Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bringing it Home

As a year has now passed since my medical evacuation from the Kingdom of Thailand, and my beautiful friends of Group 125 have just been sworn out of service (aside from those continuing on for a third year). I thought it fitting to punctuate the occasion on this blog of what now seems like distant memories and distinct lessons. The ellipsis must make is time for the period.
I had a bit of a scare following the beauty of Thai Youth Theatre Festival last year. I got checked out for tummy issues while returning supplies in Bangkok, and what I was hoping would be a routine checkup turned into a saga that lasted a few weeks, a couple procedures, lots of worry, extended stays in lonely rooms, and an eventual difficult conversation, after which I was driven back to site to pack a bag for a medevac home for further treatment.
The condensed story doesn't tell you much, but that's been the point of my silence on the matter this whole time. That's not the story I truly wish to tell. I can say that, when I left, I had every intention of returning within my 45 days of medevac to finish up my service and return to my beautiful host family in my loving village. I am grateful that I was able to give my family one last hug (Plum and Pigoon even took the bus down to Bangkok before my flight to wish me one more tearful goodbye, because they were so heartbroken that I had to be shipped out).
The 45 approved days of medical evacuation were deeply trying as I struggled to keep my return stateside secret at first so as not to draw attention, worry, or negative light to my Peace Corps experience. I saw some great doctors, had numerous exams, a couple more procedures, and it was finally agreed upon by my Peace Corps nurse, general care doctor, and gastroenterologist that a return to Thailand was not in my cards. It would take 12 months to get me back to my "normal" of before and a reintroduction to the host country environment wasn't meant for my weakened system.

I have to admit, I was both devastated and relived. Devastated not to have the opportunity to truly communicate to my host family, co-teachers, and students that I loved them dearly and had been so touched by all they had given to my life by inviting me into their world. Devastated that I wouldn't be living the life I had planned (how many times do we realize this one?). Relieved that in the end the decision was out of my hands and I would be well within a year. I truly had forgotten what wellness felt like, and it took some real work to bring it back.

My parents were my greatest cheerleaders over the past year, from the supported walks around the block to the eventual neighborhood strolls, and the 5 mile treks we finally worked me up to, they were by my side every step of the way. The theatre family reached out with open arms to lift my spirit as I gained the courage to be seen again, and by summer the kids were warming my heart with song and story, as I stepped back into my role as teacher and coach. My spiritual family prayed over and helped me on the journey to recovery, knowing I was in the perfect hands and reminding me of how deep my roots can grow in fertile soil.

As my health became less of an issue, the classroom became my friend again, and I rejoined the ranks of Chino Valley Unified School District as a sub while looking for the right program to finish up my credential and follow my calling as an arts educator. I also landed some incredibly challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling roles as an actor, and my lengthy absence from the stage ended with some powerful and hilarious moments.
Still, my heart has felt torn, living between two worlds more than I let on. Some nights the tears flowed freely as I thought of all I left "undone" back in my old home. I sent love in messages that I could only hope found the ears of those who deserve to know how much they gave to me, and how blessed I know I am by their gifts, even today. With the final days of Group 125's service came the realization that the chapter, though closed for quite some time, really has ended, and my movement forward isn't selfish, but what life is all about.

I am filled with such awe and pride as I think of those in my group who made their ways into their communities' hearts and will have such lasting impact on the lives of those beautiful Thai friends and families they got to know so well. The joy I feel for all I know they were able to give of themselves, and the pride I have in their great accomplishment of having made it the entire 27 months in the Kingdom of Thailand fills me tonight. I honor them.

Let this stand as a reminder that we are all blazing our own trails in life, and some paths may wind back upon themselves or end before the next has made itself clear, but we all find our ways eventually. I am so grateful to always have so many who love and inspire me along the journey, and I take this moment, today, to acknowledge how far I've truly come. It may not have been on my terms, but I did it with a full heart, and always from a place of love.

Let the next adventure begin!

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Poem for Impatience

A blurring of lines
As life redefines
On a journey
Throughout all

The love for what's here
Reacting to clear
Signs of discord
Pain behind
The curtain

Heart skipping beats
Energy depletes
Left in solitary
Cold rooms to
Think on

And as memories pass
Past eyes of glass
Two sides of one
Coin flipping

Surrender to fates
Reopen the gates
To view how the
Path has now

Hear whispers on air
Taking great care
As the first step
Is generously

You're longing to race
So steady the pace
To the end of the
Journey to
See where

Breathe slow and stand still
Release the strong will
To know all before
Out there

Patience, dear friend
We all reach the end
Drop the fighting
Life isn't a

The answers seem clearer
From twenty steps nearer
The goal, but then
Where is your

Friday, February 28, 2014

Courage + Self-esteem = มั่นใจ

มั่นใจ (man-jai) literally translates to settled heart, and is the word for confidence here in Thailand. It's a quality that I hope to instill in my students not only when they speak English, but throughout all aspects of life.

When I came to Thailand, I knew about Thai Youth Theatre Project and was very much looking forward to being a part of it. Given that I spent most of my childhood in one of three places (home, school, or theatre) it seemed like a perfect fit. The gifts that my theatre upbringing gave me in regards to creativity and confidence I carry with me to this day and brought me out of my shy shell, helping me to see the world from many different perspectives.

I realized early on that my site wasn't going to be participating in TYT in the way that I had hoped.  Although people liked the idea of an English club that focused on performance, no one had the free time available to work alongside me, and this aspect of sustainability is required for Peace Corps Thailand projects. I was disappointed that my interested students wouldn't get the opportunity to experience all that TYT Festival had to offer, but was looking forward to helping make it happen for the other participating volunteers, counterparts, and students as a Committee Member.

Lesson plans, large group activities, performance schedules and stage managing were my main roles leading up to and at the festival. There were some bumps along the road that come along with most projects of this scale, but the team powered past them to focus on the goal at hand, bringing a great weekend of growth and fun for the participants. And so we did...

The students were put through a range of classes:
Mask Making

Sword Fighting
Shaddow Puppetry

Thirteen participating schools put on fourteen performances in English:
The Four Champa Trees

Romeo and Juliet

Pii Mak Phra Khanong 
The Watermelon Prince

And fun was had by all:

As the festival came to a close, I breathed in gratitude for being able to do what I truly love, at least in a small way, while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. In truth, I haven't felt completely myself without theatre in my life this past year, and having this to add to my book of experiences here in Thailand has fueled me in a way that nothing else has. As I shared with my co-teacher about the experiences that the students and teachers had at the festival this year, her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face. She said that she now saw what a great gift this could be to our students in order to help them find more joy and confidence in speaking English. It looks like we'll be starting meetings for our own TYT club when the new school year begins in a few months, and I'm thrilled by the prospect of sharing more of who I am with my community.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Random Acts of น้ำใจ

น้ำใจ (nahm-jai) literally translates to water-heart, and is the word for kindness here in Thailand. It's one of my favorite words because I think it speaks so well to the flow of love that acts of kindness allow for.

As January spun quickly into February and life back at site took on it's normal pace of hurry up and wait most days, I took it all in. My host family showing their joy for having me back after my trip home. The students testing me after two weeks away when homework wasn't expected of them. My body readjusting to the new heat that the tail-end of cold season that Northeastern Thailand welcomed me with. My heart heavy from the loss of my grandmother, but filled by the familiar and friendly experiences of my trip back to California. I rode wave after wave, knowing the tide would calm but feeling the undertow pulling at me.

With Valentine's Day just around the corner I focused on what I always do with an added tenacity that the undertow required. Love. I saw love in the random acts of kindness that surrounded me day in and day out. A fellow teacher bringing me juice to ease my stomach pains. My co-teacher offering a hug not because it was her way, but because she knew it was mine. My host with her myriad examples of loving support that she offered every day.

I taught a simple song about love to all of the students at school every morning for two weeks straight that they sung on my sunny walks home after school while riding past me on their bikes and motorcycles. The kids covered my shirts with heart-shaped stickers while saying, "I love you" on a regular basis. Finally, the time had come to make Valentine's Day Cards came as the big day approached.

I'm not one of those that is against this supposed "Hallmark Holiday" created by greeting card companies. I've read enough history turned legend to be tickled that we still keep what began as a Roman fertility fest as a celebration of love in today's world. Any holiday in which chocolate and flowers are traded and love is focused on is fine by me, so we dove in. In class we talked about what love meant and how there are different kinds of love for different people in our lives. Familial love, friendly love, romantic love, even love for those we don't know throughout the world. It was...lovely.

As I continued through this week, I started to feel more and more sick (the stomach issues were getting worse and I had a head cold to top it all off) so I ended up spending a lot of my time at my desk instead of around the campus. What amazed and overwhelmed me was how many of my students made it a point to come visit and show off their English speaking and songs. They came bearing stickers, cards, and roses. One dear student, who many teachers write off because she isn't particularly sharp, but who I make a lot of time for, came in every lunch period to learn English, practice new dialogues, and give me stickers. She brought a baby guinea pig in at the beginning of the week that I enjoyed playing with, and each consecutive day brought a new one in for me to pet and play with. This kindness is difficult to translate to words, but she gave what she had to make me happy and I did the same.

This flow of love through acts of kindness continues to inspire me and reminds me that even the smallest of gifts, like giving someone attention when they are starved for it, can say so much.

Friday, February 7, 2014


She sat across the room
Hands that once made elaborate lace
Now shaking unceasingly

Her eyes looked out to me
Drawing me in with a grin that spoke secrets
Where her words were now failing

As she traveled from world to world
Reality to dream to delusion
So fluidly she must have felt like the water
Now dripping from the table where
Her unsteady hand had knocked it

My heart reached out to catch her
But like that water
Drip, drip, dripping
She trickled through

Would knowing I’d never hold her again
Have changed my mind?
Kept me tethered?
Held me back?

Did she realize the love I held?
The gratitude I felt?
The awe she inspired in me?
Just by being my…grandma

That word somehow too small to hold her entirety
She saw with an artist’s eye
Created with a mother’s hand
Heard with a musician’s ear

We accept these days as days that will come
We know we cannot be the deciders
Of where
Of when

Still, why did time not stop when her heart did?
How did I know before knowing?
How did my body feel before the telling?
Where do I go from here?

She and I shared more than I ever cared to admit
Temper, Stubbornness, Sarcasm
Laughing heartily, shouting loudly, singing harmoniously

And writing
How did I not realize what a gift she had?
What we truly shared in
Vision, form, rhythm, rhyme
Or the release of it all
At the appropriate time

She got me
I got her
And now…

I hear the faucet dripping and I’m reminded
Of the glass clinging to the edge of the table
That once touched my grandmother’s hand

I reach for the hand and find only the
Drip, drip, dripping of water
My hand shaking in the darkness
Heart trembling in the realization

Shifting from nightmare to delusion to reality
I see the path she walked before me
All the truths illuminated in our shared love

As I walk through her early years I see through
The windows of memories she drew the curtains
To peer in through
Flip through photos, letters, poems, still frames

Later on, I glance through doorways cracked
Hear her laughter through the walls
Smell her workroom in the scratchy bunny she sewed for me

I walk further still to sit in rooms of reminiscence
Listening to her stories, plucking out tunes by her side
Developing an ear and a heart for music with her guidance

On I go, watching her fall into her chair
Prop those once active legs up to rest and reflect
Work those puzzles until the hands and mind made it
Too much of a struggle

Further on and on, through talks I tried to block out
Her being ready, not wishing to be the last to go
Feeling pleased with all that she had in life

So with a deep breath I come back
To this moment in the dark
Reaching out for something that will never be external again
Inviting it all to
Live within