Thailand traffic is different than Illinois'; I romanticize it. The left side of the road is unsettling at first, but less so with a vigilant navigator. More flustering is the scrape of dry windshield wipers in place of the expected rhythmic clicking of a turn signal.
With rare exception the rule is 'politeness first,' in the country driving sense. The horn is used often, but pressed gently to signal 'Good afternoon, I am on your right.' Kind, informational, helpful. Slightly wider roads make room for an agreement among drivers to move over when a third lane is needed for passing: most lines go ignored. No one appears angry or annoyed, but you never know in a culture that frowns on emotional outbursts; still, I choose to believe the reason is common courtesy.
Santi is one of the drivers for the Friendship for all Foundation. An HIV negative employee, (not that it matters) he was the second person I met in Thailand and he drives all of the airport runs. I used to think he was a wild, aggressive driver. He drives quickly but safely. As we waited at the airport before our flight home, he held my hand (fingers interlaced) for what felt like 5 minutes: not an uncommon practice for men in much of the world. Luckily, I've had a year to be schooled in uncomfortable.
For the longest time I thought Santi was from Laos; I even began to think I could recognize Lao people based on facial features and a round face like his. If I had left after a year, I would still believe that. He is 100% Thai. Santi's uniqueness emanates from a soft, knowing smile that is unsettling once you learn he is a trickster. He speaks quickly and quietly, inviting you to draw near. He has a special way too: he will pull over to show you a beautiful view, he breathes in the area, and he shows a presence and respect for time and surrounding.
Sister Pranee mentions Santi as an example for the other employees. He started as just a driver, but with his extra time he found ways to help more. He is the resident barber, and he also delivers food to families in need. Last Christmas his wife and daughters came to our celebration, and one of his daughters made a beautiful scarf for Susan. Each of us had a 'secret buddy:' Santi was Susan's.
Last night, Susan and I went for one of our typical bike rides. The air between us has mostly cleared, but it was a densely humid night. Having talked a lot this weekend, we rode in an unusually quiet comfort - alternating focus between enjoying the vibrant green rice fields and avoiding tire flattening potholes. We turned down a red dirt road, passed a house with a kidney-shaped pool and came across a small village market. With some fried rice in our stomach and fresh guavas in tow we casually raced the darkness home.
As the sun set, the air cooled and chilled the moisture that collected on our skin. The quiet pierced by infrequent shrills of motorcycle horns - 'hello foreigner.' We rode and rode and the humidity held low the wonderful aromas of dinner cooking in open houses. Occasionally the food tones gave way to a smell of fresh dew or burning leaves. Pleasant and serene. We ended the night by teaching Lauren how to play Carcassonne - everyone knows you can only learn by losing.
- Sister Mary is home from the hospital.
- The staff has returned from meetings in Bangkok.
- My strength is much improved.