Kayla McCabe, 129 YinD
“We look alike but that’s about where the similarities stop” is how I’ve been describing my older sister, Meghan, for as long as I can remember. All of our teachers would talk about how much more studious she was, how much chattier I was. She ran cross country, I was a swimmer; she would turn carefully through a ski run while I came crashing along behind her, trying to see how fast I could go and how many people I could shower in snow when I slid to a stop. She graduated and went to law school, I joined the Peace Corps. But, these are minor differences when one considers the power of a sister relationship. She is only 13 months older than me, we grew up together. We shared a room for 17 years: procrastinating on homework, getting ready for dances, packing for camp and vacation, packing for college. We babysat our siblings together, we pranked our siblings together. Meghan and I have shared most of our life experiences with each other and, recently, I was able to share my home in Thailand with her.
My sister landed in Bangkok on August 3rd with two of our cousins and two of her close friends. Four of them had just taken the Bar Exam and we spent our first weekend celebrating in Bangkok with matcha blizzards, temple tours, and a Khao San adventure. Then, on Sunday night, the six of us boarded a night bus and began the journey to my community in Khong Chai, Kalasin. We were planning on spending two days visiting my home and, while this part of the trip would definitely place the group far outside their comfort zones, it was the part I was most excited about. The people in my community had been hearing for over a year about the girl who looked like me and the anticipation of her arrival had mounted considerably in the previous weeks. The stares started the minute we got on the song tao to my community and the love followed not long after we got off. The students from my closest school saw us pass and five of them brought their bikes to my house so we could visit my further school that afternoon. My co-teacher followed closely behind with extra fans and bedding and my landlady came over to welcome everyone to Khong Chai.
Across the next two days, we visited two schools, played a lot of volleyball (to the entertainment of my students), and greeted an endless stream of curious community members, all of whom exclaimed “naa muaan!” (same face!) upon seeing Meghan and I together. The teachers at both school made sure there was plenty of non-spicy food for everyone to eat and asked excitedly about the places we were traveling to next. I loved watching and translating all of the interactions but, perhaps unsurprisingly for anyone who knows me, my favorite part was introducing the neighborhood kids.
I fondly refer to the group of kids on my street as the Tiny Neighbor Squad and we hang out just about every day. They have seen lots of photos of Meghan and counted the freckles on my arms, asking in disbelief if she really has more than I do. Meanwhile, Meghan has seen my plethora of Tiny Neighbor Instagram posts and loves interacting with kids. Naturally, the kids were a little intimidated by the pack of new, non- Thai speaking farangs, but then some of them pulled out my jump rope, a couple others my Sorry board and soon everyone was figuring out ways to communicate and play together. The second day, even more kids came over and a street wide game of Monkey in the Middle broke out.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve gone from the scary farang, to a friend, to a big sister- trusted by the moms to care for their kids and go on biking adventures all over the community. I have six younger siblings so these relationships have been a familiar comfort, drawing me out of my house and making me laugh even on my worst days. Introducing them to part of my American family and watching the way they all connected with each other felt like merging the most important parts of my two worlds.
After leaving my site, Meghan, the group, and I travelled up to Chiang Mai and down to Koh Phi Phi. These places were beautiful and I’m really grateful to have had the chance to show everyone all over this country but the trip to my site remains a highlight. Meghan knows about my home now and understands how I live my life and sharing an experience like this one will always surpass any of our multitude of differences.
Come back tomorrow to hear Meghan’s story and read Kayla’s other articles A Third Home, Most Bang for Your Baht, Wisdom with Adriene, and her collection of advice articles for new volunteers.
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