Sunday, July 28, 2013

Getting Back on Track

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

Having been gone from site for Reconnect, Counterpart Conference, and a short trip to Koh Tao with friends, getting back into the groove at home has been a bit clunky. The kids missed me, my family missed me, my fellow teachers missed me, but riding the wave of how this culture expresses such feelings in person has left me wondering who I am in all this. Hugs seem so foreign here and as much as those who know how much I value them try, I know it's for me. I look for the signs, as if my value is in their reaction to my return, only to realize the folly in that. I am here for signs no more than I am here for surprise parties and giant cakes with sparklers for candles.

So, let's review the month, because I've been away from this blog far too long...

I left my village and visited a volunteer friend not too far away who had just moved into her new rental house. It's a beautiful place that she has outfitted with gorgeous curtains, a washer, and...wait for oven. This is no Thai oven, this thing was probably better than the oven in my first place after college in Lomita, or at least larger! After seeing an oven for the first time in 6 months, there was really nothing else to be done but bake. Bake we did! Cookies, brownies, and eggplant parmesan for dessert (strike that, reverse it). It was heavenly, and Barbara better be prepared for more visits from this country mouse!
Our delicious spread!
After a night of food, laughs, and comfy snoozing it was off to Chainat for Reconnect. Seeing friendly faces, hearing stories, sharing successes and challenges, and taking some time to check in with myself away from site went better than I had expected, though I missed my students, host family, and community dearly. I even headed back to Suphan Buri on the weekend to revisit my training site and take it all in with new eyes. Si Prichan was as welcoming as ever, and the women in the market were flattering as they spoke of how much my language had improved and joked with me on how I should really look into getting a Thai boyfriend, now (not going to happen). It was a nice visit, made even more wonderful by a trip to Wat Muang to see the tallest sitting Buddha statue.
Pretty spectacular, eh?
Returning to Chainat meant the start of Counterpart Conference as well as a boat festival nearby. I walked down to view some of the festivities and watch the longboats on the river, which was lovely. Even more enjoyable was seeing my co-teacher again, watching her take copious notes, and share so eagerly in our group sessions about the projects we had started at our school. It meant a lot to hear her being so willing to share, in large part because one of our goals is to grow the communication skills of our counterparts. There was lots to learn, great ideas were hatched, and a list of honey-do's was agreed upon for when I was to return to site, since I was off for yet another adventure before returning home.
As the longboats float by...
After saying farewell to counterparts and volunteers alike, the next leg of the journey was just beginning. A few friends and I took the night train south (comfortable except for the super cool AC and loud game of Fruit Ninja that the monk sitting next to me was playing), then boarded the high speed catamaran for Koh Tao (Turtle Island). What a culture shock! Western food and faces outnumbered those that were Thai, and even some I expected might want to converse in Thai with me turned out to be from Malaysia, Myanmar, or Cambodia. Still, fun times, a significant rise in the intake of cheese and bread-filled dishes, a few tasty drinks, and some awesome strolls along the beach filled the next few days. To top it all off, I took lessons at a great diving school in order to be open water certified. It was a really special experience seeing the world in such a new way, and I look forward to more exploring of the underwater world again soon.
Saying goodbye to Koh Tao
After a long day of traveling from boat to bus to taxi, it was a night at a hostel in Bangkok for the weary travelers before heading back to site. The excitement and enjoyment of all that was new had made room for a deep appreciation for the home I'd left behind in Chaiyaphum and I was very happy to arrive home and spend my first night back in my own bed being lulled to sleep by the croaking bullfrogs outside my windows and geckos chirping on my walls.

Back to reality.

Friday, July 5, 2013


I'm leaving tomorrow, and I haven't packed.

I woke up this morning and though I know I need a break, leaving site for two weeks will be a gift, and I've been to four funerals in two weeks, I didn't want to pack. I still haven't, in fact.

I washed my clothes.
I washed my sheets and covers.
I swept my room.
I swept the house.
I mopped.
I made breakfast.
I made tea.
I hung my clothes on the line to dry.
I made lunch.
I made coffee.
I read 5 chapters of a book.
I talked to my neighbors.
I talked to the dog.
I took my laundry off the clothes line.
I am writing this blog.

So, I'm wondering. What's keeping me? Why is my bag still not packed?

Perhaps it's knowing that my host family is going through tough times (my host's brother seems to be losing his battle with cancer and has stopped eating). I have seen and heard of enough death in the past two weeks, to be sure. To not be there for my family at this time, though, seems wrong. I can hope that he'll last two weeks until I get home, but it's less about prolonging his life at this point. I care about being here for them. Talking with and hugging them when times are rough. Making them laugh, making them think, making them iced coffee. Whatever it might be.

Perhaps it's knowing that my students are improving so much right now. We've finally reached a moment where we have momentum. They're remembering far more than they were before and have become so excited about class that even when I'm trying to work on future lessons in my "office" they're in trying their best to talk to me, or asking me to sing them another English song, or showing off the songs and dances I've taught them to help their memory. I don't want to lose that momentum.

Perhaps it's knowing that I'm not like the other volunteers. There are a small handful of people who truly "get" me here and though I don't need or expect anyone to be my best friend after 6 short months, I have a hard time feeling "home" with my new friends, for the most part. Maybe it's that this home in Chaiyaphum has started to feel more real, and I don't want to belittle it when it comes to our time at Reconnect where I know some things might start to spiral into "my site is worse/better/harder/more awesome than yours." It's an unfounded fear. I love all of these volunteers, truly. I'm just trying to understand why I'm still stalling.

The truth is, I've found an identity, or the beginnings of one, in my community. From my walks around the village, the banter with the merchants, the conversations with my family, I know they're going to miss me. They've told me, as I said I'd be gone for awhile. Some of them are even concerned that I'm going so far away (I assure them it's not far for me...I'm from America) or that I won't come back, probably (I promise them I am).

A garden may be planted without me. Rice may be harvested without me. The world will continue to turn. The sun will continue to rise and set.

The real truth of the matter is, I love this place, 
and it took having to pack my bags to truly realize exactly how much I do.