Michael Marano, 129 TCCS
In moments of intense excitement, I tend to feel invincible. Thus was the case as I stood in front of my mirror with a beard trimmer and a pair of dulled scissors and decided to give myself a haircut. I wanted to look good for my upcoming trip to Koh Mak and thought that cutting my own hair would be easier than finding a barber. After a few minutes, I looked in the mirror and was in disbelief. I had given myself the best haircut of all time. I walked outside brimming with pride as my host mother and brother burst into laughter. Through unrestrained giggles, they asked me what I had done to myself. I looked in the mirror bewildered, only seeing the perfect haircut. My little brother grabbed my phone and took a picture of the back of my head as my host mother’s laughter turned silent, looked painful, and produced tears. The words gross, wiry, and patchy come to mind. 5 minutes later I was following my brother to the nearest barber who also laughed directly into the back of my head.
A few hours later my family prepared to drive me an hour to the closest volunteer’s house so that we could travel together. They could have taken me 15 minutes to the bus station but they don’t trust me to do anything on my own. They are completely justified in this mistrust as I stumble around their village like Ariel with brand new legs, unable to communicate and combing my hair with kitchen utensils. I’ve washed dishes with dog shampoo and my own clothes with fabric softener instead of detergent for 3 months. I’m like a giant toddler and my only form of survival is my mom’s Netflix password. If someone’s willing to hold it, this hand will always accept, and so my journey began.
We made it to the island after a relatively uneventful trip and were reunited with all of the other volunteers for the first time in 5 weeks. We initially planned to frolic through the water and take Instagram pictures but were met with sharp rocks, broken shells, and sea urchin stingers. Even though the bright red cuts on all of my toes oddly complimented the fresh paint of glitter polish on my nails, we decided to flee. Our bloody, little baby feet bravely carried us to safety: a kayak rental hut. I decided to take my phone because it was waterproof and I didn’t have my host mom to tell me it was a bad idea.
As I floated on my kayak from island to island, with all of my closest friends, life was a daydream. There was laughing, dancing, kissing, snorkeling. We were carefree. If the brown water we had showered with for the past month hadn’t settled into mountains of teenage acne on our foreheads, we could have been a Neutrogena commercial. Then, all of a sudden, in slow motion our kayak flipped. I grabbed my backpack with Spider Man like reflexes and was full of false pride for the second time in 4 days. Everyone cheered as I hoisted it over my head. This was the most athletic thing I’d done since getting to first base after taking a ball to the hand from the pitching machine in tee ball.
I unzipped the pocket I thought my phone was in just to double check that it was there and it wasn’t. I peered over the side of the kayak and very calmly stated, in a tone reserved for serial killers on Dateline, “My phone is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.” My friends jumped into action and yelled for the goggles, which we soon discovered were also on their way down to join my phone in polluting the ocean with more unwanted plastic from idiot humans. As we floated back to shore I sang a little India Arie in my head and mellowed out enough to stop caring about my phone and enjoy the rest of the trip.
On the boat leaving the island I realized that I had left my water bottle in our room. It’s more traumatic than it sounds. This water bottle has been my best friend at site. It’s been my pacifier in uncomfortable situations, heaved in to stop the tears. My safety blanket keeping me comfort on lonely nights. A sympathetic face through the crowd as I’m being forced to dance like a wind-up doll while belting out generic love songs that until the moment a microphone was shoved into my hands had laid forgotten in the 90’s. The thought of returning to site without it gave me instant acid reflux.
Unknowingly, I would have more time than I thought to get used to the idea of being alone at site without my cellphone or water bottle. After what seemed like 100 hours on boats, buses, and vans, we discovered that our final bus was sold out and that we would have to backtrack 4 more hours to Bangkok and stay the night. By the time we reached our hostel all of our spirits were bruised. We would have to use another vacation day because we “didn’t plan ahead,” and wouldn’t even be able to enjoy it.
The next morning we called and booked our tickets as soon as we woke up and headed to the bus station. We exited the Skytrain in a monsoon and stepped into ankle deep water. We hadn’t done any research on where the bus station was in relation to our Skytrain stop until we were hanging onto a railing in the middle of the street as flood waters filled the cuts on our toes with bacteria from the depths of Bangkok. We watched as the time ticked past the departure of our scheduled bus, proving ourselves to be useless two days in a row.
When I finally made it home, much later that night, and got through the retelling of my adventure to my host family, they could barely breathe from laughter. I’m their real life Buddy the Elf, turning what are mundane tasks for them into impossible undertakings for me. The only person not laughing was my grandmother. She eyed me suspiciously and took two steps back before declaring that I was cursed on the island. Finally, I had something to be proud of: a real-life island curse, just like the Brady Bunch.
The following day my entire family accompanied me to a temple in the mountains. We rang a bell on each step as we ascended the stairs, being watched closely by monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Once we reached the temple I was blessed by the eldest monk to rid me of my island curse. It was truly one of the most special moments I have ever had. Perspective set in and I realized that every mishap, from the bad haircut to the flood, was a worthy step towards this incredible experience.