Michael ‘Beaux’ Mudd, 128 TCCS
I unlock my bike from the tree and begin walking it by the lunch area, heading to the main road on my way home. As I walk near the tennis court, I am stopped by teachers and students and asked to play. It’s Friday and I am looking forward to spending a little quiet time by myself but I try to keep a “yes” policy to anything in Thailand. It has kept me busy and made me question my sanity more than once. Yet, it almost always turns out to leading me a step closer in truly making myself a member of my community.
So, I drop the kickstand down, place my backpack in a safe place and prepare to play tennis for the first time in a long time. The court is the new pride and joy of the school and community as it was recently built; not quite two weeks ago by teachers, students, and villagers. To me, the court itself is a direct reflection of the community in that it was built and donated by all levels of community members. In a small village community where the school is the main attraction and located next the local temple, there are always students here. You can find them daily; playing tennis, volleyball, badminton, Pétanque, and soccer. There’s a basketball court as well and I hope to spark interest in the sport while I’m here. Looking around the court I can see both teachers and students. I wonder if one can see this back in America on a Friday afternoon; I believe I know the answer.
After watching a couple thrilling games, it is my turn to play. I am teamed up with another teacher and while I haven’t played in some time, it is so much fun and a great decision. It’s these moments when I truly love being in Thailand and really feel alive. It’s exciting watching the students learn how to play the sport and also seeing their faces as they wait their turn to play. Introducing students to new opportunities and possibilities is something I’m very passionate about doing during my service. There’s nothing wrong with my students growing up and doing the work that their family is doing today. My goal is to help the students open their minds to new possibilities, and the community coming together to build a tennis court lends a hand in my efforts. It takes me a few rounds to remember the rules of the game, but slowly it all comes back to me. I’m returning the other teams serves and running after well placed shots in no time. Teacher Bom is my first teammate and we win a few games joking about how it’s just “too easy”. I laugh to myself at where I am and what I’m doing; playing tennis in a small village, in Thailand, in 90 degree weather with my slacks and dress shirt on.
I am thankful to live in a community that values the school and builds tennis courts so the students have a safe place to spend their free time. I worry about my students outside of school as many don’t have their mom or dad around. I know quite a few don’t have enough to eat when they leave school, and live in less than stellar living arrangements. I’m happy they have a place where they can spend time playing with adults that are not just their teachers, but also mentors. Again, being a “Yes” man has me at times flat out exhausted, but more often than not it has brought me closer to my fellow teachers, students, villagers, and community. It has led me to being woken up at 8am on a Sunday morning to visit a villager’s house, where I am served food, shown around her home, and familiarized with what she does for a living. This is all personal, private information that she shared with me and I feel blessed to have that experience (although I was quite confused rubbing my eyes answering the door) so early in my service.
After teacher Bom and I are finally defeated and sitting out a few games, I find myself as the teammate of our paw aw (principal). Again, I find myself laughing as I do my best to serve an ace while not crushing a student on the other side. It’s all so much fun and after another couple games I bow out as to allow the students more time to play. I stand to the side and watch another game and observe how there’s always a student keeping exact score the entire time. Behind me, there is an intense game of badminton being played and I watch as all involved are laughing as hard as possible; my heart is full. Nearing sunset, I say goodbye to everyone around and take note that there are probably at least thirty students and teachers around playing or watching the action.
Sports have always been something that bring people together. It was basketball for me as a youth. Basketball to me as a kid was what soccer is to most kids around the world. I believe sports can help keep students involved in the community and help steer them away from trouble.
I peddle the short distance home and once again let down my kickstand on my bike, this time feeling different than when I let it down at the tennis courts. I now think about how my job here is to be an English teacher but my life here is so much more than that. I get up in the morning and get ready for my classes, but also for the opportunities that I know will arise outside of the classroom. As I open my door I am thankful for my school; how it brings the community together, has sports that can easily be accessed, and is a safe zone for the students. Finally, before I shut my door I think about how I need to work on my backhand before next time.