Jump on my bike. Secure my green helmet.
First time wearing a tank top with my shoulders exposed – 1 year in and I am willing to risk this less conservative shirt for the sake of getting rid of my shirt sleeve tan (unheard of to Thais who hide away from the sun, hoping to keep their skin lighter).
It’s 8 am and about 25 degrees Celcius (almost 80 degrees), but on my bike the wind is cool and the road is lined with groves of palms and rubber trees that shade the newly paved road.
I recognize the papaya trees lining the road by their fanned leaves and bunches of cylindrical green fruits versus the dragonfruit vines I’ve passed for the last 10 months, that have yet to blossom fruit (it takes a whole year!).
The smell of trash burning is in the air.
I am greeted with a friendly “hello!” by many out-and-about locals I’ve never met personally (or maybe I have) yet recognize me and my bike.
I take a left out of the shaded rural road onto a main drag.
Riding on down the left side in the “bike lane” people are out walking their cows and tractors join me in my lane when they are too slow for traffic.
It’s a 2 laned highway and vehicles are pulling out blindly into the oncoming traffic to speed past other slow cars.
Older ladies sit at their roadside booths selling assortments of packaged treats and the newest fruit harvest.
I pass several fried banana stands where I occasionally stop.
Motorcycles going the wrong way and monks in orange robes returning from a morning collecting food offerings also share my lane.
I stop at 711, a convenience store that once stood as an oasis of comfort in my beginning months, and now I spend money at sparingly, preferring to spend locally (cheaper) and accumulate less packaged trash to burn.
I pull out some baht from my Thai bank account, the smell of fried chicken and sticky rice wafts over from the left (a typical thing to be sold in the morning) and a small market of vegetables to my right, with less vendors than usual.
I park my bike at the coffee shop/ bike parts store where the owner greets me, knowing my routine will lead me to the post office before I order from her.
She’s busy, but not too busy to stop and take a few photos of the farang to post on Facebook (she does this with all of her customers, not just me).
Her friend joins the picture and I notice we are all wearing purple, the lucky color for Saturday.
The post office staff knows my routine too; today, there is a new guy up front that looks at me a little wary, but the others assure him that this farang speaks Thai.
I send off my paperwork to the Peace Corps office along with a few letters and postcards to friends and family, then return to the coffee shop to enjoy rice porridge, a large iced coffee, and some sweet treats (like glazed donuts).
Overall, I’ve spent less than 100 baht ($4) today.
The owner trusts me enough to jump onto her motorcycle and ride down the street to pick up some supplies as I sit alone in her open air shop and write down my thoughts on a notepad.
A year into my service and I am appreciative that the strange has become the norm.
I appreciate so many weekends with no plans other than this routine bike ride; an unscheduled weekend was such a rarity in the States.
Appreciative of the sugar rush that propelled me 10 km (6 miles) to the place I call home with my host family.
Appreciative of the cold shower and air conditioned room that awaited me there.
It is important to keep in perspective that not every Saturday is this idyllic, a bike ride where I am bursting with gratitude and seamlessly integrating.
It’s taken a year and a low slump to overcome (around month 10) to reach this peace.
Appreciative that although many expectations were not met, although I am missing out on things at home, and although not every day is easy, I’ve made it a year, a challenge that has made me more wiser, more patient, more tolerant, and more open to the inconsistencies and simplicities of life.
Like a papaya tree spreading out it’s great big leaves to take in as much sunlight as possible, I am expanding myself to embrace the open air and soak in the energy around me.