Shannon Murphy Berrios, 131 TESS
If there is one quote from a movie I love, it would have to be Forrest Gump’s Alabama clad accent saying proudly, “And I was running!” as he’s being chased from bullies while his leg braces majestically fall to the ground. It is a quote that gets said often in my family just to either make fun of the accent or because we feel we did something good or otherwise impressive.
So this may seem beside the point, but it’s where this story begins. If there’s anything in this world I love it’s British and Australian men, so it comes as no surprise that I spent a solid hour on my couch eating some chocolate and drinking my second box of Milo while thirsting over the Hemsworth brothers on Instagram. A common thought that runs through my head in these moments is, “Damn, when I get my shit together the world better watch out cause I’m gonna get me one like that.” Then, what follows is the thought, “Twenty-seven will be the year. It’ll be the year I get into shape.” Every two years, I say a different age will be my best year; I know this because I have also said, “Twenty-four will be the year.” And here I am at twenty-four. It’s good, but I don’t think it’s my best. I lost some weight during service, but I’ve still got a lot of grabbing room as wonderfully demonstrated by some other teachers and students, which is fine because I play it off and make jokes. But, my problem is when I go up the stairs to my class and feel winded at the end; it’s only one flight of stairs. It shouldn’t be like this; my dad was an athlete in high school and raised me to love sports, and my mom is a trainer who competes in Iron Man races. Internal conflict time.
“I’ll go running next semester. I’ll use the little gym they have and get into shape.”
“You say that all the time. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next semester.”
“Fine. I’ll go tomorrow before class.”
I didn’t go. Then, during all my classes, I felt awful. I set a goal for myself and failed before I even started. Blaming anything I could. The tukay* last night kept me up. My bed was uncomfortable. My mother forgot the time difference and called me at midnight again.
“Tomorrow for sure.”
“The day isn’t done. Just go after class.”
I watch all my students leave school that day. Waiting patiently for them to go home with their parents because I don’t want them seeing their teacher struggling after one lap. I like to present myself as strong and able, and me wheezing on the benches isn’t exactly the right look for strong and able. I go home, change clothes, and lace up my hiking boots because I don’t actually own sneakers, but I’m feeling ready and energized. Then, I majestically fall through my front door and scratch my knee. Looking around, I pray no one has seen it. But, there is my landlord restraining a smile, “Teacher, bpai nai?*”
“Bpai ti rong rien. Bpai wing.*”
Her face shows an expression of “Oh, shit. This girl is going to die,” but her voice says, “Geng mak.*”
I take my short walk to school, dogs on my heels, and then, as I’m getting ready to run I see a group of my students playing takraw* with the gym teacher.
“Oh well, looks like they’re going to watch the farang* struggle and wind up on the floor.”
I start running. It’s really not too bad. Thankfully, my dogs have given up on following me, and the school dogs are unbothered. The music in my ear keeps me going, and it’s not unbearably hot. Halfway through my second lap, I look down, and I see two little shadows following close behind. Taking out my earbuds, I hear labored breaths, and I turn to see two P. 4* students jogging behind me, skirts blowing behind. My turning surprises them because they yell and say, “Teacher, run!” We have a small race, but I slow down when I see a gap between the two of them. One student fell behind, so we slow to a speed-walking pace. I point at different things, and we practice our English for a couple of laps. They go back down to the playground to catch their breath eventually. So I am back to business, running again.
“I guess this isn’t too hard.”
I promise myself to work out until 5:30 p.m. Looking at the clock, it is around 4:45. Keep running, I guess. I get a variety of looks from passerbies, and the gym teacher watches for a bit. When everyone else has retired I finish my workout and move until 5:30. Goal accomplished.
Next morning, my students have heard and many of them come up to me. “Teacher said you don’t like sports.” I don’t. I hate exercise. I hate sweat. I hate any form of discomfort. But honestly, Peace Corps is about embracing discomfort. So why not start exercising? Besides, twenty-seven is supposed to be the best year. I might as well work for it at twenty-four.
Aside from that, when lunch rolls around the gym teacher sits next to me, “You do good yesterday. You run again, right?” I wasn’t planning on it because it’s market day, and I need food.
“Yeah, I’m running today.”
“Good, I run too.”
Yay, encouragement and a running partner. This is also the first time the women teachers at my school don’t intervene and say that it’s inappropriate. First for everything. My students get into line for meditation. My two P. 4* running buddies come to me, “Teacher, run?”
“Yeah, I’m running again.”
They look at each other with excitement. I know where to find them after school. When meditation ends some of the older students who stayed behind the day before come up to me. One student who was absent for my running points at my post-lunch stomach.
“Teacher get fat.”
First off, rude. Second, wrong. It’s just the style of pants I wear; they do nothing to hide my stomach pooch, and they make it look like I have no butt. I wear them intentionally, not because I want to accentuate my lunch belly, but because stateside, I have been told that my backside really grabs attention, and it’s vulgar. Again, rude.
“Teacher mai* fat. Teacher wing mak*. Teacher exercise.” One of my students quickly defends me. I look at the offending student and say, “Teacher chop* strong. Teacher bpai* exercise. You bpai* exercise later?” They all look at each other and laugh a bit. They kindly decline, and when they grow tired of me harassing them with English they say, “Bye.”
As I lace up my shoes to run again, I feel optimistic. Yeah, maybe I won’t get my shit together by the time I’m twenty-seven, but this is a start, and I’m getting out of the house more and seeing my community. That’s what really matters in this. Even if the run begins with a fall, at least it began because now, I can go home, call up my family and really enjoy saying, “I was running!”
*bpai nai? (Where do you go?)
*Bpai ti rong rien. Bpai wing. (I go to school. I go run.)
*Geng mak. (Good job)
*takraw (kick volleyball)
*P. 4 (fourth grade)
*wing mak (run a lot)