Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thai-ed Up In Knots

Thailand is about the journey, not the destination.

Life before Peace Corps seemed to be all about destinations. Goals. Objectives. Motivation. Successes. Failures. Risks. How things seem to have shifted.

Getting accepted was a journey. Arriving here was a journey. Being here is a journey.

I sat down to write this post about seven times this week, and due to one limitation or another, I couldn't finish. Some nights, it was lack of an internet signal. Some nights, lack of energy. Some nights, I was too down to share the great moments. Some nights, I was too up to share the reality of it all.

So, here I sit, fan at my side, Dook Dik at my feet panting and swatting away mosquitoes with his big paws. Pii Tui (one of my Thai sisters) just gave me three boxes of Pocky and insisted that I shouldn't share them with anyone else, even her. She, like the rest of my family, is far too nice. They all give me so much love, so much attention (sometimes to my chagrin), and so much FOOD!
No joke, this was my personal breakfast one morning.
I didn't eat all of it, but they sure expected me to try!
I really do need to update more, though. There is so much I'll forget. So many small moments that mean the world to me that I can't possibly fit into one post-sized morsel for you all to digest. I'll do my best.

Last weekend, I ventured out with my language group to map out our community and get better situated. We rode with our adorable teacher whose bike, although smaller than the rest of ours, still looked too large for her by at least three sizes. We rode, stopping often for meetings with families, information about everything from water towers to fertilizer distributors, and ate our fill of fresh fruit. We danced, we sang, we biked, we sweat. Pretty much a typical day in Thailand. All was right with the world.
I love these guys!
I saw my first firefly this week. It glowed a few times and was gone. I was very glad to have my friend Michael over at the time to point it out, or I would most certainly have missed it. It might seem like small potatoes to some, but to me, it's another moment that is defining my Thai experience, much like the chirping of the geckos which took some getting used to, but I'm now able to truly appreciate, knowing they are helping (in their small way) in eating up at least some of the millions of mosquitoes that threaten to drain me dry. I have one that seems to be keeping to my room. I wish he'd invite his friends over, but I'll introduce him to you, now.
 I shall call him Gumby 
He shall be my friend.
This week, we had rain. One night, for about 30 minutes, but it was so loud I could barely hear my host calling me to take my shower. It's strange to be taking a bucket shower in a room with holes for windows while the rain is pouring down a few meters away. I'll never forget that rain. Had it been light out, still, I'd have taken a picture to share. Alas, a black rectangle on this page can hardly capture the magic.

Some moments this week felt like running head first into a brick wall. I'll take great strides in my confidence speaking Thai, and have moments, similar to one earlier today where I feel I should already know how to answer the question, I can totally understand it, but the words don't come, my family insists on me trying, and after my fifth try in Thai, with their sweet smiling faces still eager to understand, I lock the door to my room and have to check out for fear of breaking face. These things I'm ashamed to admit. I want to already be there. I see the goal. I want the result. I work hard every day, and still I struggle. Many would be happy with where I'm at right now, I just know I have such a short amount of time with these amazing people who are investing so much into me, and I want to grow in strides, not baby steps and trips. "Jai Yen Yen" means keep a cool heart in Thai. I hear it nearly every day. You'd think it would have sunk in by now. 

At the end of last week I practiced lesson planning the Peace Corps way with one of my fellow volunteers. This Friday, he and I were observing the teacher we will be co-teaching with for the next two weeks when she pulled out her lesson and lo-and-behold, she was teaching from the exact same book, unit, and page numbers that we had chosen for our hypothetical lesson. As if it couldn't get any stranger, she then invited me up to teach and I proceeded to lead the lesson as if I had planned it, minus the materials I couldn't possibly have come up with without preparation. My fellow volunteer hopped up and did the second half of the lesson very well. At the end of class, the teacher asked me if I would sing a song in English. I'm not much for just going up and entertaining a class without some learning going on, so we made it topical and taught the kiddos "Old MacDonald" in the last few minutes of class. The last animal the students chose to have on the farm was an elephant, and Keith gave an incredible impression that knocked every one's socks off. It was a great topper to the work week.

Saturday was Thai Day. On Friday night, I showed my family what I thought I was going to wear, my pasin with a shirt I brought from America, but they wouldn't have it. For the next two hours I was dressed up like a doll in as many traditional Thai outfits as they could find on the compound. I probably tried on close to 50 things, had my chest examined and played with by all of the women in my family here (They thought it was a fun game. I begged to differ). And ended up in a sparkly pink skirt that was about 5 inches too wide at the waist, five inches to short in length, pinned in place with safety pins, matched with a lacy pink blouse, and a pearl bracelet. I wore it with pride, knowing the joy in their faces as they exclaimed "Suay" (beautiful) when they finally agreed on the one they liked.

Here are some highlights of my week:
Successfully ordered my food in complete sentences in Thai.
Successfully ordered Thai iced tea in complete sentences from the same lady I've been buying from since we began meeting at the marketplace and received an ovation and high praise from her and her friends for my great Thai. We then had a conversation about where I'm from and what I'm doing here that they were able to understand, and respond to.
Successfully bartered with and bought another pasin to wear while the one I was gifted is drying on laundry days.
Successfully stepped in and taught a 4th grade English lesson when the teacher I was supposed to be observing insisted I take over. The kids had fun. My fellow teachers had fun. I even had fun!
Successfully sang a traditional Thai song in front of my entire training group, teachers, and Peace Corps staff (and my little bro/cousin and host who were peeking in) during Thai day. It was slightly mortifying to say the least, but those who were there insist I did well, so I'll take it as a win.
Successfully cooked a dish for dinner that everyone in my family insisted was "Aroi Maak" (delicious).

Here are a smattering of the low points in my week:
I fell over when getting on my bike due to a motorcycle that came up from behind and scared the poop out of me (not literally). It was an embarrassment, but I wasn't hurt and was able to communicate that in Thai.
I accumulated even more bites than last week, even though I've been using even more bug spray. :-(
I rode home later than usual one night and ended up breathing in more bugs than I ever could have wished on my worst enemy. (I did laugh at myself the entire time, though.)
I got impatient with my progress...more than once...dumb and useless, I know.
I didn't update this as much as I'd hoped to.

Overall, this week was full of growth opportunities. I tried, I failed, I succeeded, I tried again, I worked, I studied, I laughed, I cried, I sweat, and I was greeted with smiles wherever I went.

Thailand truly is full of amazingly warm people. I don't think it's the heat that makes them this way. It's a culture rich with respect for family, appreciation of food, and uncanny ability to sigh their cares away. 
My host (Pii Lee) and I, enjoying one another's company.
I still have so much to learn, and I'm still so grateful to be here.


  1. What a week! Jess there is no failure for those who try!! You are a success in my eyes no matter what!!! i will say tho' mosquitoes eat me alive too! Must be our sweet skin...LOL! Stay strong (whch I already know you are) Magic and mircles are on the road ahead!!! Love you!!!

  2. Wow! This is so wonderful to read and I really feel your experiences come to life through your words.As always, Your loving Mama Bear