This piece was originally written for Peace Corps Thailand Sticky Rice Magazine. Here it is for my own memory and to serve as a reminder of how very far from rock bottom I am now. Enjoy!
I biked over one Sunday afternoon and found yaai (my host grandmother) alone in her usual spot. Just outside the three houses on the compound there is a small gazebo. My yaai spends most of her days relaxing on the raised wooden platform. She watches Thai soap operas, talks with neighbors and kids who drop by, and watches the day go by from her perch. We exchange the usual brief Thai conversation about where I’ve been today and what I’ve eaten. We discuss the location of the various members of the family and then we sit in an increasingly comfortable silence. Usually munching on fruit of some sort and a fresh bottle of cold water that inevitably gets conjured up for me. I think to myself: be present, it’s moments like this you’re going to miss.
Pa and Pie show up from whatever field they’ve been gallivanting in. Their parents immigrated to Thailand from Cambodia and work on my host family’s farm. They have been learning Thai over the two years they have been here, and at 5 and 6 years old, they’re both shy, extremely adorable, and at about the same level of Thai as me. It’s taken a year, but they finally greet me with both a respectful Thai wai and a great big “Hello!”, smile, and high five. They grab my hands and pull me over to play with them. I completely fail at a game of pétanque and think to myself: bask in the joy these children take in beating you at this game because you’re going to miss this.
Sometimes the bike ride to the market and 7/11 is something I dread. It’s just under an hour one way and there are days when the trip just seems like too much. Then there are other days. When the ride is bliss. The rain has passed and the fog is lifting on the mountains in the distance. The weather is breezy. Friends and students yell “hello!” to me from their homes and restaurants. The journey flies by and all I can think is: breathe this air deeply, you’re going to miss this.
My second to last semester of school started recently. I felt more prepared than last year, but less prepared than I wanted to be. I ran around my classroom making adjustments and changes and brainstorming new materials. I stopped random children in the halls and begged them to remember any shred of material we’d covered the year before. I got fragments of sentences, but lots of smiles, I consider that a win. I made my way to the lunchroom at mid-day and heard “KRU CELETE” being screamed down the hallway. I turn to find my Anuban 3 class from last year running toward me now decked out in their freshly purchased Prathom 1 uniforms. As they throw their tiny arms around my legs and smack my butt, I can’t help but laugh and think: enjoy all these awkward limbs clinging to you, you’re going to miss this.
A friend from school gave me a ride to the van stop. I navigated the streets of Bangkok alone. I arrived at the hotel that was hosting our weekend training and I smiled as the various volunteers from Group 129 filed in. I walked down the street with a friend in search of food. We settled on a noodle stand set up in the corner of a 7/11 parking lot. We ordered and chatted and sat comfortably, acknowledging the ease of that moment. In the year that had passed, we’d come to both appreciate and understand small bits of Thai culture. We could navigate these streets and order our dinner and enjoy the simplicity of life, just as it is. Over delicious noodles sitting in the parking lot of that 7/11 we said: wow, we’re really going to miss this.
It’s not over and I haven’t checked out, but acknowledging that we have now been here for longer than the time we have left is causing me to be more intentional. I’m thinking about what it looks like to live these last nine months with purpose and joy. Recognizing the frustrations for what they are, but clinging to those moments of simplicity and contentment that remind me what an honor and a privilege it is to be able to live this life, in this place, with these people. Oh, how I’m going to miss this.