Yaneth “Janet” Peña, 130 YinD
I once asked a friend if she felt her Peace Corps service had gone by quickly. She said: “the days are long but the months fly by.” Looking back at these last 27 months of service I can’t help but laugh at how accurate that phrase was. When I arrived in Thailand as a trainee, I came here ready. Ready for the challenges, the friendships, the adventure — all of it. Like most Peace Corps Volunteers I often daydreamed about what my site would be like. The relationships I would build, the students I would teach, even the cuddly dogs I would adopt. I would look at Instagram photos of volunteers serving at the time and think of how I would befriend the gang of yai’s and all the neighborhood kids. Needless to say, it threw me for a loop when I arrived at site and the main person who I interacted with was a 65-year-old Thai man who after every response I gave would answer with “I know.”
I remember when I first met my host dad, I was a bit intimidated. Where my host mom is small, quiet and shy, my host dad is formidable and gregarious. My host mom has never been much for talking so that inevitably left me and my host dad to have our own awkward dance of get-to-know-you’s. Those first couple weeks at site he’s who I spent the most time with. We’d spend hours in his car as he drove me to work and back, to see waterfalls, famous wats, and elephant camps, and of course to dinner. Every night without fail around 6:00pm he’d yell my name from downstairs and we’d go to one of the four restaurants he liked and our dance would begin again. We would talk about mundane things at first. What food I liked, the weather, if I missed my family, etc., and as the weeks and months went by our conversations got more in depth. We’d argue about silly things like why I think Messi is better than Ronaldo and sometimes serious topics like why he thinks Thailand should legalize cannabis. Often, to be honest, we would just sit in companionable silence while he watched some YouTube video and I scrolled through Twitter.
As I sit here now, days away from leaving my home, I’m reflecting back more and more to these quiet moments he and I shared and how much I’ll miss them. I’ll miss listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Glen Campbell during rides to the city. I’ll miss spelling words for him so he understands the pronunciation. I’ll miss laying on the hammock and listening to him play insanely hard chords on his guitar while he wears his cowboy hat. I’ll miss our fries and soccer outings with his grandsons. I’ll miss him meeting my friends and finishing his sentences while he makes the same jokes. Mostly though, I’ll just miss him. His quiet companionship and sabai nature. This amazing man who took in a stranger and gave her a second dad.
Time is slipping away now and I’m days away from having to say my hardest goodbye. I’m incredibly daunted by how not ready I am for it. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that, despite my best efforts, nothing I say, do or give will ever truly encompass how eternally grateful I am for him. I won’t be surprised though when the time comes to really say goodbye and he’ll just give me his patented grin and say “I know.” He knows.
I love you, Pa. See you at dinner.