A reflection on my life here so far, since I couldn’t fit it into Day(s) in the Life – Rainbows and Roadshows. Disclaimer: This was written about a week ago but I just got around to posting it so the timeline might be a bit off.
As I go through my days, every person I meet and every experience I have gives me a little lesson – an opportunity for growth. Let’s start with the mishaps, of which I’ve had many owing partly to the fact that my street smarts are totally lacking. From dealing with a kid’s pooping accident (and getting a little something on my own clothes) to caring for a sudden seizure from a kid with epilepsy, my volunteer coordinator has said that I’ve “passed the test for becoming a true CCD volunteer”. As for getting around Pak Kret (my city), I’ve gotten on the wrong van before, spent 15 minutes trying to order a simple milk tea boba (I learned that the word boba in Thai is, roughly translated, pearl eggs), and gotten some food poisoning my first days here. Luckily, in every situation and even in daily life, people have stepped in to help. Everyone here is incredibly friendly, to the point where rolling down your car window and asking a stranger for help is considered perfectly normal.
Even with everyone’s welcoming attitude, it’s taken me much longer than I’d like to admit to settle into a routine here. I came here proudly thinking that because I was Thai I’d fit in just fine. Yet, I forget that my identity isn’t just Thai, it’s Thai American and I’m much more Americanized than I thought. I’m familiar with the status of being an in-between, but I’ve always viewed it from the side of not having assimilated enough into American culture. To come to Thailand, my home country, and realize that there’s still much to learn about Thai culture is quite humbling. Humbling in another way too, because although I come here to live and learn like a Thai person, I have the privilege of returning to America after this is all done. I have the luxury of knowing that I’ll soon be in all A/C buildings, in places where I don’t have to use bug spray incessantly, in fancy restaurants, and so on. Despite this, I’m proud of being a Thai American. Whether it’s simply being a translator between the British volunteers and Thai staff, or comparing and contrasting American culture versus Thai culture with the other Thai staff, I can effectively utilize my knowledge of the two languages, cultures, etc to act as a kind of cultural liaison – bridging the two cultures. Isn’t that one of the goals of any DukeEngage project anyway?
Speaking of goals, I also had to go through that “impact realization” that I think anyone who goes on a short-term service program goes through. It’s the realization that we prepared ourselves for and that we were warned about: we aren’t here to save anyone. I knew that of course. I knew that coming here was both to grow myself and to be an aid to my community partner, not to be some kind of mighty savior. Yet, why did I still seek some measure of impact? Some measurement that said art, music, or narrative therapy was working – that in my time here the kid’s physical, cognitive, or mental development had improved. There is no scientific measurement though to say this; to want one is to presume that this trip is all about me and what I can do, which it isn’t. It’s similar to how, in my Days in the Life post I talked about how my goals for the lessons have changed a bit. Whether the kids are able to craft the perfect elephant or make the correct dance moves is almost irrelevant. I’ll leave the kid’s long-term development to the staff who are here permanently. Instead for me, it’s about the fact that every kid had a chance to participate, to explore, and to try something new on their own. Even with my narratives project, I realize that along with showing their story for the world to see, I’m surprising myself with each interview that I do. Thus, I’m learning what impact truly means, day by day.
I’m grateful for these blog posts because they keep me accountable to processing and reflecting on my time here – two things that I have a habit of procrastinating with. I’ve had my eyes opened so much here, how can I even try and formulate my thoughts on all the things I’ve seen and learned? For one, I’m awed at the grit that people here have under any situation. There’s a man who had a stroke, but spends 12 hours a day pushing a cart around with one arm. There’s a woman who cares for three disabled people in her home, standing tall at whatever life throws her way (a fuller story on her coming soon). There’s a child with cerebral palsy who can’t use her hands but instead uses her toes with surprising dexterity. There’s so many more – people with interesting lives and stories that I wish I had the time to tell. But unfortunately, I don’t have this time.
Due to some less than ideal circumstances, my DukeEngage project is being cut short by about 15-20 days. Therefore, I only have about 2 weeks left. It seems like I’ll be leaving just as I’m getting adjusted, just as I’m beginning to make some really great friends, just as my boss finally learned my name, just as the dogs have stopped barking at me as a stranger, etc etc etc. Essentially, I’ll be leaving as soon as I have just finished getting comfortable here. It’s regretful in a way, because there are still so many things I want to accomplish. Just one more narrative. Just one more lesson with the kids. To be realistic though, I wouldn’t be any closer to “saving” these children if I had 15 more days with them. I’m also now in the mindset of making the most of my time here instead of letting the days blur by. You’ll probably notice an increase in pictures taken or something like that, but I guess we’ll see what happens in the next 2 weeks.
Sunset at Wat Goo (photos that have nothing to do with my reflection but they’re pretty and have interesting stories behind them so I wanted to put them somewhere)