Today wasn't an ordinary day in the Klong Toey slum. In fact, for days things haven't been business as usual. The sidewalks had been swept...or should I say scrubbed? Street hawkers were notified that they were to remain closed on Thursday, decaying building awnings were removed, even incinerators along the street were wrapped in brown paper to mask any unsightliness from our President's view. I can't help but wonder if President Bush is aware of the extraordinary lengths to which this community went to prepare for his visit today.
Of course, he didn't just randomly choose this poorest of the poor Bangkok neighborhood. President Bush came to visit and honor a very special American, Father Joe Maier, a Redemptorist priest who came to Thailand in 1967 as a missionary. Father Joe founded the Human Development Foundation and has lived in and served the Klong Toey community for over 40 years. His Mercy Centre, a shelter for street kids and a home for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS is directly behind the school I teach at.
Speaking of teaching, I did actually teach today or at least tried to! The children were certainly aware that it was a different day... after all, it's not every day that their playground gets turned into a parking lot for police trucks! Anyway, after our routine lessons, reviewing the letter "H", and making newspaper "hats" (check my next blog), I headed out onto to the street to see what I could see...kind of felt like Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree! One of the first sights I saw was a string of secret service agents and their assorted vehicles. The picture above is of an agent I befriended because he was in need of locating the "facilities". I really enjoyed chatting with him and his partner. This was their first trip to Thailand. With the exception of suffering from major jet lag, they were having a nice time...looking forward to a Thai foot massage this evening:) To show their gratitude for my help, they gave me some secret service pins for Riley. Now that's a souvenir I never expected to collect in Thailand!
I also never expected to be interviewed by an AP reporter, but as you can see from the picture above, I was. Talk about nervous! The tape will probably never be aired, but just in case you'd like to hear what I had to say, you might want to tune into CNN. And if you'd like to know more about Father Joe's ministry, I highly recommend his book, Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughterhouse, or you can check out the Mercy Centre website. http://www.mercycentre.org/ My Shutterfly page will have a new album shortly containing all my snapshots from this most un-ordinary day.