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.