Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Because You Can

My birthday came and went this year with far more fuss than I had ever imagined there would have been in a country that isn't well known for celebrating such occasions. It started two days early with a surprise party (I waited outside and watched as the food and tables and chairs were brought in, set up, and people kept telling me not to help). My co-workers and principal loaded the table with food, showered me with flowers and cake, and spent an evening making speeches and singing songs in my honor. It was special.
Being honored with a sweet speech
from my principal.
Come Thursday, my students had caught wind of the party and I was greeted at school by about twenty students excited to each give me a stuffed animal and wish, "Happy birthday, Ms. Jessie!" My classes worked hard for me, and I rewarded their hard work with some time at the end for singing Happy Birthday the American way (in Thailand, the name isn't sung...like in restaurants). My students hugged me more in one day than they had in the collective six months at site. It was incredible.
My 6th Graders blocking the desk full of
stuffed animals they gave me!
As judges came to assess our school, students who weren't busy preparing took time to make me cards. I have such talented artists in my classes! Most of the cards had sweet mis-spellings, long messages in Thai, and fantastic artwork. The perfectionist in me wishes I could have taught them how to make a better card. Write more appropriate messages and what not. The teacher, realist, and lover in me recognizes that these students were motivated enough to figure these things out on their own and work so hard to surprise me with these precious tokens of their love and appreciation for me. I've looked through them every night since with tears of appreciation and love in my heart. It was remarkable.

The morning of my birthday, I rose extra early to prepare my offerings for the monks. In Thailand, it is customary to give a special offering and be blessed by the monks on your birthday. Some people go to the temple, others wait for the daily alms walk the monks make to collect food and offerings every morning around the village. I loaded bags with noodles, water, and soy milk, put money into envelopes, prepared rice, and wrapped up two bouquets of flowers. When the monks arrived, I performed my first birthday tamboon with the help of my host family. It was very special.
Receiving blessings after giving offerings
After I gave my offerings, I packed up and was taken to my dear friend Barbara's house nearly an hour away and had a perfect weekend celebrating with the rest of the volunteers in my province (Laura & Zack) by visiting the mall, making delicious food, buying a ukulele for myself, creating artwork, and speaking in English all weekend. It was spectacular.
The Chaiyaphum Crew
The night I returned home, I brought some baking supplies I had bought on my latest trip to the mall and set out to teach my host family how to bake cookies. My niece helped mix, my nephew helped lick the spoon, and they watched the oven like two little hawks. There were some mistakes in measurements and the temperature isn't exactly accurate, but after some problem solving, three dozen cookies were edible. As I took a batch out of the oven, my host family surrounded me from behind singing "Happy Birthday" and holding a cake with 3 candles in it. As tears filled my eyes, my mind raced for a wish that hadn't already been granted in my very blessed life. I felt so loved.

I am so grateful for such a unique birthday filled with celebrations of all sorts.

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