Kayla McCabe, 129 YinD
Peace Corps Volunteers in Thailand have the opportunity to call two places home: one during PST and one during service. For me, the first place I called home was a hair salon in Singburi province, where a family of five took me in for ten weeks. They gave me a bed, fed me (a lot), and did their very best to communicate with me, a person who could only say about 3 sentences in Thai. They cared for me during one of the biggest transitions of my life and I will forever consider them family.
My second home is the small district of Khong Chai in the Southwest corner of Kalasin province. The people here range from coworkers to friends to family; everyone has played a different role in making me feel like a part of this community. The more time I spend here, the more relationships I’ve been able to build and the more confident I am that I will be coming back here throughout the rest of my lifetime.
On the opposite side of Kalasin is another community that has become important to me. The village of Kud Wa is known by many as the home to the Phu Thai people and the location of Isaan’s largest rocket festival. I know it as my third home.
I visited Kud Wa for the first time a little over a year ago. Less than 2 minutes after stepping off the bus a woman selling noodles saw me, assumed I was friends with the local farang (a PCV named Olivia), and pointed me in the direction of the anamai, the landmark closest to Olivia’s house. The rest of the weekend was spent meeting people just as caring and helpful as this woman. There was a huge rocket festival taking place at the time, but that didn’t stop the community members from taking the time to chat with me, eat lunch with me, and dress me in Phu Thai clothing in an effort to share their culture and make me feel welcome.
That first weekend was a blurry whirlwind of events- a beauty pageant, a parade, 60 rockets being launched, and at least 2,000 photos, but I left knowing that I would come back, and I have on numerous occasions. Whether it was for more Phu Thai holidays, the opening of the new Tesco Lotus, a trip with Olivia to Pii Beer’s home in Udon Thani, or no reason at all, Kud Wa has always welcomed me with open arms and the sense of familiarity and love that lets me know I am home. Each visit has held different adventures but has also felt a little more familiar: I know what each of the different stores sell and how to get from the anamai to Olivia’s house. I know Yaii Gop will always be the first to greet me – screaming my name the second she sees me turn the corner, and usually following me to Olivia’s house with arms full of fruit or vegetables or snacks that she will waste no time cutting and sharing. Pii Urn will often stop by as we’re eating dinner, sometimes eating with us, but always asking about my site and making sure I am being taken care of. I can count on Nong Happy to be biking up and down the street, and sometimes he’ll pop over to smile shyly at us with Pii Beer not too far behind. I know that they are just as excited to see me as I am to see them and my departure is always met with “Jer Gahn! Jer gahn! See you!” I know that this comfort, this collective embrace from the community, has made Kud Wa my third home. Though I have never actually lived there, I would also never hesitate to return to it. It is a place where the people mean as much to me as my own neighbors and where I have memories and stories that will forever be important parts of my Peace Corps experience.
I returned to Kud Wa for the rocket festival this year. I knew the way to Olivia’s house and made bread to share with her counterparts and neighbors. I wore my own Thai clothes and we explored the rocket festival on our own. One year here has changed me a lot: I am more independent, more knowledgeable about Isaan and its culture, and more willing to do spontaneous things like lead a parade. But no amount of time will change my need for community and my gratitude at having found that in three very different but equally beautiful homes.