Anyone a fan of old school communication? Write me a letter :) Maybe even send me a pic of us or the fun you are having in life without me although that's impossible ;) Use this address until mid March-Keep in mind mail takes about a month to arrive-Letters only no packages Clark Finkelstein Peace Corps Thailand 242 Rajavithi Road, Dusit, Bangkok 10300 Thailand
Yesterday I experienced a real Sunday, real in the sense that it was everything one wants to feel when they work the whole week and have Sunday off. When joining Peace Corps I was told to be available and ready to give my time and energy 24-7. This was not a joke. Until this Sunday, it has been that way. It's been tiring, but I am kind of used to it because of how I lived in America. Close friends and family know I am always doing something. It wasn't strange to hear I'd work a double shift, go out with co-workers till 3 am, then wake up for 7 am yoga only to rush to shower and meet friends for breakfast. I was always making plans, going places, seeing people, basically never relaxing. With it being the 28th I for sure would be working multiple doubles to make enough money for rent and all my other bills while still keeping myself busy and hanging out with friends. Moral of the story: I don't have lazy Sundays....until Sunday, January 28th.
Sunday I woke up and ate breakfast and Mee (my host mom) asked my plans for the day. It dawned on me I didn't have plans or homework, and for a change she didn't have a task or plan for us. I decided I wanted to go for run so I told her and got ready. Turns out my Thai is still not perfect because she misunderstood and as I put on my gym shoes Mee, my younger brother and cousin all were ready to go "run" with me. We barely ran and ended up mostly walking, we fed some fish bananas, and on one break (of the many breaks we took) I was offered coke and snacks...not the workout I wanted but a good time with my family so it was fine. I got back home and did a real workout in my room, my little brother came in half way through and tried to follow along. After that he took a nap and Mee went out, without me for the first time. I spoke to my sister which was nice, we talked for a longer time than we usually did in the states and I gave her a tour of my house. I then took a shower and decided to start a new book and went outside on the hammock to read. I fell asleep and was woken up later on by my younger brother who invited me to his house. Book in hand and barefoot I walked to the house behind ours where some more family was hanging out. They heard I was reading and sleeping in the hammock and motioned for me to continue in their hammock. The weather was perfect, I was in the shade and enjoying my time. My aunt brought over snacks and water and I felt so happy. I was in and out of sleep. After getting home saw other Peace Corps members were meeting up for yoga so I joined and after felt even more amazing. I got home and Mee asked if I wanted to go to the Don Chedi Festival, and I said yes. We went and saw a live performance and walked around after. I got home and laid in bed and was in such a good mood. It was the lazy Sunday I have been longing for. It was unplanned, laid back, and I went with the flow of things. It was the perfect Sunday. I got to school today and on our fifteen minute break a group of friends called me over and mentioned that I seemed to be in such a good mood. My Sunday was much needed.
,So much has happened these past few days! Prior to meeting my host family I was very nervous. I didn't know what to expect and I felt I didn't know nearly enough Thai to get by. To meet our host family a ceremony was held in which they found us with a picture they received of us. My Mee (Host Mother) found me, then we proceeded to sit on the floor with everyone else and listen to a speech and song. Then the Thai families went around and tied strings on our wrists wishing us good luck on our future journey. My Mee was excited to tell me about a wonderful meat dinner we would be having that night. I'm not sure how to describe her face when I told her I am a vegetarian, I then said pescetarian and she relaxed, slightly. Then we got in the car and headed home. The car ride was so awkward, she doesn't speak English and the Thai I have learned could be spoken within a few minutes, so it was pretty silent with lots of smiles. We got home she told me to shower and that we were going out. I as under the impression I would unpack and settle in, I was not prepared for what came next. We went to a salon where her and her friend had their hair and make up done. Then she took me to her work party. They all started to dance so I was encouraged to join. The food was fantastic, they had Japanese hibachi chefs cooking fried rice, seafood, and meat. I ate so much food I thought I would explode. Then their boss came and he had the chefs make me more "hot and fresh" food, even though I told him I already ate. He had me go back to dance on stage with everyone and then basically hand fed me a Thai cake. Overall the night was amazing, filling, and way more fun than I envisioned my first night being. After the first night I knew everything would be okay. I love my host mom and little brother. They gave me the nickname Kow Hom (Cow Home) meaning sweet/good smelling rice. Apparently it is a great nickname to be given. Since then I have had minor ups and downs but overall I am just taking it all in one day at a time. I live on a farm and commute about 25 minutes to class via bike. It is already getting hot and this is winter so I need to prepare myself for the real heat. There are so many stories and experiences I have lived these past few days it is hard not to share them all. Below are some pictures for now and I will try to post more updates as they happen.
My first ten days here have come to an end. I have been living a life of luxury in a very low stress environment. I have been at a hotel in Suphan Buri learning about Thai culture and the basics of Thai language. While this time hasn't been too stressful it has been and interesting ride mentally, emotionally, and physically. Mentally, our Thai lessons have been a lot. We are learning through immersion, meaning lessons are done strictly in Thai. While that seems impossible, I will say I have learned a decent chunk of Thai in a very short time. I have been able to use this to bargain in markets, buy food,(specifying that I don't eat meat) and can engage in simple conversations with Thai people on the streets. The real test starts tomorrow when I move into my host family and leave my fellow Americans and English behind. Emotionally it has been hard figuring out how I feel. I have been going through a whirlwind of emotions everyday. I am in an environment where I am able to really look at myself and see who I am. I am constantly working on opening up in this very empowering and vulnerable space. The people I am surrounded by are beyond amazing in many ways; they all are smart, talented, and have shown themselves, so I am working on opening up and sharing myself too. Physically I started the trip out better than I could have imagined. Being in such a large group meant that I was surrounded by so many different types of people, including people who are into fitness like me. I assumed my fitness lifestyle had ended at home but was supported and got into early morning running, yoga and HIIT workouts. Just a few days ago we had bike lessons, where we learned how to bike on the roads here. Thai's drive and bike on the left side of the road, but motorbikes tend to make their own rules and drive on whichever side they want. I then learned how to take off and patch a flat tire. During all this I was still stuck on American time, I was going to bed at midnight or later and would wake up at 3 AM and be wide awake. The jet lag was so real. I was on a high so didn't feel tired which made adjusting harder. For the most part, thankfully, I have finally adjusted to the time change. I feel like I have been on vacation up until now, excluding the Thai lessons. After class at 4:30 I spend time with people going to markets, shopping, eating amazing street food (yes I tried crickets!!), and sitting by the hotel pool enjoying great company. It is also winter here (about 75 degrees) so the weather has been amazing. I am in a creative environment where I find myself listening to friends play guitar while people sing and make up songs. The other night someone suggested an open mic night where people got up in front of each other to share poems, songs, stories, and anything they wanted to share in a safe space. That same night a group of people hung out in one of the rooms where they squished two beds together and cuddled. I ended up joining the "cuddle puddle" and felt so supported and happy to be in a safe place with such kind people, we reminded each other that we are all in this together. As much as I am enjoying myself I know this must come to an end and I need to do what I came here to do. Tomorrow I transfer to Don Chedi where I will be living with a host family. I will be staying with them for a little over two months until I am sworn in. During this time I will be biking to and from language lessons. I will eat breakfast with the family in the morning and come home after work for dinner. I will mainly spend my time getting to know them, getting better at Thai, and adjusting to Thai culture (bucket showers, eating norms, no air conditioning, etc.) My journey has yet to begin and I am ready. I had a great vacation but now it is time to give this my all.
I flew nearly 24 hours, dealt with delays, and ended the trip with a two and a half hour bus ride. I arrived at my new home and was welcomed by my Peace Corps family around 5 AM Sunday, January 7th . Everything felt right. Something discussed these past few days that really resonated with me was that for the first time I am surrounded by like-minded people. Prior to leaving Chicago I explained and justified my decision so many times. I heard how I was “brave” and “crazy” for leaving. I am now in a place where everyone else shares my passion, we have a mutual understanding, there is nothing to explain or share, we all are just here and accept and appreciate one another’s presence and support. I can breathe, I can think, and I can be. This will for sure be the hardest experience I have ever had, and most likely change and shape who I am drastically, but I can’t see living any other way.
It all started in “The Land of Smiles”, also known as Thailand, just four short days ago when my plane landed and my commitment to a 27 month long journey began. Before this dream became a reality, being part of the Peace Corps was a goal, bucket-list item, and meant more to me than words could express. These past few months I have been asked many times “Why do you want to be in the Peace Corps?” The answer is not easy, nor will it make sense to many. Here is the spark notes version: I couldn’t imagine living in this world without making a positive impact, and this is one way I can do something that really matters. Accepting my invitation within the three day time limit felt instinctive, it was the easiest decision I have ever made. I have never been so sure of anything in my 25 years of life! I felt in my heart of hearts that this was my destiny and now that it’s here I feel more than ready. Am I nervous? Of course. Scared? Very. Determined to make every second of these next 27 months count? 100% Magic doesn’t happen until you leave your comfort zone. So here I am, after deciding about five years ago that this was what I needed to do. I know this is cliche and cheesy, but I have never felt more free, grounded and complete. I am on a high and hope reading this inspires you to find your high as well. This blog will focus on my Peace Corps experience along with my travels within Thailand and around Southeast Asia. Enjoy :)