Dear Stoplight

Theresa Kozelka, 129 YinD

“Did you see the new stop light at the 3-way intersection? It’s the first in Thung Wa!”



After one week away at a meeting, I returned to find my community’s main three-way
intersection transformed by the District’s first stoplight. I caught myself thinking, “Who approved this?! Who had the nerve to come in and update my three-way intersection?”

Change always seems to have this effect on me. I like my change slow and predictable,
like an Indiana summer’s long approach with months of anticipation, watching the thermostat gradually increase degree by degree or like a sumo wrestler approaching the ring with booming, pronounced steps. This sudden appearance of sparkly silver with flashing red, yellow and green rattled me more than expected, perhaps indicating a far greater underlying fear.

If one week away had produced the District’s first stoplight, how would my village
transform after 1 year away or even 10? The obvious answers flood into my subconscious. My students and host brothers will grow up, my coworkers will add even more stoplights and community-focused initiatives, my desk will be occupied by someone new and my house will become someone else’s home. Then, what will become of me? How will I be remembered in this village? Who will I become outside of this village? These answers were not as obvious. Obviously, I would change, but would this change mean losing who I had become over the past two years?

Change can be hard and scary, but embracing change can also lead us to the most
unexpected and rewarding experiences. Change can give us a second home, where rice is an assumed portion of every breakfast, lunch and dinner, where you learn to make sense of a new language and forget that you are the only woman in the room whose hair is not covered by a hijab. Change can allow you to create a second home and change can also lead you to leave that home. I hated that stoplight the second I saw it, because that stupid, shiny stoplight reminded me that change was on the horizon again.

But the funny thing about change is that it is constantly happening, whether or not we
are aware of it. We are constantly changing and evolving and accepting new realities. Soon it will be hard to imagine that intersection without a stoplight. Just like right now it is difficult for me to imagine my life away from this community. Ten years from now I may simply be remembered as the foreigner who could actually eat spicy food. However, I hope the memories we have made over the past two years will also resurface from time to time, reminding my community that not all foreigners fit into the stereotypical picture of the tourist in Thailand. I hope my students will remember my awkward recreations of their dance moves, my coworkers will remember my “loud, unlady-like” laugh, and my friends will continue to mock my overly modest dress code. Likewise I hope that I will never forget the gracious generosity that has been shown to me the past two years. May I never forget the random passerby who has attended to my broken bicycle chain more times than I’d like to admit, the woman at the market who never forgets my carrot order or my ever patient students, calmly translating Theresa Thai into real Thai.

Though my Peace Corps service must eventually come to an end, the change that was
inevitably produced when my world collided with the opposite side of the world will hopefully continue to evolve for the better. And to ensure that evolution, I must ask one favor of my new stoplight friend. Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, through power outages and monsoons, I am counting on you, stupid, shiny new stoplight to continue watching over my community. To watch my students grow old, see my coworkers further develop this already wonderful community, to make sure my house remains a warm home and to make sure that this place continues to be appreciated for all that it is. That is, until I can return once again.

Read Theresa’s previous articles and contributions.

2 replies »

  1. I still remember the very first day we met. You were such a nice young lady and I know you still are. During those two years you gave your service here in Satun, we met each other only three times, but I can always remember you Theresa. Wish you the best of luck.


  2. You are an amazing woman, Theresa! Your sense of home is spot on, and I predict you will make many more homes and influence many more lives in a positive way as your life unfolds. Bless you!


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