Rae Richards, 129 TESS
Welcome to a column meant to explore the highs and lows of Peace Corps volunteer life— in Thailand and beyond! Each month, we highlight a current Peace Corps volunteer somewhere in the world and discuss the best and most difficult experiences that they have had in the last month. Through storytelling, we can glean how different and similar life is between volunteers across provinces and borders—enjoy!
Volunteer name: Kayla McCabe
Sector: Youth in Development
Site: Kalasin, Thailand
Interview date: October 2018
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: To start off, I would really like for you to tell our readers about the funniest thing that has happened to you recently.
Kayla: Okay so the other day I was napping in my hammock which is not that unusual but I guess this time it was a deeper sleep than usual- I just ran out of coffee and haven’t bought more so I think I was just extra caffeine deprived. Anyway, like an hourish later I woke up and continued to go about my day until this woman, Mee Lay, came to my door and asked if I wanted to go to her farm. As I was leaving one of the yaiis was like “you’re awake! I heard you sleeping” which I thought was a weird thing to say but I just moved past it. But then the next day (Sunday) my kids were over and one of them, Bpom, sat in my hammock and was like “were you sleeping here yesterday?” I said I was and she starts giggling and ran to say something to the others. They all start laughing and when I asked what was up Bpom goes “did you know you snore?” and then starting making super loud snorting sounds and the others joined in and were dying laughing. And so now I guess everyone knows I snore
R: That’s so funny. I kinda thought over time, those kinds of moments would diminish but they’ve actually increased at an alarming rate.
K: Another weird moment– my Nayok interrupted my class the other week and said, “Hey Kayla, are you busy?” And I was like, “Well… I’m teaching…” And he goes on to tell me that his daughter wants to learn English, so can I teach her? [Laughter] Yeah, I can, but not at this present moment.
R: Great stories. Always something new. So now completely switching gears, I’d like you to share a difficult moment you’ve had at site– this can be a whole week, a day, whatever you’re comfortable sharing with us.
K: It’s hard to pinpoint a day or a moment. Starting this school year was tough though, I kept feeling very frustrated. Even though we started on a high note– I had an English camp with all 3 of my schools together– after that, I was hoping to keep the ball going, get more things going. But I keep re-learning this lesson, which is that these high points are valuable, cool moments, but they don’t necessarily drastically change everything. After that camp, I thought I could go back to my Tessaban and do more projects right away, yet I was hit with the reality that they don’t have the funding for more. It felt like I accomplished something and then hit a wall. I tried to bring up this Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) project many times and kept feeling like I was getting shut down. Then in August, come to find out this SRH project has been getting planned without me– I tried so hard to be present for that. There are big moments where I feel I’ve come a long way, and then these little moments come along and make me feel like we’ve taken a few steps back.
R: I certainly empathize with the struggle of realizing the limitations of what I can actually do here. Many people seem to have experienced the feeling of putting in a ton of work and not always getting that back. It takes a lot to move the needle and there’s no guarantee even then– you can be a great volunteer at a great site and still struggle to make things happen.
K: I always think of it like there’s nothing I can do to get everyone to see me as a person who can get all of this work done. No matter what, it’s going to take a lot of effort to show that I can do these things. I do appreciate it though because you are forced to keep pushing for things, which is a good skill.
R: Absolutely. When you’re in these moments of doubt or frustration, how do you manage your stress? How do you get through the lulls in your service?
K: So the first thing I do is bike. I bike a lot. [Laughter] I tried to run but I do not like it, it’s not fun for me. My site is surrounded by rice fields and there are lots of paths that cut through them so one of my favorite things to do is pick paths and see where they go. It helps me get out of my head. Sometimes I’ll put on music but I prefer letting my thoughts just wander without. I’ve also got a neighborhood squad that includes the kids on my street– they’re the best part of my service. They’re great ‘cause they’re so young. Older people can bug me if I’m having a bad day, but with kids it’s all play. It’s the best thing for me when I’m not in a great mood. The squad is so goofy and great, they always put me in a better mood– plus they’ve started biking with me recently, so that’s my two favorite things combined. And sometimes we even get ice cream, so that’s my three favorite things combined! [Laughter]
R: I feel this. Being around the neighborhood kids and their families is huge for my emotional and mental stability. I rely on them heavily.
K: When I first got to site, I tried to process a lot of things alone but I found that just made it worse somehow. It’s a world of a difference to go interact with these kids and be silly. We play jump rope and tag so it feels just like when I was a kid.
[As if we’re in a movie, Kayla’s neighborhood kids interrupt the interview to come say hello to her. I hear cute small voices in the background as she explains that she is on the phone and can’t play with them right now.]
R: That was adorable. Speaking of how awesome life here can be, now I want to ask you to share a moment that’s brought you a lot of joy in the past few weeks. It can be the best day ever, a whole month, whatever comes to mind.
K: This question is way easier to come up with an example for. [Laughter] It’s a pretty recent thing– the way that my relationship has grown with my Bratom 4 boys. All relationships need work– this includes with our students. So my first year, I put in a lot of effort so that they could know me. Yet starting in the new year, I had a whole group of new students who I hadn’t had previously; 10 students, 7 of whom are boys and 3 who are girls. I teach life skills and critical thinking activities, so there wasn’t a ton of buy-in from this class right away. At first, our relationship was a bit demoralizing because I would teach them on the same day I have my 5th graders, which is an amazing class that I get along really well with. Bratom 4 felt like fighting with them to get them to listen to me. One day, another teacher told me that they were misbehaving so much because they weren’t my friends yet– a pretty profound comment that came out of nowhere. After she said that, I started laughing and joking with them more and have noticed a huge difference in it. Last week, they started asking me if they could join my bike rides. Yesterday, it was kinda rainy but four of those B4 boys still showed up to ride with me. It was such a beautiful moment. It feels so validating to finally break through, especially in my second year when I didn’t expect to still be making lots of new connections.
R: Thank you for sharing that. For these awesome moments in your service, do you have specific ways of cataloging them? Photos, storytelling, whatever it is that helps you remember your service?
K: I take a lot of pictures. At the start of the year, I was trying to do a picture a day and I forgot my camera so often that that quickly stopped being a thing. [Laughter] I have a blog but it’s become a place where I just jot down little stories. That’s all I really do.
R: All good things. My last question for you is what media are you consuming these days? Podcasts, movies, books– anything good?
K: So Modern Family just got added to Netflix. [Laughter] I’ve been listening to a lot of Getting Curious with Jonathan van Ness. I have never been a big podcast person, I tried so hard to like them but he is so funny.
R: Do you have a way that people can follow the rest of your Peace Corps service? Any social media plugs?
K: So my IG is peaceandsmiles22 and then my blog is http://www.peaceandsmiles.weebly.com
R: Thanks so much Kayla!
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and checkout Rae’s previous interviews.
Read Kayla’s previous articles and contributions.