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Lumos: Remember to Turn on the Light

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

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Carissa Anderson, 130 YinD

Last week, I hosted one of the most successful projects I’ve ever done so far for my SAO (sub-district administrative organization). I worked all day through the weekend to not only prepare for what was required of this two-day camp (lessons, materials, etc.), but also props, giant poster-sized artwork, personal study guides, and PowerPoint slide games. I used my overachieving, creative ambition to make this the biggest it could be because I knew the sky was the limit. I had every possible resource available to me: building space, budget, understanding and communication from counterparts, and SAO support. With the help of friends, PCVs and my SAO, we made magic… literally. It was a Harry Potter English camp. We made wands from chopsticks and hot glue.

At the end of my camp, my main counterpart, the person who I consider to be the perfect counterpart, told me I wasn’t allowed to go with them on the two-day SAO trip to the south that following day. She explained there was some change in the government regulations this year, and since I wasn’t a real government worker, I wasn’t technically allowed to go. Still reeling from the high of my success with our camp, I smiled and replied, “It’s okay.” I thought it wasn’t so much of a bad thing to not go with them on the trip. I thought about loud karaoke buses and being forced to perform a dance on stage with my other coworkers. Not a huge loss, was it?

After receiving this new update, I decided to switch up my plans. I asked a fellow PCV that helped with my camp if I could accompany him to his site for a few days. Marty and I had been talking about me coming to check out his community for a while. After all, he is the only other PCV in our province and just an hour and a half away. I left the next day.

The experience of visiting another PCV’s site is always an extraordinary thing. As volunteers of our own sites, we get stuck in this bubble where we subconsciously believe the world we personally live in everyday is the same for everyone else. When we step off that bus at an unfamiliar place and take a look around, we are reminded we honestly live in a world of other smaller ones: traffic-jammed freeways to dusty roads, central dialect to eastern, and rental houses to Thai traditional homes.

The community members at this site were welcoming. Unlike when I first came to my own site a year ago, the feeling I felt was reminiscent of being a shiny new toy. “I remember when they used to talk to me like that,” Marty smirked. Those few days, I enjoyed my own little mini-vacation. We had a fun and relaxing day on a bamboo raft at a lake with his coworkers. I floated in the water letting my spirit soar and nest at the same time.

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Despite feeling completely content in those moments, I found myself scrolling through my news feed and seeing countless pictures from all my SAO co-workers on their trip. I “liked” their group photos where they all perfectly matched one another in yellow. I “followed” their selfies taken on the bus, the beach, and cafes.

I had told Marty’s host sister why I spontaneously decided to come visit. “Really? But Marty can come to our trip with us,” she said. Marty’s host sister works at his SAO. I shrugged.

I’m sitting here writing this at my desk the following Monday. I sat down and took a look around the office at everyone quietly looking at their computers and looking busy as always. It was in that moment I realized I pushed down the hurt feelings and slight rejection from not being allowed to go with them, and it was just now resurfacing. Having hurt feelings in this situation is illogical because I know it wasn’t their fault. My SAO is a large one and very “by the books” when it comes to regulations. It wasn’t like they decided to not invite me. I couldn’t entirely feel resentment towards them, but I also couldn’t deny how completely butt hurt I was. These feelings caught me by surprise because I like to think of myself as someone that “goes with the flow” and taking things personally doesn’t exactly match my normal demeanor. But whatever, I’m human.

I feel like a child that worked so hard on a drawing to give my mom, hoping to feel pride when she puts it up on the fridge. However, she just leaves it in the corner of the room where it falls to the ground, forgotten.

That’s a little dramatic, I know hahaha.

Back to the moral of my story…

This whole Peace Corps journey is filled with its obstacles, many of which slap you right in the face sometimes. Then, there are others that are bit more subtle, ones that slowly tug on your heart and pinch your sense of pride. Not going with my SAO illustrated my feelings of non-inclusion in my community I’ve felt in the last six months. While I have the most positive support from my SAO in a professional sense, I’ve never felt any semblance of familial feelings from anyone. I rarely go to the wat (temple), and I’ve never been to a monk ordination or any kind of cultural event here. This is one of those sore spots for me. I often compare myself with my other PCVs who are more exposed to more traditional village life than I am.

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However, despite all that, I know I have a pretty sweet gig of a life here. Those certain cultural aspects I am not exposed to at site, I can find elsewhere by visiting other sites. I might be going to a monk ordination in a few weeks! Nothing is permanent and unchanging in this life we have here. I often think about my locus of control and remind myself it can be quite large if you look at it from different angles.

I have a comfortable home and kind-hearted friends. I am also blessed with kids that care about learning and are open to receiving what I have to offer them.

“If we did this camp again with another theme, what do you guys think it should be?” I asked them at the end of my Harry Potter camp.

“Flintstones!”

“Knights and princesses!”

Hmm… how much cardboard would we need to make everyone a sword?

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Read Carissa’s previous articles and contributions.

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