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.
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.
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.
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 🙂