Genevieve Montreuil, 129 YinD
It was your average Sunday afternoon in rural Thailand; I took my usual 8km bike ride in 100 degree heat, to sip on a sugar laden iced latte, sitting friendless in a cafe off the main road. Relatively new to site, bright eyed and bushy tailed, my eyes widened with excitement while scanning a routine email from my beloved program manager.
‘Fits YinD framework, sports as a tool, basketball court, apply by August 31st’. Easy! My school was going to get a new basketball court (looking back on the first few months of the application process, my naivety about what I was about to undertake is jarring, but, I digress).
Fast forward to about 2 months before the project was set to happen and here is what I knew for certain: my community was going to host 27 Americans for 1 week to help build a basketball court for my school. To acquaint you all with the absurdity of that statement, my community is made up of 10 small villages, located in-between rice fields one bigger than the next. Most people in my village have never seen a group of foreigners larger than 4, let alone a group that would primarily be younger than 50. While my coworkers and students asked me weekly with growing excitement when the volunteers would be arriving, my answer was filled with growing apprehension that they would be coming in mid-July.
In true Thai fashion, a work ethic that I have come to know and reluctantly, trust, the majority of our preparations didn’t begin until….3 days before the volunteers arrived. Leaving the day before to greet the volunteers in Bangkok, I left my site with a to-do list that wasn’t quite yet…done; and for the first time in my life (probably), I was ok with that. If these past 19 months have shown me anything, it’s that I am not a superhero, and it is ok to let others help. Letting go and having someone else take the reins, is overall, one of my loose ‘goals’ right? Step 1, check.
From the beginning, I expected things to go wrong, because if watching countless hours of HGTV has taught me anything, it’s that these things happen. That 1 water pipe stopping you from having an open concept living/dining room is inevitable. That’s why you always have a contingency fund. Torrential downpours the week before everyone arrives causing land preparation delays? Fine, it’s rainy season, par for the course. An 18 wheeler flipping over on the 2 lane road into your community causing a 2.5 hour delay on the first day? Not ideal, but at least we could dance to ‘In My Feelings’ with the doors open because the cars were moving so slowly. What I didn’t expect was being able to see how much I had changed these past 19 months, and that realization smacked me in the forehead harder than a bug during a bike ride.
Being completely immersed in Thai culture, day in and day out, it was hard for me to see how much of my Western norms had melted away, dripping down my arm like an ice cream cone in the heat of Thai summer. Doesn’t the power normally go out when it downpours in America? Did the volunteers just get to breakfast 10 minutes EARLIER than we told them? No, the spiders in your house aren’t poisonous, just uncomfortably large. I promise you I cannot separate those dogs stuck together. During lunch breaks and down time at dinner, I felt myself gravitating towards my Thai friends and coworkers, more comfortable sitting with our slower, more deliberate conversations, than with the buzz of the volunteers.
In the moment, I felt like I was making a choice between my two worlds, a quarter-life identity crisis. Looking back on it now, I take pride in this comfort, because like a rite of passage for all PCV’s, it was hard earned. The awkward silences, miscommunications, getting dressed up like a Thai Barbie doll; it was all part of the process. The relationships I have built here are a reminder and a reason why my community trusted me enough to take on a project of this size in the first place.
This basketball court was the biggest undertaking of my Peace Corps service thus far, and without a doubt will be the most difficult. Navigating the stormy waters of work terms, deadlines, start times, and general logistics in one culture and language is hard enough, let alone with two cultures and languages that sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. Learning how to weave Thai and American styles together was truly exhausting, but in the best sense of the word. Each day I woke up, body aching, eyelids heavy, stomach tense. A body ache, from working alongside people willing to sacrifice their time and days off to the back breaking work that is pouring cement. Eyelids heavy, from late night laughs with my best friends (hi, Anna, Carly, Pablo, and DJ). Stomach tense, from binging on all the American snacks that were generously gifted to me.
Over the span of a week, my emotions ran the gamut; from nervous-wreck to slightly less nervous-wreck to bursting with pride. Watching my two worlds come together, through an act of service nonetheless, was everything I could have hoped for and more. I am forever grateful to Courts for Kids for making this court a reality for my students and my community, as well as my counterparts and co-teachers, whose saint like patience saved the day (multiple times a day). And last but not least, my amazing, impromptu speech giving, American food bearing, incredibly supportive PCV family, I would not have been able to do it without you all…we did it!