an act? Or was he really that offended that he had to put such a battle with us? 

Sunday, where did you go?

Bangkok, Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 

(My journey as a blogger begins here. I decided to use the journaling reflections as a way to stay connected with friends and family back home and to leave behind a piece of what this adventure will be…)  

I left Los Angeles on a Saturday night and with the time difference I arrived in Bangkok at noon on Monday. In a way, this was a good way to skip the Sunday feeling (when the weekend is wearing off and you don’t know where all that free time went).

I’ll be here for three months, participating at the Rotary World Peace Fellowship, in Chulalongkorn University. There will be 21 of us here, from all over the world. Yesterday I met a handful of fellows from India, USA, Sri Lanka, Italy and Kenya and today I met others from Nepal, Norway and the USA.  The program kicks off tomorrow with a warm welcome from the Rotary Peace Center and with special guest Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and founder of the Center, Bhichai Rattakul. Being here is a dream come true for me, to continue learning and growing professionally as a humanitarian and no better way to do it that in the company of such an amazing team of fellows.

It’s indeed Amazing Thailand’ and I can’t wait to see more.  I went for a run early this morning, trying to avoid the heat but those 4 miles were exhausting. It’s a habit I’ve developed through the years, and a great way to explore the cities I visit by running through them. I was a bit shy today, so stayed mostly on campus and only adventured myself into crossing to the other side of campus.

The first module of the program will cover ‘The Concepts and Values of Peace and Conflict Studies’ with Michael Fryer and Rita Manchanda. So I have some readings to do now… More to come!