Natalie Garro, 129 TESS
The days have blended together, hours slipping by like warm sap, each moment dripping until my cup is so full, I spend my evenings releasing the day – pouring out so I have space to do it all again tomorrow. I remember two years ago, the heat was exhausting. The fatigue would set in sometime after lunch, and I’d wash into class like a wave of melted ice cream. Now my body is drenched in sweat before I’ve even noticed my own discomfort, which often never comes.
All the things that used to drive me crazy barely phase me anymore. Today was our first day of regular classes in 3 weeks, but I was using that extra time to do paperwork, so I didn’t mind. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t mind.
When people speak to me now, I understand about 80% of what they’re saying. My Thai isn’t and has never been particularly strong, but even when I’m not actively listening, I can chime into conversations with a quick quip or question. These days, I barely have to practice classroom and behavior management – my kids know what’s up, and they’ve been earning stars like crazy this semester.
People remember me this year. My first year, I was a shiny new toy. Last year, I was often an after-thought. This year, I’m just a regular teacher. I have Wednesday greeting duty, I presented for the Saw-naw at our school inspection, I tag-teamed dual-language announcements for Sports Day, I helped lead our students on a 10k ride for Bike Day… and everything feels excessively normal.
I’ve had my jaded moments. I’ve felt isolated, lonely, forgotten, frustrated, dismissed. I won’t say my life here has been easy, because facing the version of myself I was confronted with while here is one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Being here – alone, with ample time to sit with myself – has been a catalyst for self-reflection and confrontation in ways I’ve never previously experienced; so much so, I’ve come to believe the greatest challenge of Peace Corps is the inevitability of facing the most raw and broken parts of ourselves. The challenge lies in how we choose to meet that person and whether we are able to evolve past them.
In a less cerebral sense, however, the most difficult part of my Peace Corps Service was coming back from my Special Leave between my original Close of Service date and the beginning of my 3rd year.
After 5 weeks at home, I wasn’t ready to face the social isolation of living in a place where my ability to communicate is frequently inadequate, the difficulty of buying food and managing the anemia I developed while here, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my car, my family, or my friends. The adjustment to being back also wasn’t easy. My house took a solid three days to make liveable again, and all I could think about was how badly I already missed movie theatres.
After 5 weeks at home, I wasn’t sure whether or not I truly wanted to come back. A few days before my departure for Thailand, I found myself crying in the passenger seat of my dad’s sadan, my dad and I on a multi-hour goose chase for phone screen protectors. I told him I hadn’t realized how alone I’d been until I wasn’t anymore. I told him I hadn’t realized how much of myself I’d tucked away until I was free to open up again. I told him I was tired of riding the song-taew an hour one-way to buy groceries every weekend. I told him I didn’t know how I was going to go back and be alone again. He didn’t say anything comforting; he told me he was proud of me. Maybe he knew that there wasn’t really anything he could say. I suppose he knew I knew I was coming back, even if I was suddenly overwhelmed with the grief of saying goodbye all over again. I think we both knew that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Khao Chon Kan, or my friends here, or my students. As difficult as that temporary goodbye was, the final goodbye here will be harder; and we both knew I was less ready for that.
When I arrived home to my village – about two weeks later – my neighbors all stopped by with welcome-home fruit. Somehow my Thai had improved while I was gone, and I was having much more personal conversations with everyone. School started, and my kiddos didn’t come rushing at me like they had my second year, but waved the cheerful hellos I associate with the comfort of familiarity.
The adjustment to being back was hard, but this normalcy – this peace, this inclusion, this opportunity to marvel at my students’ progress – was worth it.
The months keep slipping by, and I swear, not a day passes that I don’t remind myself it’s not permanent, that I will leave, that when I do, I might not see some of the people I love here again. This mentality contributed to my decision to stay, but it feels heightened as I start counting my “lasts.” My last Bike Day, my last Sports Day, my last Wai Kru. I am constantly reminding myself to be present, to enjoy these moments while they still belong to me.
I blink back tears at my desk as I consider everything this little village in Nakhon Sawan has given me, the stories that comprise the lives of all the people here I have the privilege to love. The time will come for me to say my thank yous, my see-yous… my goodbyes… but that time isn’t today. Today is just another normal, quick-slow like tree sap day, routine from the break of dawn until the moon comes up, so much like all the other days. Today is the kind of day I’ll miss one year from now. Today is a day for acknowledging what has been – for me. It’s not a day for goodbyes or tearful tales of gratitude. It’s just another day. Like all the other days. And nothing has better marked my third year living in this beautiful country than days like this one.
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