Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Let There Be Light (At The End Of The Tunnel)

Life at site as a Peace Corps volunteer can be rough. If you're not dealing with diarrhea, perhaps you're getting chased and/or bitten by dogs, covered in mosquito bites and the subsequent open sores from itching, fighting strange infections, or breaking bones. Assuming you survive the physical ailments, there are always environmental differences and hardships to deal with; for example, pooping with access only to your hand and water, teaching in a room that lacks air conditioning in a heat index of 110 F, or dealing with minor flash flooding every time it rains. Ok, cool, those are things to which we can adapt. But... There is always the language and cultural barrier. "Please, no offense, but I'm not sure if you're speaking Thai or English." "Yes, this lunch is delicious. Like I said yesterday, lunch is delicious every single day. Perhaps you didn't hear me when I told all of our other twenty three co-workers this." "Yes, I can still eat chicken even though I have an open skin infection. No, it won't disrupt the healing process. I know because I've done it all my life." When experiencing a tough day, and there are many, it isn't hard to start to dreaming of any/everything that would make your existence a bit easier.

However, it truly is the little things that make me happy to be here. Today was full of them. First, during all my classes, I got to demonstrate to my teacher student centered learning techniques. Now, granted, that's my job now and I'm supposed to have been doing this already, but for one reason or another, it's moving at it's own speed, inconsequential of me, my wants, or expectations. And I'm ok with this, or at least learning to be. Today even provided a stark contrast in teacher centered and student centered techniques, which I hope provided my co-teacher with clear examples of how, and why, to make English fun for students. Watching my kids scream and laugh and be sad when English class was ending definitely made me happy.

Secondly, I got to play games all day. Who doesn't want to get paid (a volunteer's meager stipend) to play games all day? A day full of games usually means kids had fun. The cool thing? It also usually means that kids learned, too. Two students totally ended my teaching day the best way possible as well- "i love teacher!" I love you is an interesting statement for me, and yet one more thing I'm learning about. Generally, this statement was only reserved for my partner, family, and close friends. However, in spite of an initial moment of hesitation, I returned to the students individual "I love you too"s. And I truly do. Immediately thinking about it after saying it, I began to contemplate and understand other kinds of love. I thought about a resource volunteer from 123 who told us that she told her students every day she loved them. What an impact she had to have had by doing that; loved kids are good kids. I came to the conclusion that if I didn't love my kids, then I probably am in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After class we had some initial assembly for July Sports Day(s). I was assigned to the Red Team and dragged around like the Red Team dog. Like a canine, I only sat and took in all the goings on, a complete outsider. All I have is gestures. I observed some general chaos, heard some commands, smelled some funky kids, and was told many things I didn't understand. Somehow, I was instructed I would be part of Red Team's running group and I was banished from the large group to join the smaller running group. I sat with my kids who bombarded me with incomprehensible questions and decided to just mess around with them in response. I moved seats quickly ("centipede-ing" down the bench, to which the kids understood at once and joined in the game), had my sitting positions mimicked by the kids (which promptly resulted in a headlock that could not be mimicked by one unlucky youth), and even sat on kids. All I have are gestures. But even through those, I was able to convey that I'm just like them. They like to laugh and have fun and I like to have fun and laugh. I'm an American and don't subscribe to the Thai cultural norms of power hierarchies. I'm older than them but a kid at heart. I'm their teacher but am no more or less valuable than them. Regardless of language or culture barriers, kids everywhere are the same- let's enjoy ourselves in this very moment. The Peace Corps' second goal is to improve the understanding of Americans on behalf of the hosting country. I feel this was accomplished in one small way today.

After the shenanigans, I was pleasantly surprised by a quick chat with my Ma. She couldn't sleep (it was 1:30 am Oregon time) and was surfing some interwebs. We were able to talk a bit and catch up some because it had been a while since we last "spoke" in real time. It was a wonderful little chat in which she (as always) shared her love for me, but also for my lovely Nadia. It was a touching, if brief, conversation, but certainly left a smile on my face.

Finally, after departing school, I remembered my phone needed some additional Baht to operate, so I biked to 7-11 to replenish it. One step deep into Seven, and I see an employee with an armful of ice cream. Game over, man. I bought ice cream and my phone Baht and happily commenced devouring my prize. Happily, however, is an understatement. I'm pretty sure people could witness my shit-eating grin from miles away. I was glowing. Every passer-by received a smile. All my students received a wink and/or ice cream wave. And thus, this blog entry was born. It was too obvious to not quickly write in my head.

Aside from talking to my Ma, everything that happened or that I did were all local solutions to making me feel happy and improving my mood. While some were out of my control, most are within it, and I need to remember this. Even though there are definitely bleak emotional valleys, there are just as many, or more, brilliant, once in a lifetime mountains of emotion that can not be overshadowed, regardless of how tough things may be or how down I feel. Even when you have a string of days, or weeks, of hardship, just one day, and sometimes even just one moment, can remind you why you are serving and the light at the end of the tunnel looks that much brighter.

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