Christalynn Hamer, 130 TESS
I used to get so tickled by the “Can you hear me now?” Verizon commercial that aired years ago. I think about that commercial from time to time, specifically when I’m using WhatsApp because often my answer is, “No, I can’t hear a thing!” Typically, I’m greeted with the consistent and ever present word “reconnecting” and the beeps that follow reassuring me the little people working WhatsApp are scurrying around on both ends unhooking wires, clicking switches and hackling with HR to reboot my connection with my loved ones miles away. Before coming to Thailand, I made a very specific intention to learn love more. On arriving and “doing” Peace Corps, in many ways, I’ve found myself in that same seated position, slightly frustrated, and terribly determined reflecting on that word “connect.” But now finding myself on the other side of one year, I’m slowly connecting the dots and hearing more clearly.
I love the way hindsight makes you work to see what you never could, without the experience to go with it. I remember hearing this phrase “self-love” the first week or two of our training that I had never heard before. If I didn’t learn anything else in training, I learned Peace Corps administration/staff and volunteers are the unofficial marketing conduits for self-love, so whoever coined that phrase, you’re welcome. That’s where my connecting to learning love began, with first learning how to love myself in a different kind of way. Not just by using the “treat yo’self” mantra that I often use to justify good food on bad days, but with time to tire out from running from things I’d never unpacked before.
Love Lesson 1: First comes healing, then comes love and a helping of endurance.
To churn my momentum to learn came a thin-framed woman with a nourishing touch for whom I am forever grateful. We first met during my first three months of disorientation and adjusting at site. I can only imagine what I said or thought I said but she laughed, we shared a meal (what I imagine was our version of a spit shake), and that was it — buds for life!
Often times, I watch her float from room to room and she’s elegant, tasteful and kind (more than naam-jai I think). She has a drive that would put a competing man at the running of the bulls to shame. Her hands are always moving: washing dishes for our cafeteria staff, relieving others of work so they can go home to children, giving hugs to volunteers (me!) after small sabbaticals and working overtime for her students. She is a woman I aspire to be like who’s taught me though things are unfavorable, that doesn’t warrant surrender/quitting. She embodies the spirit of the women I left in the states, and I love her for it.
I’ll never forget the pinnacle point of our relationship. On one of my hardest days, just before our photos were taken at our district’s birthday celebration for the king, Kru (Teacher) Law held me ever so slightly around my waist. I was first startled by her touch, but soon after, a flush of relief washed over me because the grooves of her embrace were what I needed to fall into to breathe. ‘Til this day, a forearm squeeze or shoulder snug is how we communicate our love for each other, that and the occasional bag of (beautiful) hand-me-down skirts and to-go lunch baggies.
The feeling of detachment (from home) just to reattach to something unfamiliar (Peace Corps/Thailand) was heavy for a long time. Truly feeling myself teetering in two trying to coexist in two worlds that are incomparable. I felt (sometimes feel) left behind yet thrusted into a space where I was welcome to be comfortable without not much time to build up my comfortability, where I had a form of credibility I had yet to earn. In the midst of a lot of confusion and processing that only time could detangle, she claimed the safe space for me to be.
For me to ground myself and connect with people, it has commanded my vulnerability to come forward, my pride to be dejected, and my attention to take note of the people with open arms.
Love Lesson 2: Fall into safety when given the chance.