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.

T.G.I.P.W. (Thank God it’s Poop Week)

The rest of the world may celebrate Animal Planet’s Shark Week with 24/7 shows of the natural predator, PCVs have to be on the look out for a different one. Over the past two years, we’ve been exposed to all various kinds of water conditions and ways to store food. And let’s not forget the parasites. I’ve had more stomach/digestive issues in the past two years than rest of my entire life put together.

Enter Poop Week. To avoid widespread tropical diseases Americans generally have no immunity built up for, we go into Bangkok to poop into a cup for three days. Not the same cup mind you. And not really a cup either now that I think about it. It’s more like a prescription bottle. While we wait around to empty our stomachs, we have physicals and other medical check ups.

The real reason I’m more than excited for this though is for mental check-ups rather than physical ones. With six weeks left, my brain is not really ‘here’ anymore. And I have a really bad attitude lately too. I have no patience to be called farang, told I’m so beautiful because I’m white every day, being stared at for doing completely normal things, or the general hijinks that happen in life in rural Thailand. I’m craving pizza, cheese, and anything not Asian food so badly my mouth waters on a nearly daily basis. Basically, I feel like a ticking time bomb, trying not to explode when someone offers me fried fish one last time.

Going to Bangkok will provide me an opportunity to decompress the build up. I’ll be able to get my western food fix, unload my issues with Thailand with fellow PCVs, and, best of all, be anonymous again. I hope this will be another refuel for the very last leg once I arrive back to site. It’ll only be another five weeks of school after that and I have my plane ticket to fly back to Pittsburgh the week following. Excited isn’t a strong enough word.

I am NOT looking forward to packing though.

The Greatest Gift a PCV Can Give

The first goal of Peace Corps is for qualified Americans to bring/teach their host country counterparts skills to improve their quality of life. And we try to do that. But I think there is something far more important that Volunteers offer: their time.

Trying to get my coteacher in the room, the students settled down, and a lesson to present to them that they then successfully understand and remember feels like an impossible task most of the time. And when it does happen it’s fantastic. However, in the years that follow when I complete my service, I don’t think it’s the time in the classroom the Thai people I’ve come to know and love will remember.

The small things that make up memories are the foundations of these unlikely relationships. The endless games of uno. Answering questions about ghosts in America. Reassuring them that vampires don’t walk the streets in America (that we know of anyway). Going over spelling words until they’re able to say them in their sleep. Listening to ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ 400 million times and advising how to act certain parts out. Setting up email and facebook accounts so they can keep in touch with their recently departed homeroom teacher. Impromptu dance parties to Lady Gaga. Practicing phonics until we’re all blue in the face. Showing a favorite of mine how to use a digital camera. Home runs in kickball and I’m right there beside them giving out high fives like it’s my job. Because to me, that is more my job than anything I teach them in the classroom.

I’ve noticed, especially after the horrid month of August, the busier I am (on my own terms), the better I feel, about Thailand, Peace Corps, and myself. If I’m realistic with things, over half of these kids won’t remember the vocabulary words or the sentence structures I taught them. But the more I give them my time to their actual lives is what will truly affect both of us for years to come. That has been what puts a smile on my face at the end of the day. And not the fake one.

A quote that stirred me from one of the older RPCV’s I found in our newsletter: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Hermiton

A few weeks ago, I posted how much I wanted to go to Hobbiton. I didn’t realize I’d be joining a new town called Hermiton. Hermitville? Hermburgh?

Since I’ve come back from Chiang Mai, I’ve become a full-fledged, card-carrying hermit. It started out so innocently, allowing myself time to recovery from the magical land of cheese and farangs. Who wouldn’t need a few days to settle back in the moo-bahn after that? Then a week hit. I forgot what day of the week it was. I realized I hadn’t passed out of the front door for forty-eight hours. I scrounged out whatever sustenance I could come by. I wallowed in my dark bedroom wanting to go to family weddings. I ate cold spaghettios. My main social interactions were yelling at my computer screen/the TV shows I’ve engorged myself with as I laid directly in front of the fan on the tile floor. It hasn’t been pretty.

I keep thinking to myself, what’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you being productive at all? Why can’t you get out of the house? Why are you being so anti-social? Why are you talking to yourself so much?

Last April, I was such a conqueror. So fragile, but so willing to go out and give it my all. I even wrote a blog post about it. Now I kind of suck. The past two weeks I’m having a hard time motivating myself to respond to emails and do simple paperwork. I think it’s safe to say, I’ve fallen into a rut.

Back when I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and willing to bike around in April heat.

At this point in a Volunteer’s service, about 13-15 months, it’s sort of expected. You don’t quite have the enthusiasm as when you first arrived to site, but the finish line is still so far off in the distance that final spurt of energy hasn’t quite sparked yet. Essentially, I feel like their retarded little games aren’t funny anymore, but I’m not nostalgic enough yet to keep humoring them.

I think the cure is coming this weekend. With the turn of the new (birthday!) month, school starting in less than two weeks, and a visit from Jeff this weekend will hopefully set me on the straight and Peace Corps narrow. I’ve been out of the house yesterday, today, and will be on the move tomorrow too. For this hermit, that feels positively social butterflyish.

Who are the emotional terrorists of Thailand?

Children. They’re cute, cuddley, and they sure do say the darndest things. They are the hope of the future, the light of their family’s lives, and blessed with an innocence so pure, it’s hard on everyone when it shatters. They also are wreak havoc on my mental health and make me crawl into a corner in cry in frustration. True story.

Look at this little cutie-patooty... who is she tormenting?

I can understand the desire to want to have a little mini-you, sure. But at this point in my life, toddlers and babies are not high on the things I want to do list. As in hold, feed, entertain, and listen to scream. I know that I have to tolerate their existence until they grow into intellectual, free-thinking beings like my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders (love them), but until then, please don’t insert them into my life. Or leave me with them in small, enclosed areas. It’s better for everyone.

These two always reminded me of the part in 'Finding Nemo' when the baby turtle explains the exit route.

This feeling has only escalated since arriving in Thailand (the KOT? the Thaidom? I’m trying to come up with abbreviations for Thailand, what do you like?). Many children here are naturally shy around someone who looks so different from every other person they’ve ever seen or interacted with. Most also don’t tend to get the fact that I only pick up about a third of their high-pitched, whiny, rapid speech and then get frustrated when I don’t give them what they want. But let’s face it, I wouldn’t give in to them even if I did understand them because as everyone knows, never negotiate with terrorists.

When there have been the brave few that do come up to me, almost always in groups, there is usually so much giggling, staring, and lack of response to my questions that I often feel like I’m either a stand-up comedian or the new exhibit at the zoo. I lean towards the latter.

Sure, they look cute... from afar.

‘Pish, posh’ you’re thinking, ‘how could she not like these adorable little creatures?’ Hold your freaking horses because we’re getting there. A few months ago, back in a dark period, I was working alone grading tests in the library when a group of kindergarten students came up and plastered their grubby little fingers over the freshly cleaned glass door asking what I was doing and if I could play with them. I indulged their questions with a smile and a laugh, but told them I couldn’t because I was working. They stood there. I smiled. They giggled. A minute goes by, nothing has changed. So I said, go on then, and they ran off.

But then came back, louder and bolder. I was starting to get frustrated. They’d never pull this shit with any of the other teachers. When I stood up to herd them off, they took off running and laughing manically. I don’t remember how many times they came back, I stood up, they ran off again. After twenty solid minutes of this, I had enough and chased them down to the playground and had some choice words. No idea how much they understood of my Thai, but you know who did? The big kids! My sixth grade boys took care of business for me while I went back to the library, hid behind a large bookshelf, and hot tears came bursting out of me.

Believe me, I asked myself plenty of times, how could I allow this to get to me? Their just kids, they don’t know what they’re doing, and there’s that Eleanor Roosevelt quote that I love about inferiority to contend with. Now though, I’ve learned my lesson. The only thing to do is fight terror with high-road peace making terror.

With my coteacher’s nephew, he was none too pleased about my presence in the car this past week. And made sure everyone knew it. At the top of his lungs, he let everyone know that they were to not allow me to come back home with them, announced that I was the ugliest person in the vehicle, and smacked my shoulder to get my attention when I started to ignore him. Alright smart aleck, two can play this game.

Realizing I went a little overboard at Tesco Lotus and not having the hands to carry all my treats, I spied the four-year old about to pull down a display of cartoons. Averting further terrorist attacks for the good of the public at large, I asked him to be a big help and carry the exceedingly heavy load of cereal. And then showered him with compliments about how strong he was and handsome to boot.

Suddenly I had a new best friend that wanted to play hide and go seek all throughout the appliance store as I was trying to find cookware. Choosing the best tactical course, I chose to be the ‘seek,’ finishing shopping whilst he hid quietly before ‘finding’ him at the checkout.  In the car ride home, he wanted to sit in my lap and watch cartoons together. I declined, but I think this was a definite win for Team Erin against the emotional hijackers.

Kindergarteners... who knows what evil is lurking beneath that darling surface.

President Obama, if you need any help, give me a shout in rural Thailand. I have a lot of experience with radicals. I require payment in pizza.

A Bit of an Upheaval

I’m not sure how to tell this story being fair to all of its participants, myself, and tell the truth. All I can say is this is my perspective and I hope I do it justice.

On Friday January 6th, 2012, my schools told my program manager they didn’t want me to teach in my community anymore. My PM tried to talk them around, but minds had been made up and thought it was a bad idea for me teach at different schools in the same area. So in an hourish (+), I packed up my life in Ban Rai, loaded it in the Peace Corps SUV and they took me back to Bangkok, not sure when, if ever, I’ll return to what has been my home for almost the past year.

There were some long-standing difficulties with one of my counterparts, we never really gelled from the start, and things deteriorated fast. I don’t want to list too many of the details to maintain some form privacy, at least until my Peace Corps career is finished and some time has passed for more reflection. I know that it takes two to tango and that I made some mistakes, but I do not feel like what was brought up as ‘issues’ warranted this kind of response. I never thought that this would happen to me. I am heartbroken to leave my community and going through stages of grieving. My Thai community friends have been pretty upset and we’ve both been missing each other immensely.

Peace Corps is in the process of finding me a new site. I’m waiting out that time with a lovely gal from the older group of Volunteers. As easy and fantastic as it would be to go back to America to be with my family or Australia to be with Manfriend, I just don’t feel like I’m done with Thailand yet. This has been the closest I came to imagining real life in the western world again, but it still doesn’t feel like it’s for me yet. I’m frustrated, annoyed, angry, and everything else in the book at Thailand, but I don’t want to leave.

I’m terrified of reintegrating into a new village and have lost a lot of confidence in myself and how to live in this country. In many ways, I’m more nervous this time around than the last. I know what to expect, but I didn’t think that I would have to do it again.  It is a chance for a fresh start and to be able to redo some of the things I did wrong in my first community. This is certainly going to be a unique experience, even within this Peace Corps one, so I’m trying to prepare myself for that during this time of transition.

I was hoping to have a few less rollercoasters in this second year of Peace Corps. I would (sort of) know what was happening, what to expect or at least realize that I’d never really know what was happening. That’s been blown to the wind and, eventually, I’ll be ok with that. One thing I’ve been comforting myself with leaving my site is the quote, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’  Yeah Erin, just keep smiling, su su!