It was very good to hear back from you. I was especially happy to hear that recycling programs are going strong there. I can remember having to throw all my plastic bottles and wrappers in the trash can after lunch each day in Jr. High in Missouri. It didn't really sink in what a waste that was until I went to college in California where recycle bins were scattered all over campus. It is a very important issue for air quality here because villagers have to burn their trash. There is not money for trash collection and the landfills have no lining so all the nasty waste seeps into the water and soil -- not at all a good situation.
So, my top project here is setting up "recycling banks" at four of my schools and the office I work at. This will require a lot of time and getting the students involved, just like you do there in Lawrence with one class handling the recyclables and making sure there is a business to pick them up. If all goes well, then my villages will be able to recycle and won't be breathing in all the poisonous plastics smoke, yuck.
I attached a picture of litter cleanup days and the landfill. Also attached is a picture of my house. My villages have little concrete houses like this. Mine does not have a bedroom or kitchen but just two big open rooms. I sleep on bamboo floor mats and a roll out cushion. I thought it would be hard not having a bed at first, but now I really like sleeping on the floor. I like using the squat toilets too :-). I also have a big back yard with lots of garden space and coconut palms. I want to build a big pole that can cut down fresh coconuts!
My friend Ryan lives in Kalasin where they have a big rocket festival. He gave me some of them (home-made, ah!) two or three months ago after the event. He said rockets were shot off everywhere for good luck. Even little kids were shooting rockets. I wonder how many hands get blown up. Maybe not many, since the point of shooting the rockets is to bring good luck. Thai culture is very superstitious and lottery salespeople can be found on every corner. We both live in the driest region of the country, the northeast (it's called "Isaan") and most of the people speak Laos. When I teach environmental science and English, I speak Thai, though. My Thai is coming along okay. No one in my villages speaks English, but that's okay: when in Thailand, speak Thai, right?
Last thing for now: I have seen a few elephants but never ridden one because you usually have to pay. My friends and I here can't bring ourselves to give money to the people because the elephants are always chained up and hit with bullhooks. It's really sad and not how you think it would be here in the country. There are less than 1,000 wild elephants in Thailand. I'll write more about wildlife issues soon.
It was great to hear about the "sevies," so keep writing!