Caitlin Navratil, 131 YinD
I wrote and re-wrote this post three different times. The first time, it was too wordy – more like a memoir, not an ode. The second time, it didn’t do my love for this family justice. The third time, I was really lamenting the loss of such an incredible family, too sad of a post to stand alone. None of the posts felt complete on their own.
So, I’m going to share all three.
My apologies about the sheer volume of words you’re about to ingest – if you have a short attention span, just read version 2. If you want to try to capture how much I really love this family, read all three. Heck, do whatever you want… I just need to put these words to paper.
There’s nothing like being welcomed into a family. My biological family by definition has never needed to welcome me in, I’d been there all along. They didn’t ask for me – and it’s easier to be desensitized to all the weird idiosyncrasies about someone when those things form over 23 years.
This family, however, had no idea what they were in for. They prepared diligently for a “farang” (foreigner) to be part of their family, even to the point of installing a shower head in the bathroom to accommodate their new American child. Peace Corps asked them to host a total stranger, and they said yes.
That very first day, our bus pulled up to the location where our host families were already waiting. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was equally excited to meet my family and absolutely terrified. After all, these are the people I’d be sharing a home with for the next few months; It would be a crucial part of my experience. As they called out language groups one at a time to leave and meet their hosts, I scanned the crowd of potential families. You were out there, I knew it.
And then, I saw you. We hadn’t been called yet, but as I anticipated which group of families would match with our language group, my eyes landed on a kind-looking woman in white and a young boy shying behind her. Somehow, in that moment, I knew you were my family.
When they finally called my group, the woman in white and my soon-to-be brother joined our group – holding a picture of me. I was right. You were my new family. Cheesy as it sounds, somehow my heart had known.
That first night, you asked me if I had brushed my teeth yet. I told you what I thought meant “not yet,” but it turns out I said “don’t have,” (now I know the difference). You walked to the store and, to my surprise, bought me a toothbrush. When I showed you my toothbrush, confused as to why you were bringing me a new one, you nodded and closed my door. Awhile later, you showed back up with some toothpaste. I showed you that I already had toothpaste and profusely apologized. Our first miscommunication, laced with the potency of your kindness.
I have come to love and adore this family. This wonderful, hard-working, generous, kind, hilarious family. I feel slighted that I only get to spend two months with you. I want to immortalize these memories. These memories that I know will someday fade. Memories of language barriers, learning, and love.
I should be packing right now. Instead, I’m typing this as I listen to my host mom explain to a student the difference between “h” and “s”, something I taught her last night.
With only three short days between now and goodbye, I find myself reflecting on this family that opened their home for me. I am simply overwhelmed with the kindness, the love, and the patience that they have shown me. I could write a long, sappy post about how they’ve changed my life – and they definitely have. Instead, I keep coming back to all the moments I want to remember and all the things for which I want to thank them.
So, here’s an ode to them: The Host Family that Loved Me.
I want to always remember the way that my Yaa (grandma) belly-laughed when I tried, unsuccessfully, to pronounce new Thai words. I knew that when she laughed at me, I either said something wild or was mispronouncing the word terribly. There was no in-between.
Thank you, thank you for actually watching what I eat and not trusting every “alloy” I uttered. I did not, in fact, think everything that I ate was delicious. But, you knew that.
I want to remember the moment when, biking home from practicum, I heard an excited “Hello!” from a motorcycle riding beside me. I look over to see my younger brother Si and my Grandpa – helmets on, visors up – absolutely beaming at me. It was a smile of recognition, of warmness, of fondness, and I felt so loved in that moment.
Thank you for letting me wake myself up. Thank you for letting me do my homework in my room by myself. Thank you for making such an incredible effort to understand my culture and my need to be independent. I am forever grateful.
I want to remember the moments when dinner was finished, our bellies were full, and the family just sat around the table and laughed. Whether we were talking about my snowy home in America, the state of schools in Thailand, or our Thai TV drama, I loved gradually understanding more and more of what we were joking about. I knew I’d made it when I started making you laugh with my Thai.
Thank you for teaching me your culture. Paa Wat told me that he will teach me one new thing a day – and I am so grateful. He taught me how to Wai correctly (the Thai sign of respect, and I had been doing it wrong), how to respectfully walk in front of my Yaa, and how to eat certain foods on our table. I would not be successful in this country without you.
I want to remember all of Si’s silliness – his dancing, his random spurts of English, and his silly faces.
I want to remember how exasperated my Yaa was after Si said he was sick… but not really – he just didn’t want to shower. He’s nine, and there’s so much that accompanies being a nine-year-old. Today, he rode away on a motorcycle yelling “Man U!!” (Manchester United). He can dab and floss with the best of them, and I love him so stinking much.
Thank you for making me eggs in the morning and only making fun of me for it most days.
I want to remember how the breeze felt when I sat out at the tables in the back on a windy evening. With mango and coconut trees swaying nearby and a generator running faintly somewhere in the background, shall I compare thee to a summer’s breeze?
Thank you for your random acts of kindness. When Maa found out I liked to drink coconut water, you bought me fresh coconut from the market for three nights in a row. When I told you I liked orange mangoes, I’m pretty sure I ate six mangoes in the span of 48 hours. While my stomach wasn’t super happy with me, I felt so loved by you.
I want to remember you. Your laughs and mannerisms, your joy and kindness. The way the sky in our backyard turns pink sometimes, and because you saw me stand out back with my arms outstretched one time now you just point and hold out your arms as well.
Thank you for letting me learn. Thanks for the space to make mistakes, and the kind guidance when I’ve messed up.
Thank you for welcoming this Farang into your home. Thank you for allowing yourselves to love me.
I will always hold such a special place in my heart for this family.
I love you.
After 10 weeks of rigorous training, I’m finally a Peace Corps Volunteer. I rode 15 hours in a van up to my site in Ngim, Phayao. I am so, so excited for these next two years here at site. Every person I meet is kind beyond measure and I have big dreams and plans for what I’ll accomplish here.
At the same time, I’m overwhelmed and I’m tired. This is a tough job and this is the hardest part. It sucks to be so uncomfortable and uncertain, but so much good will come of it. There’s so much work to be done, so many Yais (Grandmas) to meet. If it feels like I’m starting over, it’s because I am. But this time it’s for the long haul.
I take incredible solace in the fact that I came to love you so, so much in two months. I can only imagine how much I will love the people here in Ngim after two years. It’s hard because the two years are just beginning. There are so many people for me to grow to love here.
I know moving on is part of this journey, but I guess I needed space to grieve the loss of my incredible family in Suphanburi.
Until next time,
(Yeah – I kept the nickname they gave me. A piece of home.)