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