We often like to share a story we find interesting from a volunteer’s blog. This month we share one from Forever Farang.
Casey Butler, 130 YinD
Last September, after a particularly low point in my service, my parents purchased a round-trip ticket to bring me home for the holidays. It was my Christmas gift (an expensive one at that), and I couldn’t have been more grateful. The thought of visiting friends and family in Texas roughly halfway through my service seemed to be all I needed to propel me through the remaining months. As my departure approached, even my counterparts and co-workers started to get excited for me. They took me shopping for souvenirs and gifts to take home, not to mention a ton of Thai snacks, which made for happy loved ones (and extra baggage fees).
After 26 hours, 3 flights, and 2 layovers, I landed at DFW airport around 8 AM, sleep-deprived and stinky, but ecstatic to be there. That first jolt of cold air leaving the terminal was certainly memorable, as my body had long since thermo-regulated to tropical temperatures. On the plus side, I got to wear coats, beanies, scarves, and gloves for the first time in a year, not only because I missed winter fashion, but also because I was legit freezing my ass off.
My first day back was an exercise in delirium, as I fought to stay awake until 10 PM, which I managed to do, only to sleep 15 hours into the next afternoon. It basically took two weeks for my internal clock to adjust, just in time to return to Thailand and do it all over again (jet lag – 23; Casey – 0). I’m officially apologizing to anyone that tried to hang out with me during an evening when I was already passed out or on my way there.
And then there was the food. Apart from friends and family, the variety of cuisines in the U.S. is something that I miss the most. So, naturally, I ate all the foods. So many different kinds of food. And while this made me very happy during ingestion, the digestion side of things proved to be another story. What I can only imagine was a perfect storm of gluten and dairy wreaked havoc on my poor stomach, leaving me horizontal and bloated on more than one occasion. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Added bonus: the change in diet also seemed to produce a regularity and substantiality to my shits, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced all year. Yeah, I missed those.
On a related note, indoor plumbing was a luxury I got behind rather quickly. Taking hot showers. Soaking in the tub. Washing my hands in a sink. Using a Western toilet and flushing toilet paper down it. It’s the little things that you take for granted. Snuggling with my dog indoors and taking him for walks around the neighborhood. Taking my niblings to the donut store in our pajamas and playing “Tickle Monster” with them on the trampoline. Reading the newspaper with my dad at the dining room table over a cup of coffee. Going to brunch with Mama and splitting a German pancake for dessert (extra lemons).
One thing that surprised me during my visit was how much I’ve grown accustomed to being by myself, which is something I never really liked too much. In recent years, I’ve been trying to learn how to be alone without feeling lonely, an important life skill for anyone, especially an extrovert like me. Zen Buddhism asserts that aloneness is about being present with oneself, whereas loneliness is about missing the Other. There were times during my visit where I actually chose to be alone when faced with the option of being with others (gasp). Maybe it’s a testament to the strides I’ve been making on my relationship with myself. Or maybe I’m just becoming anti-social. I’d like to think it’s the former.
Another thing I realized during my two weeks in Texas was how little I actually talk at site. In my village, people speak two languages (Thai & Isaan), both of which I just started learning this past year. Needless to say, I’m not exactly Gabby McGabbersons (just yet). I spend most of my time listening to others speak (another important life skill). Going from that to speaking English all day, every day, was a bit of an adjustment. My spoken English has certainly deteriorated over the past year. I would catch myself saying little Thai/Isaan phrases out of habit, only to be met with weird stares. “What’s a mai bpen rai?” Another added bonus: I had my first dream in Thai/Isaan! Since I wasn’t able to speak it in person, I think my subconscious had to get it out during my sleep. Funny how that works, huh?
Anyways, this trip has definitely given me a lot to reflect upon and process. Of course, there are several cultural insights that I would like to share with you all, but for brevity and levity’s sake, I will have to save that for another entry. All in all, I’m feeling super blessed to have had the opportunity to glap baan (“go home”) and hit the reset button. It’s helped me face down my second year in Thailand with renewed conviction and a fresh batch of toiletries. Happy New Year, everyone!