Gains and Losses

My high school water polo coach used to say (as the Varsity team said good-bye to the seniors at the end of the season) that we weren’t losing key players – we were gaining new players.

Of course, we were losing some of our best players AND we were gaining potentially great new ones, yet the philosophy is one that has stuck with me:

Focus on what there is to gain instead of brooding over what has been lost. The past has passed; time to look forward.

Looking back on this past year of gains and losses, of novelty and routine, of highs and lows, I think reflecting on past losses give more meaning to future gains and the experience as a whole, because those losses were key players in my journey and growth.

In this post I will focus on the human connections that have had a large impact on me.

Although I have lost the physical proximity to some of the PCVs from group 129, who have left Thailand ending their service early for one reason or another, I have also gained lifelong friends.

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Danielle was my neighbor, co-teacher and closest friend during PST.
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Cheri was in the province above me and we were great travel and swim partners.
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 Jessica and I shared long philosophical discussions and hours of language training together.
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Liz and Libby were and still are my loves of light. Luke and Ben were the first volunteers I ever met after arriving in San Francisco to begin my Peace Corps service. 

 

I’ve lost one host family, only to gain another, and I will be forever connected and grateful to both.

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Singburi family
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Singburi kids
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Surat Thani family
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Surat Thani brother

 

I’ve been so lucky to have gained and lost so many visitors – their brief glimpses into my life, have served to rejuvenate me again and again.

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Kevin was my first visitor – we lost our worries and gained our SCUBA certifications.
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My adventurous aunts and cousin visited for a great start to the New Year.
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Kalina was a surprise visit; knew her as a friend of a friend, yet she truly is a kindred spirit.

I have gained loads more supportive people at my school, hundreds of sweet students and various members in my surrounding community, not to mention all the Peace Corps staff and volunteers still with me; however, I will not physically lose them for another year, so there will be another blog post to commemorate them when the time comes…

 

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Shifting into Curiosity

We can put our whole heart into whatever we do;
but if we freeze our attitude into for or against,
we’re setting ourselves up for stress.  Instead, we
could just go forward with curiosity, wondering
       where this experiment will lead.  This kind
of open-ended inquisitiveness captures the
spirit of enthusiasm, or heroic perseverance.
~ Pema Chödrön

Experiments

Life is just one big experiment and so are all our efforts and great intentions to impact our world for good.  If the solutions to problems-personal and global-were known, they wouldn’t be problems now.

Even though this logic seems rather obvious, it’s strange how so many people keep applying old methods and old thinking to these issues, even as they keep failing.  It seems we’d rather keep exhausting ourselves with failure than change our minds and admit that new ideas are needed.

Truthfully, we don’t have the faintest idea what to do.

Yet this is not an admission of defeat, it’s an invitation to experiment.

Instead of exhausting ourselves with doing the same thing only faster and with more vehemence, we could shift into curiosity.

Curiosity is a very compelling space-open, rich, friendly.  We’re willing to be surprised rather than having to get it right.  We’re interested in others’ perspectives, intrigued by differences, stimulated by new thoughts.

Curiosity is a very pleasant place to dwell.  Relaxing even.  And most certainly fruitful.

All it requires is letting go of certainty and admitting we don’t know what we are doing.

Let the experiments begin.

~from the book Perseverance by Margaret J. Wheatley:

 

Inspiration above shared by PCV George

a kid again

Being a Peace Corps volunteer, so far, has been like being given the opportunity to be a kid again.

Remember those lazy days of summer, nothing to do. Maybe your cousin is staying with you and you two pal around together, doing nothing in particular, yet making sure that every chance you get to stand behind a wall to then jump out the scare your companion, you do it and later spend time thinking about how to improve upon your scare tactics. Remember swimming in the summer heat, perhaps in a concrete pool, perhaps in a blow-up pool, lackadaisically splashing around, attempting to float, doing hand stands, making silly jumps into the pool. Sometimes you just float there. Sometimes you grab the goggles from the deck and explore the pool’s depths, imagining an ocean of treasures on its blank surface.

Not only do these endless days of nothing bring me back to childhood, but my presence as a foreigner in a country of generous people, makes me the prime suspect for being a child: people feed me, check in on me, make sure I’ve had enough food, teach me new words, insist that I need to eat more food, hold my hand when I walk across a busy street, buy me even more food.

Today, I finally learned how to take public transportation by myself into the city, and I did need my hand held like a child in order to learn it.

The Thai public transport system is extensive, yet haphazard. You really gotta be in the know to know, ya know?

I learned that to catch a Song-Taew from my house, you need to stand along the highway of cars and semi-trucks speeding at 80 km/h, to pick out a small blue pick-up truck that should come by every half hour, but there’s no concrete timetable, and has, somewhere in written in Thai, the destination location written in tiny white script impossible to see from afar and you wave the correct one down and wait for it to slow from 80 to 0 real quick so that you can jump into the back of an open-aired, covered, 2 bench pick-up with no seat-belts and start on your way, yet when you want to stop, if the bell doesn’t work, you can use a coin to rap on the metal rods above your head and the driver will hear you above the din of the creaking motor and the zooming highway to pull over.

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And that was only the first of 3 different vehicles to arrive at the final destination.

Today, I learned this route along with my fellow compadre, Non-Don. Both of us will be expected to take this route alone in the future, me to get to the buses that can transport me down south to Phuket, Krabi and other exotic destinations, and Non-Don to get to school in Phunphin.

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Non-Don is a 12-year old boy, nephew of my host family, who is now living with us because he will be attending school in Surat Thani. His family is back in Trang, his mom, older sister and younger brother, living in a smaller, rural community. While his sister cannot leave her mom to do all the household chores and the younger brother is too young to leave his mom’s side, Don has been chosen to live with this aunt and uncle and go to a good city school.

Today, Don admitted to me he was scared to start his new school – new city, new expectations, new friends. I told him I was scared too; soon I would be entering a school to teach English to new faces, experienced teachers and old systems.

We didn’t talk much after this exchange of confidences, both of us quietly gazing out the open bus windows, wondering where the winds of change would lead us.

After sharing a table or two at the Swensen’s with a shy 14 year old girl Kit-Tah, Non-Don’s cousin, to eat our own ice cream delights (Non-Don did not partake because he self-described himself as fat), I wandered the mall with these two youngsters and privately reminisced on all of the countless hours I spent roaming mall floors at their ages, dropped off by my parents, fantasizing about material items and on the look out for cute boys exiting the cinema.

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As we sat waiting for Non-Don’s aunt, my host mom, to finish her business, I was again part of the kid group.

Out of the blue, Non-Don asked me about my mom. I felt this innocent inclination was probably telling of Non-Don’s yearning for his own mother. We shared a few pictures, I showed him a video of my dogs back home and we laughed while waiting to be summoned by the higher adult powers.

At home, we shared a bucket of KFC (yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food in Thailand) and of course Non-Don and myself were the two left last eating. Encouraged by our clear shared love for fried chicken, Non-Don looked at me and confidently stated we could finish the bucket together. Although we instead decided to not stuff ourselves and save some chicken for our neighbors (also family), in this moment our bond was cemented.

I am grateful for these days of child-like wonder, where everything is new and I am still barely grasping the basics of life. I am blessed to have the opportunity to once again experience the freedom and simplicity that goes with a child-like mind. This is a life-lesson for me to never let big grown-up superiority complex get in the way of connecting with kids at their level, a  human level.

Thanks to these lovely ladies for putting up with the heat to hold my hand and to help me learn 🙂

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