Transitions.

Sixty-Four. That’s how many days I’ve been back in the US of A. It feels like 2013 has been such a whirlwind of a year so far and it’s only just starting to slow down, bit by bit. It’s so weird to think how much time I spent counting down my time in Peace Corps, but when it came to actually packing and saying goodbye to my people, it seemed like the rug was pulled out from under me.

Before I left Thailand, life was jam-packed with goodbye dinners and activities (like lots and lots of shopping). After getting over a moderate amount of jet lag (it was the opposite of the last time I came back from Asia when all I did was sleep, I had trouble staying asleep for more than a few hours at a time), playing tourist with my family and eating, eating, and more eating crammed my days. Ten pounds worth. When I was in the airport in Bangkok, I didn’t want to leave, leaping into the unknown of America. Looking over the past two months though, I feel mostly an intense joy/happiness to be in the world, to be where I am, with the people I’m with and as most Peace Corps Volunteers can tell you, that’s kind of a rare feeling in your service.

Not that it’s all bad. I keep telling people when they ask about being a PCV, I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad I’m done. I’m proud to be in this small group of people known as RPCVs and grateful for meeting and making my Thai friends. But damn, life is freaking amazing here. All food tastes better. Flowers seem brighter. Hot showers any time of the day! (I cannot possibly over-exaggerate how incredibly happy this fact still makes me) Seeing the occasional motorcycle go by makes me giggle. So many clothes options to try on and outfit myself with. Real grocery stores with aisle upon aisle of so many different kinds of foods! That one was a real mindblower. And that shadow on the floor isn’t a mouse, scorpion, or cockroach… it’s a piece of fuzz!

The best and worst thing about coming back to the US is working. Ready to relieve the pressure of an entire village watching my every move and judging me for it, I decided to apply at a restaurant near my house for a server position as a low-key part-time job. Much to my surprise, I was  actually hired a lot faster than I anticipated and started before my brother’s one month home leave was done. I truly like most of the people I work with and enjoy the variety that comes with each day of serving. It’s forcing me to get out and interact with people and making me see ways I’ve changed that I never realized. Thailand really taught me the value of IRBing (how do you like that old school vocab?) and showing some heart juice worthy kindness to people.

There are two main things I do not like about being back in the American workforce. One is the amount of time you have to devote to making money. I would get pissed when teachers blew off school to sit around and chat or do ‘important paperwork,’ but  a lot of ‘work time’ didn’t actually feel like work after two years in the system. Now it’s mostly work and a few flashes of play. I’m not driving myself to the brink of craziness like I was doing to myself before Peace Corps with 12 hour work days, but this five-day a week with mostly nonstop working stuff is getting tiring. Doesn’t anyone want to stop for a kanome break? Where are the tea shops on motorcycles? Between work and working out (see runner life), I’m having trouble keeping up with this blog and enjoying things outside of work. Like having a social life. Compared to life in PC, I feel like I have almost no time in my day to sit around, stare at ceilings, think for hours at a time, start insane craft projects, and read a book in a day. It got incredibly lonely at times, but I miss the large amounts of me-time I was afforded on a daily basis.

The other thing is being confronted, sometimes on a daily basis, with the bad parts about America and its people. Why don’t we smile more? How can we waste so much obscenely delicious food? (It would make so many PCVs so very, very happy to even take leftovers). Why aren’t we kinder to people? Why do we get mad at people/things that had nothing to do with the reason we’re mad? And most importantly, why don’t we tip better? : )

I suppose that’s the biggest transition of coming back to the US, learning how to deal with it as a real place with good and bad parts. During PC service, there were sometimes only a glimmer of good times and we would use America as this mirage and chant the mantra of x more months, x more months. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is pretty grand during this transitionary time.

Friday Five

Five Things I Learned in Peace Corps– And it’s more and more evident the more time I spend in the US in my post-PC life.

Being a Minority
Being a tall, white women doesn’t quite put me in the majority in the US, but it’s not like you’re putting a round peg in a square hole. In Asia, this round peg would never fit in. I never truly considered how difficult life can be to not be a part of the accepted image or norm of a society’s makeup. And it’s not like Thais were ever really that mean to me about it! When I think about the civil rights movement of the 1950s, the open hostility some still display for those not of the pre-accepted standard of what we should look like and how we live our lives, I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the knowledge and empathy tree and relate a whole hell of a lot better with them. And realize we are them just as they are us. Even if someone is a different skin color, sexual orientation, or intelligence level, we are all people and deserve the love and respect of one another.

Lucky
Seriously though. I know people joke about ‘first world problems’ and every person  deserves to feel what they want about their issues, but the times I would think about how incredibly lucky I was for being an American and having all these rights and hopes and possibilities for my life… I can’t even count. We have life in our bodies. A plethora of obscenely delicious foods to consume. And even, hot showers. I think we, as a country and a generation, need to put things in perspective a little bit and realize, we have it pretty fucking awesome. And that’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Life Is Really Unfair
This is one of those ‘real world’ lessons that our Moms always tell us, but you don’t fully realize until your most hardworking student still doesn’t do as well as her peers despite all her effort and desire to learn. Not to mention the five brothers and sisters she’s helping raise, get to school, and manage allowances for all of them. The most she expects from her life is to be the wife of a rice farmer. And then I think of all the people who don’t take advantage of all the advantages we have or abuse the system we have in place to give a hand up to those in need… the inequality of the situation is like a slap in the face. And never has that stung so much as it does after seeing it with my own two eyes.

Get Over It
We, as Americans, get really worked up about things. Road rage, cursing out Mother Nature (true story, someone went on a rampage the other day at work), bugs in your life, someone leaving the coffee filter full instead of dumping it out… these are not things that should not produce a very large reaction in someone. At least it didn’t in Thailand. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, all problems, big and small, will eventually work themselves out. I don’t know if it was the ridiculously relaxed atmosphere in Thailand or if it comes from seeing all kinds of Peace Corps projects/ideas being a complete and utter failure, but I’m finding it’s really unnecessary to get stressed out over things that will eventually be fine. So the next time you feel a wave of worry or stress or anything in that family, take a breath, realize you’re doing pretty great considering the circumstances, and take a leaf out of the Thai book and have a beer. Even if it is nine o’clock in the morning.

America Isn’t Perfect
In the dark, lonely ‘I’ve been cooped up by myself in the village for too long’ days, memories of America and the possibility of spending time there again in the future were like a shimmering mirage of paradise. I mean, do I need to write another paragraph of how great life is for us? But if living in another culture teaches you one thing above all others (outside of a renewed appreciation for your home) is that there is a different way to do things. Some things are better, some things are worse. And while this RPCV feels an immense joy every single day spent in the US of A, there is a lot of ugliness in this magnificent place. Maybe it’s changed or maybe it’s my eyes that have been forced opened after an experience like Peace Corps. I tend to lean towards the latter. Still, I love you America, for better or worse.

Some Goodbyes

It’s really hard to believe a month ago I was leaving the village and Thailand. In many ways it feels like a far away dream, but in others it doesn’t seem like I’ve completely left either. This is part of my journey to say goodbye to Thailand.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings. It was suiting my last day in the village was the sixth grade graduation celebration.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It's almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It’s almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn't hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn’t hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

Apparently graduation day also means it's sticker day

Apparently graduation day also means it’s sticker day

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

My real Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had... Chinese food

My adult Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had… Chinese food. These are the women I could be my true self with and they accepted me, American faults and all. 

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport... and how cold it was in there. I'm so glad I had some last minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport… and how cold it was in there. I’m so glad I had some last-minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

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My all time favorite coffee shop in Thailand. I really wish I could bring this peaceful place home with me.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my 'see you on the other side of the world' face.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my ‘see you on the other side of the world’ face.

Real Person Status: Achieved.

I’ve been in America for nearly a month now.  I’ve been here, there, everywhere. It feels like a minute and it feels like forever at the same time. It seems like I’m in a projected state of limbo trying to figure out if I belong here or in Thailand, but for now, I’m not complaining. The mornings I wake up and relish the feeling of clean sheets on a more than box spring bed or when I adjust the water temperature in my shower or realizing a shadow is just a shadow, not a mouse, gecko, or scorpion or putting a sweater because I’m cold, I think to myself ‘am I allowed to be this comfortable?’

The past month and a half has seemed to move in hyperdrive. Life is so different and exciting when there are lots of people who want to spend time with you. The biggest difference in village life to the goodbye/hello period is the vast amount of social interaction I’ve been having with other people. And, you know, the über comfort/luxury that is life in America.

I think I’ve settled into something of a routine now after all the hecticness. I have an ATM card, a driver’s license, a ‘telecommunication device’ (aka an ability to call/text people in America, but not a smart phone by any means), a restock of necessities that Thailand wiped out of my possession (like underwear), and a job. It’s almost like I’m a real person again.

‘If I Could Tell You One Thing About Thailand’

As a fun little end of the year project, I asked my students to pretend they just met someone who was curious to know more about their home. At first, they looked at me blankly saying they had no idea what to tell a visitor about Thailand. It opened up discussions about culture and we got to talk about what they think makes up their daily life. I took my definition of culture, they added to it, and here is what they wanted to tell you about Thailand. Please forgive the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary mistakes. They wrote these sentences mostly on their own after hearing my example and I think they’ve done a fantastic job this year. We recently learned ‘will’ and how to apply it in different situations, so that’s why most of them included it in their sentence(s).

Friday Five

Five Things I Won’t Miss About Thailand– Part One of Two (maybe three… or four). These are things I generally encounter on a regular basis and sometimes pushed me to the end of my sanity rope.

Feeling Hot, hot, hot
I really like wearing flip-flops everyday. I really like not being so cold my skin turns a purplish hue. And I really like not shoveling snow. But more than all those things put together, I would really love to stop sweating 98% of the time. Going through my closet, the amount of clothes I had to toss because of sweat stains was truly depressing. And some things, I either didn’t or couldn’t wear because I didn’t want to get it too sweaty or it was too tight and made me sweat more. And I’d do almost anything to sweat less. So, so soon, the time will come that I will not need a fan on 24 hours a day and I’ll need to wear, dare I say it, layers! This tropical Thai heat is not to be messed with and I’ll happily wave the white flag to lose that battle. Just don’t get the flag too sweaty. Thailand is where white comes to die.

A Life with Creepy Crawlers
Mosquitos, cockroaches, mice, red ants, scorpions, lizards, snakes and a wild assortment of bugs I don’t know the word for in English are a daily nuisance in Thailand. Discovering I’m allergic to most bug bites hasn’t been a walk in the park. Throw in the nights the mice kept me up all night or the mornings rabid dogs chased after me while their owners looked on and I’m so looking forward to living in a real ‘inside’ again. Even inside my house, in my screened off bedroom, it’s not safe. Last week, while nursing a stomach issue that literally knocked me off my feet, I had an uninvited rodent guest in bed with me that was curious as to what my back had it store for it. With my minimal reaction, it was then I realized how much I had adjusted to the pests of this country and it wasn’t exactly a good thing. I so look forward to a clean environment that I don’t have to worry if I leave some food unattended for five minutes, the things will descend or a wisp of air has me slapping at my leg in fear of the bug bite swelling up to the size of my palm.

Why?
When I get to stop asking myself ridiculous questions about my life… that’ll be a good day. Things like: Why is there a cockroach graveyard in my bathroom? Why is that teacher smacking that student? Why is that person still staring at me? Why isn’t the water coming out of the shower head? Why did my landlord let herself into my house with talking to me about it? Why am I the only teacher in the third through sixth grade building? Why is the music blasting at 5am? Why are those kids staring at me through my window? Why hasn’t the bus come yet? Why haven’t I had electricity for 36 hours? Why did the internet stop working? Why doesn’t anyone tell that dog to get off the lunch table next to us? Or maybe it’s not that I have to ask these questions, it’s just that rarely do I get more of an answer than an awkward laugh and a shrug.

The F Word
And not, I don’t mean the four letter one. I mean the farang one, that means ‘white person’ in Thai. I tried really hard to get used to it, but the prospect that I could never be shouted at for being white is something I’m swallowing with relish. Thai people group ALL white people together and call them farang. Many people I’ve met think there is some universal language we all speak, we all understand each other, we all have the same culture, we all live in the same climate, but most of all, we’re all just… not them. And for a long period of time in the village, you’re only known as farang. You don’t have a name. You are farang. You’re rich, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are much fatter than Thai people. You eat bread every day. You can’t eat spicy food. You don’t have feelings. And that is all you will ever be to most of the Thais you meet. Since I don’t teach at the school in front of my house, the kids there don’t really know me. But they do know a white person lives in my house. So every time I walk out my door or sometimes when I’m home from school, kids will line up and shout, ‘OH, FARANG!!!’ I’ve been told multiple times, by multiple people, that it doesn’t have a negative connotation in Thai and people don’t mean to hurt your feelings calling you that. Then again, if I don’t mean to step on your foot, that doesn’t stop you from feeling pain does it? The ‘nigga’ vs. ‘nigger’ debate and who can say what has taken a completely different meaning for me. Just don’t call me the f-word.

Being An Other
One of my all time favorite TV shows, ‘Lost,’ called the group of people who did not crash with them on the plane with them, ‘The Others.’ And in Thailand, if you’re not Thai, you are an Other. Thais are known across the world for their friendliness and immense giving spirit, which I’ve relied on for the past two years. But it’ll only get you so far. Unless you are Thai or have at least one Thai parent, you’ll rarely be considered one of them (even if you’ve lived here your entire life). There is a select group of ladies that I feel at home with, but other than them, most Thais I know (which, granted are mostly village Thais and not the most forward thinking/educated bunch) see you as an alien life form. Suggestions of a different kind of lifestyle or way of thinking are hardly ever truly accepted. Rare is the time your point of view is taken into account or considered before some decision is made about or for you. When people see me here, they are almost immediately (and visibly) uncomfortable and want to deal with me as quickly as possible so they don’t have to put in the extra effort to listen to my accented Thai or cope with the unexpected. This is coupled with the farang calls. I could go on and on, and I think I will in an actual post, but I cannot wait for my existence to not be newsworthy and considered an oddity amongst the people I live around. I’ll just be a regular person, doing regular things, and no one will think I’m wrong for not being exactly like them.

Oh Hey There!

So. This is embarrassing. I was all rah-rah, I’m a good blogger and planned ahead. And then February happened. And I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since my last post. I don’t even know the last time I wrote anything for the ‘public.’ Or even done much in the way of communication with very many people. February was a pretty insular month in this corner of the world.

I could regale you with epic tales that took me to far away places that kept me occupied and not blogging for most of the month, but really outside of accomplishing the extraction mission, going to the ear doctor a bajillion times, adventuring with Manfriend putting a few dozen Krispy Kremes under our belts, and my body revolting against me in what feels like nearly every medical issue possible… actually this turning out to be a pretty epic sentence description. For a time I thought would pass achingly slow in the usual, I spent a surprising amount outside of my ‘normal’ life in the village.

Actually, I’m genuinely surprised how the time is moving. I can not believe that I’m leaving the village this soon. For a date I’ve been looking forward to for 26 and a half months, it really managed to sneak up on me. The packing process is nearly complete and my brain keeps telling me that in ten days I’ll be back on US soil, but my heart/emotions haven’t quite caught up yet. I keep thinking, ‘I’m so ready, I’m so ready, I’m so ready,’ but in packing a weekend bag for one of my follow-ups with the doctor, a wave of dread came over me as I realized how foreign and difficult life in America feels right now.

Yes, I’m tired of Thai food, most Thai people, life in Peace Corps, and literally sweating my way through clothes, but it’s also the ‘known.’ It’s comfortable in that all of my needs are taken care of, but exciting and different enough from the 9-5 type of job I dread with every fiber in my being. And pretty soon, I’m just going to be floating along figuring out my next step. But luckily eating a lot of Western food to help with the stress.

So, back to our regularly scheduled programming. I don’t plan on ending my blog any time soon, because I still have a lot to say about Thailand, the transition back ‘home’ again, and stretching my one (minor) creative ability in writing, mostly about traveling and the lessons that you learn (and are sometimes forced down your throat) along the way. There will surely be a few more gaps here and there as I stumble my way through goodbyes, hellos, and some form of internal clock stability. Thanks for coming along on the ride with me so far. Let’s see where we end up next.

So glad I had my best beau to explore Bangkok with

So glad I had my best beau with me to explore Bangkok