Daylisha Reid, 130 YinD
Almost a year has passed on this journey that is the Peace Corps and I am excited to share about the times where I stepped outside of myself — and, then, back into myself a more confident woman.
Eleven months ago, I was tasked with stepping outside of my Westernized ways of life to effectively integrate into whichever Thai community I would be placed in after an intensive pre-service training.Stepping outside of my Western conditioning meant learning to speak Thai language, participating in Buddhist ceremonies, and assimilating to apparel customs to secure acceptance, trust, and respect from my community. Moreover, by not displaying visible frustration when given a task like planning an English camp with 48 hours notice, I would prove my ability to not only “keep a cool heart,” but to also “save face.” Having a willingness to try foods such as “khanom duang” with a stiff smile while chewing for eternity, I would solidify my place within a family. That by kneeling in the temple for what feels like hours, praying that my long wrap skirt doesn’t untie, as my joints and hamstrings scream, that I can put my own comfort aside out of respect for the prevailing customs.
Yet, through all the training and implementation of these practices, I lost myself for a while as I worked to prove my ability to integrate into what would be my new home. Conformity sounds awful to some, but on the bright side I was well equipped and prepared to live within a culture so opposite from mine. Service is, ultimately, your ability to put yourself aside for the betterment of others without expecting anything in return. For the first time while abroad I am differentiated from just another tourist passing through a foreign land to fulfill her lust for travel-I am fully immersed in my villages ways of life.
Though this newfound ability to bend and break, physically and mentally, has catapulted me further along in my community overtime, I began to miss myself. I felt more established within my community and so I began to get back to her, Daylisha, born and raised in Midwestern America. For instance, showing my tattoos as I witnessed co-professionals in my community show theirs too. Being honest about my spirituality when asked why my husband went to the local church but I did not, but only after a Thai counterpart of mine said she was both a Buddhist and a Christian — I laughed too. My point being that as my peers began to lighten up around me, so did I.
I also got back to “her” by displaying parts of “her” that were unfamiliar to my community like putting my nose ring back in, being a strict vegetarian, and changing my hairstyles every few weeks from Afros, to hair wraps, to long braid extensions, to locs. Gathering a confidence I never had to tap into back in America to recover the things about my identity that I put in the background for the sake of integration. Thai people are very direct when it comes to physical appearances, and it is not normal for someone to constantly change their hair like I do. I took a breathe each day I left my house and gathered a confidence and preparedness to find comfort in stares, pointing, and to answer every question about my physical alterations. “Did you cut your hair?” “How long did it take to do your hair?” “I have never seen your kind of hair!” And of course, “can I touch it?”
I had earned “her” back by displaying my appreciation and participation in their traditions, and by possessing the attitude, skills and expertise necessary to meet the shared goals for our community — regardless of our outward differences. I had earned “her” back when I solidified friendships through the sharing of music, laughter, dance and food when we got together at social events outside of work. I had earned “her” back because I built relationships with my students, but with a better and even closer bond by being my most authentic self. Piquing their curiosity about my lipstick, outfits from America and kinky hair texture that was styled differently each week. It’s like I’m the midst of it all, I focused so much on learning about their culture, I forgot to share mine.
These are the motions of any growing relationship.
The Peace Corps is such a unique experience. We spend so much time learning about another culture, another religion, another norm. Yet, in the midst of it all, we are here to share about our culture, our customs, our norm. Throughout this equilibrium give and take experience, I have learned to take measures outside of my comfort zone in order to prove my investment into a community and, at the same time, I have learned more about myself and how to be more comfortable expressing that unique individual. People appreciate you going the extra mile to enter their world while letting your true colors shine through. As Dr. Seuss once said, “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”