So I am not the control type - really, I’m not. I do not have a need to be in control, I do not ask to be in control, and I really don’t even like to be in control. When we made the decision to volunteer abroad, I tried to keep my ideas and expectations of the coming year pretty low. I avoided making a lot of plans, and thought I would come here with my quiet, happy disposition and settle in for the ride. Most days I feel I have been succeeding in that goal, but sneaking frustrations have been starting to pile up.
I have not thought about it in a long time, but in my college days I gave a lot of credit to the little things. I remember renting an apartment and then spending a year showering with almost no water pressure (here I have learned you can shower effectively with a bucket of water and a giant ladel). I don’t want to go too deeply into my first world problems, but suffice it to say I have never rented another apartment without first checking the water pressure in the shower.
The low water pressure experience left me thinking about how managing the little things on a daily basis could leave me open to an overall happier existence. At that age, I imagined I had a finite amount of daily tolerance for frustration, and once it was used up - well, you got the less fun John for the rest of the day. Managing the small things worked for me, and overtime it must have become second nature because I have not thought about it in a long time. Now, drop me into a volunteer program, in a foreign country, where I do not speak the local languages and after 2 months I’m reminded how easily small frustrations add up, and sometimes they boil over and I become Mr. Hyde John.
Before I go too far into this post, I want to share a short story to avoid sounding trite. Really, all of this came to a head when Susan and I arrived 2 hours late for an event on Sunday. It’s complicated, but it seems there were several breakdowns in communication and we arrived in the final moments of a memorial service honoring the dead at the cemetery. We felt we had let down a member of the community whose daughter died a year ago, and looked like insensitive volunteers by arriving late to this type of event. It wasn’t purposeful, or malicious, and subsequently there have been a lot of apologies and a lot of people who feel bad about the situation, and we still do too.
So there I was today, cruising down the highway in the bed of a pickup truck at 80 kilometers an hour at 1400 (2pm) as we abruptly pulled over because a 2 year old had to “pass feces!”. I got it. With the traffic whizzing by, the sweltering sun beating on my arms, a man sitting next to me taking shade under the oldest, rustiest umbrella I have ever seen, and as the driver was walking through the brush to deliver wet wipes - I feel a small smile and the mental quiet that arrived with a complete surrender of control - at least for the moment. At any moment, anything can happen. That 'anything' may be arriving late at a memorial ceremony, missing a beauty pageant at the festival, being offered and eating a little raw meat at lunch, or a 2-year-old pooping in the bushes on the side of the road.
So when I look back, I realize that I had been subconsciously grasping for control of many small things that were clearly beyond my control. I had no concept of the inner (and occasional outer) torment this was creating.
There are still the day-to-day issues of course, do not get me started on the internet, but reflecting on these frustrations brought a startling realization. A part of me wanted people to be available whenever I was, to give their time to me or my blog, and to, I guess, know that everyone is preoccupied with what I am doing - as if everyone else’s life stopped once I left. Oh the entitlement...and I despise entitlement.. and in this moment a despise myself!
So hear I am, settled into an existence where maybe now I am a little more free and open to a world of unknowns. A place where I can settle in, remember that I am blogging for those that are interested and to take time to reflect for myself, in the hopes of realizations like this and ensuring I can provide as much love as possible while I am here.
Now, I grasp that this decision to volunteer is not one that even some of my closest friends may understand, be interested in, or have the time for right now. And that's okay and it does not reflect negatively on them or our relationship. But, maybe one of you could warn them that they may have to suffer through a lifetime of ridiculous anecdotes that start “when I was in Thailand”.
High - There were a lot of highs this week. We went with the patients and saw a huge theatrical production on the riverfront, fireworks, a small carnival, and we saw the Naga Fireball (learn more)celebration of Thai Buddhist Ramadan. I think what stands out the most is working with one of the patients as she attempts to learn to walk. It has only been a week, and I can see her motivation growing as her strength and stability improves.
Low - I think the blog was about the low, but I also got a heat rash on my neck #tropicalproblems.