Alex Khan, 127 YinD
“There’s a thin line between love and hate.” You may have heard of the song. Back in the day these lyrics didn’t have much meaning, but boy, would I learn what they meant in time. Today these lyrics apply to my host family and Peace Corps service. As you all know I have much respect for my host family. Without them I don’t know where I’d be today. Hell, I don’t even know if I would still be in Thailand. However, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine here in Ban Wai. There have been days where I just could not fathom the idea of seeing my host family. Days I dreaded coming home because I just simply wanted to be alone. There have been days where I just about had it. I truly couldn’t stand to see anyone. Anyone with in 7,500 miles, that is. I wanted to throw in the towel and be on the first flight home – sipping martinis in First Class. Okay, just kidding. I can’t afford First Class, but you get the picture.
When you’re having a bad day sometimes the last thing you want is to be interviewed by your host Mom, Dad, and Grandma whom you couldn’t understand to save your life. “Alex, have you eaten yet?” “Do you miss so and so?” The list goes on and on. It gets hard to put on a front, day in and out, when deep down you’re not feeling it anymore. It seems these past few months of service have been the hardest. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been here for 2 years and time is wearing me down, or if it’s other things going on in life. What I do know is that it’s been a rough few months. There have been a few times where I dabbled with the thought of calling it quits. Never to the point where I had the phone in hand ready to call, but I toyed with the idea in my head. To be honest, leaving sounded great. I have a nice check waiting for me and a few things on my bucket list I’d like to check off. But in the end I just couldn’t. I’ve come too far to throw in the towel. I told myself a long time ago in the states that if I made it to the 1 year mark I would stick it out. Easy peasy right? NO. I got to that 1 year mark and was like “OHH MYY GAHH”, another year?! But it goes by faster than you think.
Now I don’t want you all to think my entire service has been hell, or that I don’t appreciate this experience. If I had the choice to do it all over again I’d be on the first flight to Thailand. I try to share my moments of joy and pride with you all, but looking back it seems that a lot of my blogs are “negative”. Sorry if that’s how they come off. I just want you all to know what it’s like here. Being 7,500 miles away from a place I called home – a place I was born and raised and (now that I look back) never really left – gets tough. There is a saying in Peace Corps: “This is toughest job you’ll ever love.” I completely agree!
Before Peace Corps I pushed shopping carts in the rain, served rude customers, and even cleaned toilets, but those tasks are nothing compared to the past 2 years of my life. This job is hard. Not only physically, but mentally. That is life though, no matter where you go or what you do. Anyone can be high and mighty on sunny days, but it’s the dark nights that build true character.
I am forever thankful for my Meh (mom). She has gotten me through my worst days in Thailand. Whether it be telling me that my face was extra ugly that day, or that I need to chill because the next 9 months will go by faster than I think. She doesn’t express much emotion. She’s not the lovey-dovey type and in my 2 years here I have never hugged her. But she has a way with words. She can sense distress from a mile away. She knows when I’m having a bad day, and she knows when I hate the world. Most importantly she knows how to handle both. Maybe it’s just a universal mom thing. If my responses are short, she knows to leave it at that. Not to push it or egg me on. If I talk about it then she talks about it, it’s as simple as that.
My host dad on the other hand is cut from a different cloth. Sometimes I think he likes to piss me off on purpose. It could be that kind of tough love that I sometimes share with my friends back home; however, due to language and cultural differences, we get lost in translation. In the end I know the guy loves me. He tells everyone I’m his son and that we like to farm together. Which is true, but not at 5:30 am on a Saturday. He’s used his rank to get me things I’ve wanted when others denied me. Whether that’s right or wrong is an entirely different story, but hey, it puts smile on my face. My Yai (Grandma)…..I love her, and we will leave it at that.
Some people can’t stand to be with a host family and I respect that. They want to be isolated and at times I can see why. If I were to make a list of pros and cons about my host family, the pros would by far outweigh the cons. There may be more cons listed than pros, but the values are not the same. I’ve asked a lot of volunteers if they regret moving out and more times than not their response was yes. Yes they regret moving out for numerous reasons. I on the other hand have never seriously contemplated moving out. I mean why would I? I have the best set up one could ask for. I come and go as I please. If I want to eat dinner together then we eat together. If not I just make my own meal – which is never as good – but sometimes the peace and quiet are worth it. There have been days where I question why I’m still with them, but it’s usually when something else has gotten to me. It’s never been a direct result of them.
I couldn’t imagine being alone on my darkest nights here. I’ve had nights where I just really missed home. Being in the middle of no where without access to wifi or means of communication to people back home can make one feel extremely isolated. Those nights are the worst and I thank God for my host family. Those are the nights they really come to my rescue. Those are the nights we get to know one another the most and exchange culture. The nights we laugh the hardest because, truth be told, we don’t know what the hell one another is saying. I have tried countless times to teach my host parents English, but it just does not stick. In their defense, they’re in their upper 50s and have never interacted with a foreigner. They have farmed their entire lives and that’s all they know, and there is nothing wrong with that. My host dad knows two English words….”Mr.” and “fu*k”. He loves to say Mr. when introducing people; he gets the biggest kick out of it. “Fak” (rhymes with fu*k) is one of two words for the word pumpkin in Thai. I told him that it is a bad word in the states and if he were to ever say it to someone, chances are they would be throwing down. So of course he remembers that word. It’s actually one of the highlights of my Peace Corps experience. Of all the words this guy remembers…it’s that one. Oh, Thailand.
This weekend was my host dad’s birthday and it was one for the record books. We had 25 people at my house, with enough rice to feed an entire village. We had aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, cops. You name it, they were there. We made jokes all night and ate until we were sick to our stomachs (okay, maybe that was just me.) The following morning we had a noodle buffet and open bar. I stayed away from the open bar for I have learned my lesson already. As a family, we then went to build a new house for the cows. This was a great experience and reminder for me that my Thai is not as good as I thought it was. Nothing like trying to build a house in a foreign language. Just about everyone helped – my sister, her husband, her son, the neighbors. You name it, they were there. We worked for a solid 5 hours then feasted like kings.
These are the experiences I will cherish forever. Experiences I can look back on and say it was all worth it. This is why it is better living with a host family than on your own. I often wonder who I would talk to on the weekends. What would I do? There are so many things I overlook and take for granted living with them. So if you’re a future or current PCV wondering whether the Peace Corps experience and living with a host family is worth it, let me tell you, it is!
I hope this doesn’t scare you off or make you think twice about Peace Corps or journeys of a similar nature. This is by far the best experience of my life and I would recommend it to anyone. It allows you to view the world differently and experience things most people haven’t. I just want you all to see the experience completely through my eyes, not just the smiles I post on Facebook. I miss you all and look forward to the day we reunite… much love.
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