I sometimes struggle with what I can say about this experience. Especially about what I can say that doesn’t sound terribly cliche. Like what can I say about what it is like to hand wash your own laundry for the first time? That it makes me think about how much we take for granted back home and how rigorous simple things like washing your clothes can be? Sure, but that makes me feel like I’m just saying something that every other PCV has said.
Regardless, I will continue to document this experience in a way that feels nourishing and genuine to me.
“May your mind and heart break open in ways you could never prepare for.”
So what is it like staying in the home of a stranger in another country who doesn’t speak the same language as you? Fish out of water would be putting it very, very lightly. I have no idea what I’m doing and it feels amazing, incredible, and terrifying.
My host-mother’s name is Pranom. She has a 29 year-old daughter named Mam (all the younger people here seem to have really short first names) and a husband named Pawnoo, or maybe just Noo, since “paw” is the Thai word for dad (I am totally making up that spelling by the way, that is just how it sounds to my ear) who is a mechanic. I often hear him out in the garage right outside my front door hammering, grinding, welding, and a ton of other things. He never wears eye protection or any other safety equipment. He seems to still be in possession of all 10 of his fingers, however.
The first night was incredibly overwhelming. Although I thought I was doing well in my Thai classes, I felt wholly unprepared and vastly inadequate when it came to actually speaking and understanding Thai with a person who speaks it as a first language. Lots of pointing, pantomiming, head shaking, and saying “mai kao jai” (I don’t understand) while smiling.
I seem to fluctuate rapidly between “This is insane, I can’t do this, I wanna go home,” and “This is the most amazing thing I have ever done and I love it here.” The change is dramatic and frequent, though it seems to be leveling out with each passing day. The other day when I did my laundry I got eaten alive by mosquitos and cried while thinking about how I wanted to go home but I didn’t really have a home anymore, then an hour later I was laughing with my host family and celebrating being able to communicate a single sentence with each other while eating dinner, which seems to be the time that most of the family bonding occurs.
They served me dinner all by myself on the first night. It felt a little awkward but the meal was pretty spectacular. Now they all eat with me, but I still eat breakfast by myself, which always consists of boiled rice soup (khao thom) with some kind of meat. Aside from Sunday when we went and had lunch at a noodle place, I have eaten rice with every single meal. They don’t call eating “gin khao” (eat rice) for no reason here. We also eat a lot of pork (almost every meal) and a lot of fish.
It really strikes me how kind and generous these people are. I know they are being paid to host me, but they really go out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. They ask me all the time how I am feeling, if I need to eat, if I want to shower, if I am having fun. My host-dad took a day or two to warm up to having me here but he has really become a presence when I am around. He makes a lot of effort to try and talk to me and teach me words in Thai and seems to be really in tune with whether or not I am understanding what is being said and how to make me understand better. Pranom and Mam seem to really enjoy joking around with me and asking me about things back home, what I am doing in Thailand, and whether or not I miss my friends and family (I always tell them yes).
They think it’s really funny when I say things sometimes and will ask me the same question or make the same joke 30 times. Either their sense of humor is different than mine or they just don’t know what else to say to me.
I already know after only a few days that leaving this home will be emotional for me, but I also feel so incredibly excited for my 2-year placement at the end of training. The possibilities are endless!
I sometimes feel as if I need to intentionally attune myself to this present place and time. Sometimes I feel a little off-kilter, as if my emotional state of mind is not fully attuned to the present and I need to bring myself back. Those are the times when I feel most at home here, when I feel as if I am really doing the right thing by being here. This whole fluctuation of experiences, this back and forth of joy and sadness, frustration and acceptance, really makes me think about accepting impermanence, something that is very important in my life.
This moment is beautiful. The next may not be, but there will be beautiful moments again. I will never feel happy and satisfied all the time because change is innevitable. Striving to grasp onto joy will only bring more suffering. Instead, I am striving to accept all states of being as legitimate. That is a big part of what this journey is about.
I do think often of home, usually triggered by a particular action or a feeling. I find myself transported back to a moment and place in time, allowed to experience it anew, calling it fresh to my mind. Sometimes those moments bring me sadness as I wish to be able to return to them or think about them maybe never happening again. But I also feel comforted knowing that years down the road, wherever I may be, I will miss this place, too. Because missing something or someone means that my heart was open to them. If I let this place in I can have the privilege of missing it, too.
There are some really exceptional volunteers here, as well. People whose optimism and enthusiasm for this work is genuinely uplifting. I look forward to continuing to get to know so many of the wonderful people who have chosen to take this journey along with me, who have opened their hearts as well.
Peace Corps Thailand Group 128, I salute you. And to all of you back home, remember that I carry you in my heart every day.
A few highlights:
-My host sister told me I was well-mannered
-I took a shower with a frog
-There are wolf spiders everywhere
-My host dad fed a live mouse to the cat — it squeaked audibly while the cat ate it
-I “wai”ed the Buddha at a temple