Happy Thanksgiving! This is a holiday my parents hosted for many years. During this time of year our house needed to be clean. By clean I mean extra clean. My house was always clean but ‘holiday clean’ is a completely different level of clean. This affected me because my bedroom was always a mess. I was really creative growing up and would stay up all night making purses out of duct tape, picture collages or bottle cap jewelry all while singing along to Avril Lavigne thinking she’s the only one who gets how I feel... you get the picture. My floor was typically decorated with all my materials, a zillion empty water cups, dirty clothes and all the clean clothes one must try on before picking out the perfect outfit. Whenever I was told it’s time to clean, instead of packing all my supplies into their boxes, putting the dirty laundry away and folding the clean clothes I would do something entirely different. I have this weird issue where I have to completely start a project from scratch and give it 110%. This meant dumping out the contents of each dresser drawer onto my floor, emptying my entire closet and literally turning my room inside out, creating an even bigger mess and multiple piles of things everywhere. At this point I would look at it all have a panic attack and slump into one of the many piles on my floor where eventually my mom would find me crying. Not being her first rodeo, she always knew the cure. She’d sit with me and help calm me down and would chunk off tasks for me then check in on me after each task, for example pick up everything blue, or put away all your socks. At some point I no longer needed her tasks and would finish. My room always ended up looking immaculate (about eight hours and no sleep later).
I’ve grown since then but with everything I do, be it lesson planning, starting English Club, or anything really, I have this impulse to almost destroy all I have and start from the complete bottom go above and beyond at which point I get super overwhelmed. Like most, I am my own biggest critic and feel that if I do anything it needs to be perfect, just like my bedroom would be after HOURS of cleaning and reorganizing. Here in Thailand it’s not just me and my room. I work with two other co-teachers that I have to depend on who work and think completely differently than I do. I make every task here way more difficult than it needs to be and without my mom and her guided steps I find myself creating these piles all around me and struggling to know how to even begin. I have been on the move striving to make so many changes and make every second of my time here count, I want to integrate and connect with everyone in my community, learn more Thai, to be the proper model for America and help share EVERY aspect of America (impossible), to become my best self yet and so many more things. Like wow could I set the bar any fucking higher? Who in the world do I think I am to accomplish all that?! If someone else told me all that I’d respond by reminding them they are human not a magician or a unicorn or a superhero.
It’s hard though. We are told to reach for the stars and try our best, but I take this to the extreme. I have had such a struggle here with anxiety, depression, lacking patients and find myself having a hard time finding a silver lining. I need to take a HUGE step back and just take it all in and let it be. Life isn’t meant to be so serious. I would hate to finish this service and list of accomplishments and to only remember the misery and stress I have been feeling as of lately. At that point I should just leave. Deep down though, I know I don’t want that, so I need to figure out how to live and be happy in this new place and life I have signed up for. My first step towards this new outlook is recognizing and appreciating it all including some unreal experiences I’ve had since arriving here. Recently I traveled to Bali where I had a really wonderful time. A year ago I didn’t even think about travelling to Bali. I am so glad I went because it was truly amazing. From the perfectly carved rice terraces to the surrounding tall lush mountains, to the dolphin I saw do a flip out of the water while in a boat with the sunrise right behind it, to living like a queen in the infinity pools facing the vast ocean before me while splurging on fancy drinks, to a spa day unlike any other, and the whole time being embraced by spiritual vibes in a land that values the environment and is essentially a vegan and vegetarian heaven with so many healthy delicious foods... it really was everything and more. Our last night in Bali, we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner and happened to be sitting by two lovely women, one from America and my neighbor state Indiana. We talked during our whole meal and multiple times the woman thanked us for all we do and was very grateful for the Peace Corps as a whole. We said our goodbyes and went to pay to find out the woman bought our meal as an extra thank you and surprise. It gave me all the feels and it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. Talking with the women I realized that despite my struggles I actually have accomplished a lot at my school. I was fortunate enough to have two other volunteers come help me to decorate my English room, after being inspired by my friend Berline’s English room at her site. I have incorporated “English Today” into our daily morning announcements. English club is officially up and running consistently now and overall things are looking good. One group of kids are writing letters for a pen pal assignment that I set up with a teacher back home. I just need to shift my perspective and everything around me changes. Instead of unravelling my life and pouring all my worries and stresses I need to look at one thing at a time and then remember that things are the way they are and that is okay. So wish me luck as I strive to change my perspective and to just let some things be as they are. It’s wayyyyyyy easier said than done but hopefully sooner than later I can make this shift. Thanks for reading and enjoy my pics :)
The roller coaster continues. I came here to feel alive, and that’s exactly what I got. There’s no easy way to explain my day to day life or experience because it is ever changing. Instead I decided to share a little overview of what I've been up to by sharing some of my ‘most’ moments and adventures.
When I felt the most relaxed: Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand
I was finally able to go to the stunning Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple)! For added adventure I went on a 40K bike ride with my ride or die, Ali, and we went to Wat Rong Suea Ten (The Blue Temple) and Singha Park. We biked all around the park and tea plantations. Coincidentally there was a special tea festival that day too which was perfect. I obviously tried nearly all the teas, including bamboo tea. I really wanted to like bamboo tea, it sounds like it'd be a cool tea, but it wasn't that great :( I was also gifted avocados (they don’t have them in Southern Thailand) by the amazing Yousif. Friends, tea, biking, temples and avocados definitely put me at ease.
When I felt the most proud: Teaching nearly one month alone
My two English co-teachers were required to attend a twenty day English Boot Camp. This left me teaching alone, which is something PCV’s aren’t necessarily here to do. Saying I was stressed is an understatement. I can definitely say that from start to end, the students got a little better and I think they trust and respect me more than they did before. It also gave me the chance to try some new things in the classroom which was really rewarding. So yea, I’m proud of myself.
When I felt the most vulnerable: Singing karaoke SOBER
When teachers retire in Thailand, it’s a huge deal. Classes are postponed giving students time to prepare dances, songs and gifts. For the school ceremony, students and teachers presented their songs and dances and then community members got all dressed up and performed too. The families set up their own picnics around school and everyone ate. Being the foreigner, everyone wanted me to eat at their picnic so naturally I picnic hopped and ate my weight in Thai food. The next day school was closed early for a banquet with food, dancing, videos, and of course karaoke. I was pressured and it only seemed fair that I too contribute. I sang Don’t Stop Believing by Journey.
When I felt the most encouraged: Lexi Baker’s Camp
Sometimes my goals here seems far fetched and hard to even think about starting. Then my fave, Lexi, put together an amazing English camp (my first one) and I was amazed. I now have some thoughts and ideas of how to put together my own thanks to her. Sidenote: After camp, her site (Thung Yao) was celebrating Wai Prat-John (give thanks to the moon festival). We ate mooncakes and watched dances and fireworks. It made going to her site that much more special. #TRANGGIRLSFOREVER
When I felt the most shocked: Finding a laundromat
Yup, your girls been hand washing her clothes nine full months. All along there has been not one, but TWO ‘laundromats’ in my village. In my defense you wouldn’t know they were there unless you already knew or were looking really hard. But WOW, life changing!
When I felt the most homesick: Camille Frances Cordilla
This lead to SERIOUS water works. I now have a beautiful new cousin I will not meet in person for two years! My other cousin is getting married this month and I will not be there. My grandpa is turning 80 this month too! It all hit at once and it hit hard. But alas, I cried it out, talked with people from home, and now am ready to keep pushing on.
When I felt the most lucky: Chase’s support
TMI *warning*. Thong Sia is what Thai’s call travelers diarrhea. It’s real. It happens to all volunteers. Luckily I wasn’t hit until recently. How I have avoided it so long is beyond me. More importantly, when I was up all night long, I had my sister Chase to talk to the whole time. She may or may not have asked me to post about her, and to post about my unfortunate ‘event’. Either way I have so much love for her, the rest of my family and friends who support me daily. I can’t get over how lucky I am to have such a great support system.
It's the little things...
Getting up to talk a walk on a lazy Saturday and being summoned to sit with a group of women on their porch. No talking necessary. Just watching the chickens and goats walk around. Laughing at the kids playing in the street. I always find myself spending time with new people.
Staying in on a Saturday night on Nhi’s floor eating fruit by the kilo watching K POP videos.
Waking up to see your front porch has transformed. It now is home to huge vats of various curries. There is a sheet and beautiful flower backdrop on the wall. Tables have been set up and everyone who passes by takes a seat to eat. It’s an engagement party. People stay up all night the weekend after talking and eating. At 9PM the older women pound on my door until I agree to come out and eat a second dinner with them.
Getting the usual few items from the town grocer and being told not to pay. This one’s on her. Then being handed some clams, more fruit, and geng som (Thai soup), just because.
Spending the weekend at home doing yoga, reading books, writing in my journal, talking on the phone with friends and family.
Feeling a sense of pride after hand washing all my clothes.
Because of an injured knee, having at least three food deliveries everyday handed to me through my window.
Resting my injured knee and my landlord coming over and setting up a chair next to me. No speaking. Just to keep me company.
Receiving surprise letters from people back home.
Having your first graders race to you the second you get to school, fighting over who gets to hold your hands.
Students coming to my door and rushing me to come to eat som tom (papaya salad) with them at a local stall.
Students escorting me to the local field to watch the high schoolers play soccer after school. Sitting in the grass eating ice to keep cool.
Being able to take a bus and simply spend a weekend on the islands.
Helping a co-teacher plan for her English exams and being told that working together and meeting was destiny. Being told I am appreciated even though at first she wasn’t thrilled to have to work alongside me.
Having a talk with that same teacher, a real talk about life, in English. Talking about something other than food and school. Forgetting for a moment that I am far away from home, friends, and family.
Finding out the day before that classes will be cancelled. Then being picked up on that day not knowing what we were doing or where we were headed. Ending up at the caves in Trang. Seeing such beauty that took my breath away.
Getting that monthly knock on my door when my landlord hands me food to keep me busy while she comes inside to change my bed sheets, not letting me help, telling me just to relax and eat.
Teaching a lesson and having most of your students fully understand, and even remember it the following day.
Spending a Saturday night cleaning and switching around the little furniture I have. Slowly making my apartment my own. Feeling at home. Feeling safe.
Hearing a group of ladies out front all continuously shouting my name until I come outside to be taken on a walk that lasts three hours (photoshoot included).
Hearing honking and being rushed outside and brought to the local market. Getting various foods, not being allowed to spend any of my own baht (Thai money), setting up a blanket and eating on the grass alongside the water and the sunset.
Entering my eighth month in Thailand I am shocked. Where has the time gone? My mind has switched from I have 27 months to go to I ONLY have 19 months left. I have just barely gotten settled into my home. I am only starting to feel some form of routine and place for myself in my school. Time is seriously flying by. I can totally use this space to bitch about all that I’ve yet to achieve and how stressed I’ve been but instead I am going to take on a positive approach. Eight months ago I NEVER would have imagined that I would accomplish and do all I have already done. It’s easy to get caught up in all I still want to do, and how much I haven’t done. And sure, when I compare myself to the 60 or so other volunteers I’m bound to not be at the same level as everyone else. We all came here with different skills and goals, and we all have completely different communities, advantages and disadvantages. Yes we are all in this together, but our experiences are not one in the same at all. Starting this program we we’re told not to compare ourselves to other Peace Corps members, and boy was that the best advice. It’s when I compare myself that I get really down on all I have done and don’t see my service as meaningful. One of my best friends from home (Dominique Danielle Forte) recently posted something about doing a confidence challenge. So here’s my take on the challenge, I am going to brag and boost myself up on some of the things I have done and completed so far.
Twenty-six years old. Up until last August when I was accepted into the Peace Corps, I had no clue where I would be for my 26th birthday, physically or emotionally. I didn't come here to find myself; I have travelled and volunteered in other countries on my own before and felt I knew myself as much as I possibly could.
Within my first week here I had a major reality check and felt as if I lost everything I knew and was starting at the beginning. I spent my first few months trying to 'rebuild' myself to fit into this new life I signed up for. The things that make Peace Corps difficult seem manageable on their own, but everything adds up and it feels impossible at times. I reached a point where I truly thought I should quit and go home. I felt like I had lost my purpose and not only was I confused, tired, and burnt out but I felt more alone than ever before. This is crazy coming from me because I’m the queen of being alone. I love having ‘me time’, I strive to be miss independent and do everything by myself for myself. I push away love and real feelings. I’m not into holding hands and rarely initiate hugs or kisses. I planned on feeling alone while here but given how I am I didn’t think it would be a huge issue.
Until you are truly alone, you don’t know how lonely and sad it feels. The odd thing is that I am not technically alone, I actually am usually surrounded by many Thai people. Living with people who speak another language can at times almost feel like living alone though. I either am the center of the conversation, or am completely ignored and talked over. I started to miss things like hugs from my dad, cuddling and watching movies with my friends, and basic human touch, something I thought I never cared much about. Feeling as low as I did, I was pushed to do something I don’t ever do. I talked about my feelings. I told my friends, my family, and other Peace Corps members how I felt. I was emotional. Somewhere in the mess of being lost and crying to everyone I knew, I didn't ‘rebuild’ or change, but I came back to the real me. The little girl who would sit on her bed every night and tell her mom EVERYTHING. I was honest about how I felt and I was talking about my feelings, not building them up and creating a wall around myself, like I had been doing for so long. From highschool heart breaks, family drama, the loss of a very close grandparent, hiding and being in denial about my parents divorce, saying goodbye to the home I grew up in...all that plus dealing with growing up and seeing all the hate and evil of the world...all of this changed me, or so I thought.
I never felt comfortable putting my feelings on the line, they always seemed subsequent to everyone else’s. Growing up in America being independent is so valued. Building this barrier against emotion and calling that independence was really me just pushing everyone away. I thought that was the way it should be. I thought that was what was best. Although Thailand isn't as forthcoming with some emotions and isn't direct, these people are dependent on one another. They are open, honest and are rarely ever alone. Going from the extremity of being alone and independent to being smothered, reliant, and at times helpless broke me in a way I will never forget. I can say that being here makes me never want to be so independent ever again. I didn't find a new me, I am at the beginning of coming back to who I always was.
Growing up, dance was everything to me. My dance classes were my therapy, and they linked me to my heart and my soul. When I stopped was when I started losing myself. My mom encouraged me to go back but the walls I had built were to strong and the thought of feeling and letting my emotions out was too painful to consider. I don't dance here, but I have started writing in my journal and am dealing with and facing my emotions head on. I am no longer afraid to reach out and tell people I am not okay, or that I feel sad or lonely. I find myself drawing and being creative again, the way I used to be.
The peak of my shift happened on June 27th, the day before my 26th birthday. This was the most vulnerable, terrified, open and trusting I think I have ever been in my life. I got really sick at school and my principal insisted I go straight to the hospital. I assumed I had food poisoning and said I would be fine going home but he was scared I might have gotten dengue fever. During this experience my co-teacher didn't leave my side. She acted as a translator at the hospital and listened to me share my medical history and details of my sickness, things one usually doesn’t share with friends and family, let alone a coworker. My principal and other coworkers were with me most of the time as well. They knew all the gross details of my sickness and saw me at my absolute worst. I found myself in a position where I needed help and physically could not do things for myself. It thankfully was only food poisoning, but I was left weak and in an incredible amount of pain. Old habits die hard and I put up a front and said I’d be fine in the hospital alone overnight. Thankfully they didn’t listen. They made sure I was safe and not one or two, but THREE co-workers spent the night with me on the smallest couch ever. I am beyond thankful I had them there to help track all the pills I had to take and when to take them, I had no energy to do it on my own. Even though at times I felt overwhelmed and annoyed (like when they tried to feed me Thai food right before going to the hospital, after shitting and puking my brains out) I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. Waking up in the hospital on June 28th on my 26th birthday I felt so much love. While this was all happening I woke up to a Facebook page my mom created for me as a birthday surprise. The page was filled with pictures, memories, and love from my friends and family back home. I have so many phenomenal, supportive, and amazing people I get to call my friends and family. How did I get so lucky?! More coworkers came to visit me after school and presented me with a cake saying ‘Happy Birthday Kowhom’. Just six months ago I found that name silly and now it is truly part of me and who I am. So here I am, 26 years old. I am beyond delighted to share my first of hopefully many breakthroughs. I am proud of myself and am eager to grow into the best Clark (and Kowhom) I can be!
A truly Thai statement to share:
Before hooking up my IV the nurse asked me "What hand do you eat rice with?"...AKA which is my dominant hand. Only in Thailand would they use rice in this situation.
***Below are pictures from my hospital visit because God forbid something isn't documented...even when I am feeling terrible and really don't want to be in pictures. (notice they still got me to smile and make a peace sign) Also, super strange turn of events, my co-teacher got sick during all this and checking into the hospital the day I checked out as you’ll notice in one picture. I had the pleasure of celebrating my birthday with Peace Corps friends the weekend before too so there are some pictures from that as well!
I am a teacher. Still I can’t believe that after all the prep work and time, I finally am here, in Thailand, TEACHING! I teach each grade here excluding the pre-k and kindergarten students, so pretty much the equivalent of first grade to freshman year. My two co-teachers and I plan 18 lessons a week. I also have an English Club once a week that will start soon. I’m really excited to be given a space to teach and create activities based off the students interests and my own without a set curriculum. The only catch for them is that everything during that hour will be done in English. Within the next few months I will start teaching the teachers English one day a week after school too. I have many plans and things I want to do and look forward to trying in my two years here. Although I technically only work from 7:30AM to 4PM I always am busy and working. A huge benefit of being a Peace Corps member means that I live in the community I teach in. My community is around 5 miles from the nearest town. Although I can bike through the steep hills to the next town and be near 7-11’s and some modernized restaurants, I am encouraged to stay in my town, which I’m usually fine with because that ride in the heat is not easy. After school I’ll either go to another teachers home to practice my Thai, have students over for extra help, or I spend my time hand washing my laundry which takes foreverrrrr. This past month many things have been happening here. A really exciting day was Wai Kru day, which is their teacher appreciation day. Thailand doesn’t play around. Teacher’s are seen as very important and are valued in Thai culture. All the students come to school with gorgeous arrangements of flowers. There is a ceremony and the students take turns giving the flowers to the teachers. At this time the teachers praise each student and thanks them. It was such a great feeling to be so appreciated by all the students and their families! I got pretty emotional and really felt the love. Also this month, the students and teachers went to volunteer and clean the mosque in town. This little town has such a strong sense of community and family. Everyone knows everyone, and they all take care of each other, it’s really unreal to be so included and at home in the town after such a short amount of time. For those two events along with other various reasons school classes have been cut short or canceled numerous times. I am learning that this is just how it is here, this is common among other volunteers in Thailand as well. At first it was frustrating, after taking time to plan lessons and make materials to find out at the last minute that there will not be class. This along with many other situations here has definitely tested my patients. I am used to America where everyone is on time for class, and students are never to be left alone in a classroom, those concepts just don’t exist here. Classes starting late is normal. Classroom management here is very different too. School is seen as a place for learning but also a place to practice and learn social skills. While back in America students would never leave their seat during class, here it’s not odd to find kids rolling around in the back or standing on their chairs while raising their hands out of pure excitement to get the correct answer. Although the classroom can be stressful and a lot at times, overall, kids here are so excited and happy to learn. The classroom environment is so positive and it makes coming to school everyday that much better. The positivity here is something I do not take for granted at all. I really am lucky to be in such a happy place. This past month the town, which is 98% Muslim, celebrated Ramadan. This means that aside from most of the children, the adults fasted and only ate at night time. This means no food OR WATER while the sun is out. I know of people who have done this in America, with air conditioning, but here is Thailand with this heat, having no water seems impossible. Unlike myself who gets extra hangry when I haven’t eaten, everyone was still so kind! Yesterday the town celebrated the end of Ramadan. The night before I barely slept due to the loud seemingly all night long chants at the mosque nearly next to my house with the loudest speakers known to man. I woke up at around 6AM to even more loud chants and songs for Eid - Al -Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan and the new moon sighting. This day was pretty much like eating a Thanksgiving meal ten times through. There was so much food! People’s families traveled in from the big cities like Bangkok. There was music all day long and a mini carnival type event set up across the street from me with a bouncy house and a fish catching station. I decided to take a walk and see what was going on, during this time I was brought into four homes where naturally I had four meals, was pulled into multiple pictures, and was given a head scarf to wear. This experience changes with each day!
Ten Locks Later
So many huge things have happened recently. First and foremost, I moved in. On May 7th. Why it took so long: Thailand. When moving you must consider the moon, lucky numbers, and if you come from America and your principal is super protective, you must wait for your apartment to have six extra locks installed, making the total number of locks in my home ten. Six in front four in back.
Living in the community
One of my first mornings at my new home I bought salt before school. That day, on my way to school and while at school MANY people came up to me to discuss the salt purchase. I’m not joking when I say I am the talk of the town.
Where did you buy salt?
I heard you bought salt today.
Why did you buy salt today?
How much was the salt you bought? (Every time anyone buys anything, it’s normal for Thai’s to ask how much it was)
Beyond the salt, that first week I was taken from home, or while running, taken to various homes to eat. I have literally had people stick their heads and arms through my windows to shout and get my attention to come out with them. At these homes I was treated like a queen and told to eat everything. This was followed of course by photo shoots. I am constantly shown photos that have been taken of me and that are being sent to and from community members.
It’s all fun and game until I did what I do best. Forgetful Clark left home and forgot to lock her door. Shortly after I received a text from one of the teachers at school. Someone in the village came over, and in Thai fashion walked in my home to say hi, look at the food in my fridge, etc. Finally this person realized I wasn’t home. That day the school staff, including my overprotective principal, and majority of the town knew what I had done. I honestly have never felt more safe though, the whole town was watching my home for me to make sure nothing happened. It was the topic of discussion and still was brought up after a week. My principal will for sure never let it go. He continues to tell me to remember things and holds this, and me leaving my phone in a taxi in Bangkok, over my head.
Cockroaches, geckos, mosquitoes...Oh my
I still haven’t mastered this mosquito problem. With the layers of bug spray I apply I still manage to get at least one bite a day. Some days are better than others. In my new apartment, day two in the shower, three cockroaches ran past my foot. I ran out of the bathroom covered in soap terrified. Since then I have seen three more cockroaches. Hopefully I get over this fear soon because these creatures aren’t going anywhere. Geckos. They are everywhere all the time. I honestly didn’t really care about them. They haven’t affected me in any way until one terrible night. I was sleeping at a cute hostel in Trang city. This hostel had AC and was on the nicer end. I enjoyed going to bed in a room without bugs and without my mosquito net. But then, of all things to happen, in the middle of the night a freaking gecko ran or walked or hung out on my chest while I was sleeping. Somehow I woke up as it crawled off my chest onto the wall where it creepily starred at me and most likely was entertained by the scream that came from my mouth. Terrifying!
Just Do it
Nike knows how to trick ya. Just do it. It sounds so easy. Alexis Baker can testify, running a 10K was no easy feat for me. Part of that had to do with the fact that we ate noodles right before. Not my best decision. It didn’t help that we were running up and down some hilly parts of town. The best part was at the end the streets that were locked off for the race originally, were filled with cars, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles. Since Thai police are scarce and Thai’s don’t follow the rules of the road or signs, we spent the last leg of the race dodging cars...not how I envisioned my first 10K going. All in all, I did it. I couldn’t be more proud of myself or thankful for having such a great, motivational friend at my side.
I am fortunate to be placed in Southern Thailand where the islands are gorgeous and so close. A few weeks ago I went to Krabi, a province a few hours North of me. While there I found real pizza with real cheese...it was delicious! I explored and went on a boat tour of the islands. I went snorkeling and was within a few feet of a huge bright pink jellyfish. I saw sea urchins and so many other fish. I felt like I was watching Finding Nemo. Of course I opted for the party boat over the regular boat tour, so between islands I met many cool people and did beer bongs through a snorkel. It actually made me feel claustrophobic and gave me anxiety, but hey I had to try it. It was a much needed getaway and I am beyond blessed that I have access to such places.
And now the moment I have been waiting for....
School has begun! Our first day of school was Monday apparently. In reality I’d say it was Wednesday May, 16th. Monday was a parent meeting and book pick up. Tuesday the students cleaned the school and my teachers and I discussed and set our schedule for the year. I then spent the rest for the week meeting my students. I can’t wait to get to know them more. There are so many things I want to do and accomplish during my two years here. Now it is time for me to set a plan and goals for myself and get to work.
This is not just hard. This is challenging. Difficult. Exhausting. Tiring. Frustrating. Overwhelming. Underwhelming. Complicated. Unexplainable. Slow. Random. Fast. Hot. Itchy. Confusing. Demanding. Sweaty. Restricting. Awkward. Constraining. Necessary.
The first month at site is not an easy time to be a Peace Corps Volunteer...but now it's May 1st and the month is over. Today marks the day I can move on my own, which should help alleviate some of my troubles. True to the ways of Thailand, I did not move to my apartment today. For a change, I am not upset, or annoyed, I actually expected it, because while integrating this past month I have been slowly learning that patience is a virtue. I thought I was relaxed and patient before, nope, not at all. Let's take a look at my past month: my integration process.
Instead of staying at my host family's home I have been living out of my backpack at my host family's home, my principal's home, and my co-teacher's home (where I have semi settled and stayed the past few weeks where I share a bed with my co-teacher). How silly of me to believe I would have this time to settle in and unpack my suitcase. The only thing I can be sure of every single day is that I will sweat. I am literally ALWAYS sweating. In other news...my principal had me make seafood pizza for dinner, and it turned out pretty good once I convinced him it can't be cooked in the microwave. My co-teacher's family owns a noodle shop so we spend a lot of time there and after hours I help her mom cook amazing meals for dinner. I help around the shop peeling garlic cloves, filling sauce to-go bags, and cleaned the shop floor after a flood (rainy season is beginning). I participated in Songkran, Thai new years. Everyone throws water on each other with buckets and water guns to cleanse each other while wearing flowery bright shirts and splatters colored paint on each other. I eat all the time, like sometimes go out to eat, then drive an hour to eat, then drive back to eat and after start cooking dinner...no lie. Napping is a big thing as well. I read so many books, like an unnatural amount. I said I like working out and running so am taken running often. I signed up for a 10K which is huge because before coming here I've never ran more than a 5K. After we we're allowed to leave site I spent a weekend in Bangkok, left my phone in a cab, I am not shocked and you shouldn't be either, and my friends gave me the positive push I needed to boost my spirits. Last week my region was chosen for a safety drill, to practice where we go and what we do in case of an emergency. Ten others and myself traveled to meet at an awesome hotel which lucky for me was only 30 minutes away, but as much further for everyone else. We stayed the night and felt free.
So this is obviously a short snipit of my last month at site, but a lot has happened. Except moving out, and settling in, that hasn't happened. Moral of the story: I don't know what will happen, or when things will happen most of the time. I'm learning to be okay with that. I do know school is starting this month...still not clear on the start date but today we had a staff meeting. The planning and room decorating will begin tomorrow and I am super excited. Yeah I have had really terrible, nearly unbearable days...but if I step back it's really not so bad. I am pretty lucky, and I only have two years left of these crazy experiences.
I had no clue what "training" for the Peace Corps" would look like. Some say it's the hardest three months of the 27 month long program. Since I'm only entering month four I cant give my opinion yet, but I can definitely agree that it was not easy. Coming into this program I set my mind on being placed in a random, small village away from people, especially native English speakers. I didn't expect to see other volunteers as much as I did. As things got more stressful I found myself reaching out to them over friends and family from home, simply because it was easier to explain things. With my host family, I thought two months would fly by and that I'd be too busy to make a genuine connection. I was SO wrong. As demanding as PST was, the worst part about it was the end. When it was time to say goodbye to my generous host family, the wonderful staff, and my encouraging best friends I was heart broken. I didn't plan on building such strong relationships in such a short time frame; the goodbye hit me hard. Saying goodbye mixed with finishing PST, being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, taking a road trip to my new site (at least 6 hours and at most 22 hours from my best friends), being thrown into learning a new dialect, going from seeing my support system daily to being surrounded by strangers was quite the transition, and that isn't even the most of it. During my road trip to my new site someone in our group was joking about how I committed to a two year long program. The phrase "song Bii su su" was thrown out and now is my daily mantra. Song means 2, bii means year, and su su is a Thai phrase for cheering up and cheering on so essentially the phrase means good luck with the next two years. It has been said by my co-teachers and principle daily when introducing me to others and randomly throughout the day. It has kept me positive and made me laugh. Let the two year's begin :) I am now living in Kangtang, Trang a predominantly Muslim village in the southern region of Thailand. I will being teaching English at Ban Ko Khiam school as of May first, after summer break. I will spend this month planning lessons for the upcoming year, getting to know the community, and hanging out with the many local goats and cats that are everywhere I turn. Today my principle introduced me at the staff meeting and per usual in Thailand the things that needed to be brought up by him were the following: I am single, I don't eat meat, and that the staff must keep me busy so I don't get lonely and want to go home (they are very concerned) and we ended the introduction with us all saying my mantra together "Song Bii Su Su"!
*If you want to send letters I have a new address to reach out to me and I will give it to you
Anyone ever ask how you are doing and you give the basic response of "I'm fine", and by fine you mean: Freaked out, Insecure, Nervous and Emotional ??? I felt BEYOND "fine" when this picture was taken.
Since moving to the "Land of Smiles" I have learned a lot and often times see it more as the "Land of Saving Face". For the most part, from my experience, Thai's are conscious of every emotion they show and aim to only be seen as positive. Instead of telling people things directly, everyone here is super indirect. One must avoid using the word "no", and one avoids making others uncomfortable in any way. That being said, above is a picture of me "saving face" and playing it cool even though I assure you I was a mess.
Background Info: I just received this picture/didn't know it existed. That is me with my host mother (Grandpa's chilling in the background) not even five minutes after meeting each other a few months ago. Right around the time this picture was taken I freaked the fuck out. Withing 30 seconds we both used all we knew of each other's language, meaning we said hello to each other and tried to communicate a few other things that didn't translate well or at all. This was her showing me a picture of her son (what would we do without cell phones?!). Then we got up and left to go home. It was beyond awkward, I knew she wouldn't speak English but I guess I wasn't mentally prepared, or I thought maybe she still would know a few words...not the case. I could tell she also assumed I would know a little more Thai as well. Our car ride, with just us two, and no translators, was overwhelming to say the least. In case you we're concerned about Grandpa, he threw my bike into a pick-up truck and disappeared, leaving me more confused and slightly concerned at first. Leading up to this picture, during this picture, and for the following 24 hours or so I thought these phrases pretty much continuously:
What the fuck am I doing?
I hate the way this feels.
I want to go home.
I messed up.
This is so uncomfortable.
Obviously everything turned out more than okay. I now love my host family and seeing this picture made me laugh because I feel completely differently than I did initially. That first night ended up being fun but my brain still had those sentences playing on repeat. I also am no longer uncomfortable 100% of the time, just a solid 99% of the time. Moral of the story is simply that...
1: I am an actress, and don't look at all as scared as I felt
2: I was and probably will continue to be uncomfortable for remaining 25 months
3: I can't wait to keep growing and see all the uncomfortable situations ahead!