How Erin Got Her Groove Back

And it all started with a dress. I’m stretching out the blogging fingers because you’re about to get a load of sunshine your way. Deal with it.

Ups, downs, you’ve heard about them. It’s what Peace Corps life is all about. Your lens as a Volunteer, and how you deal with your host country’s culture, is often colored depending on whether you have your rose-colored ‘up’ on or your matador-cape red down. September was a real ratfink and I thought it would end once I got on vacation. Turns out, it’s a long process lifting yourself out of the abscess that becomes your brain like September did to mine.

Like I said, it started with a dress. My favorite coffee shop (it’s the best decorated place in my town- by best decorated I mean it’s Thailand at its finest, which isn’t too typical in the moo-bahn) started selling vintage dresses from Japan. I’m not sure how this works, but I’m far past the stage of asking these kinds of questions or ever expecting to understand the logic behind the answers. I saw my coteacher buy a few, but didn’t buy any for myself until one day I decided to try one on.

A sidebar here: I’ve got one of those bodies that pretty much everything looks good on. I can’t help it, I’m 6’2 and moderately thin. I’m not trying to brag, just stating a fact of life. Another one is once I try something on, that’s really all the motivation I need to buy it because as long as it’s in my size, it’s going to look good. Case closed. It doesn’t help that my whiteness is encouraged here so I longer restrict myself on colors that I once thought ‘washed me out.’ Why bother, the Thais are only going to think I’m more beautiful.

So I bought two dresses that day. Priced at less than ten American dollars, I couldn’t resist. This was right before I left for vacation. Kailyn and I checked out Phi-Phi’s offering of the shopping persuasion. Then she reminded me I’m a girl while we were at a beautiful handmade leather purse store. Cha-ching. Hey Rai Ley, what’s that you say? You have a crafty gal that makes beautiful jewelry AND gives discounts to farangs that can speak Thai? Why yes, I think I’ll oblige you with a necklace and three bracelets for myself and two for my Thai peeps. Now, what shall I pair to go with this…

I justified these things as vacation purchases, something to go along with my beautiful memories. I had been a good little Volunteer and this was my reward to myself. I’ve been here for ten months and throughout that time, I hadn’t really gone shopping and was letting myself float by with baggy polos and long flowy skirts because it was the easiest thing to wear that was Thai appropriate and I could deal with in the heat. I let myself go. I’m 23 years old. This is not acceptable.

With an extra week off from school, I decided I might give the shops in my town a legitimate shot at shopping. I was caught, three different times, by my various Thai peeps who decided to give me a ride into town. Those times did turn out to be good community and IRBing days, but it wasn’t what I wanted or needed shopping wise. Note, shopping with Thai people is generally not fun. I’ve found one Thai person that I like to go with, the rest rush me obscenely. This is not a process to be handled hastily. Humming the Mission Impossible theme song in my head and I snuck off into town to go where the wind blew me. It was lovely.

Hello Pandora, that’s a nice box you have there, mind if I crack it open? I awoke a snoozing monster. I tried things on. I picked things up, put them down, and picked them back up again. I turned around when I missed a clothes shop. I was spreading my wings and I wasn’t going to leave one rock left unturned. And I hit pay dirt. The thing about going to Thai shops is that about 3/4 of it is going to be crazy nonsense that looks like it either belongs in the 80s or is cartooned in some way. The monster was not impressed. Luckily though, there are many diamonds in the rough if you look and this was the day I had the time and the freedom to do so.

I don’t want to sound like buying clothes was the secret out of my depression (for this reason I’m not posting photos of my loot- though it does make me grin manically just looking at it), but it was the freedom I associated with it that made me feel like butterflies were flittering around in my stomach. For once I didn’t have to consider the people I was with for their time, giving me a ride, their opinion on the clothes I looked at, the money I was spending, or keep up a Thai conversation. Nothing. I will say though, I’m starting to believe in that old adage ‘if you look good, you’ll feel good.’

I don’t know if this is an Erin-is-a-nerd-thing, but something Gail Coop and I always engage in after a spree is a mini-fashion show of course. I tried this with my Pi-Chaai and she was pretty confused with the new arrivals. After all, I have been dressing like a man for the past seven months, she was probably wondering what drugs I was on. Is there a Thai phrase for ‘I’m high on life’? So I went home and did it myself. That’s right, I opened up the wardrobe doors (which is now home to a spider about the size of my hand, but that’s a story for another time) and mixed this with that and found outfits for myself along with long-lost jewelry that I forgot that I brought to Thailand. Pi-Chaai had one thing right, I’m not sure if my students are going to recognize me when school finally starts back up tomorrow. Dress wise or attitude wise because my little blogettes, the rose-colored shades are back on.

One of the most intense things about emerging from a down is remembering what it’s like to feel like yourself again. To laugh at nothing again without feeling a smirk behind it. To plug-in your Ipod when you wake up in the morning and dancing around to tunes you’d be horribly embarrassed if anyone else saw them on your playlist.  To feel your brain swinging from topic to topic instead of wallowing. To be glad to be going back to school. To be happy to wave and smile to everyone in your village. To use your mind like a Jedi and slowing down speech patterns so that you no longer just understand them, but you respond and make a joke at the same time. To look in the mirror and find yourself smiling back at your reflection. To not snap or roll your eyes at your host sister. To wave at the kids that shout your name when you bike by. To be glad to be in your village and never imagine leaving it in another year-plus. To look around and think to yourself ‘I’m going to miss this place.’ And the best of all, to know you survived another down and will be able to get through the next one with an eventual smile on your face.

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