I’d like to share the Christmas highlights and lowlights we have experienced thus far (get my blog title now? wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Christmas in Thailand has been on our radar for awhile now. Previous volunteers shared with us that it is a very special time here for this community, there are multiple parties to attend, and that you don’t want to miss it.
In the previous weeks, the grandeur of Christmas celebration for the Good Shepherd Sisters of Nongkhai has been unfolding. After John had one of his weekly meetings with the Care Center/Outreach staff a month or so ago, we knew that we had at least 5 parties to attend: for each of their programs here. Recently, we found out that we will be invited to another party for the agricultural program here. On top of all of this, the sisters and Antonia generously offered to have us over, and the timing worked out that we will spend Christmas dinner with them. If I’m keeping track of them all, I think this comes to 7 parties/invitations. We have a lot to look forward to!
We have “Secret Buddies” (the same as Secret Santas/Kris Kringles - just a different name for this community). As each Secret Santa always has its own specific set of rules/traditions, it has been a little difficult trying to figure out how this one works with the language barrier - as there is less translating occurring the longer we are here! We are in two different sets of Secret Buddies, and you can give small treats along the way. You write little notes (or at least your buddies’ names in our case) in Thai. Obviously, we don’t have much experience of writing or reading in Thai yet!
On top of that, we have been navigating buying gifts, as well as ingredients and supplies necessary to bake cupcakes as our Christmas contribution to one of the parties. After stopping at a watch store to get a new battery for a patient (thanks to John’s thoughtful nature), we happened upon a bake shop right next door. Thank goodness because it had almost everything we needed - and much cheaper than shopping would have been at Tesco-Lotus!
In his blog, John already mentioned one of our major highlights for our Christmas experience thus far: what we have lovingly nicknamed as “Christmas Camp,” a sleepover for 30 kids and teenagers. They got together in different groups, often helped to choose their program, and then practiced and practiced and practiced over the next 24 hours. John and I didn’t entirely understand or were told what the weekend would hold, but we happened to be there to use the internet and get some necessary tasks done (like our financial assistance application for our travel vaccines, which we found out our insurance did not cover after the fact!).
It was a blessing that we happened to be there! After we got some of the major internet tasks done, I headed out to spend more time with the kids and was delighted by their energy and charisma as always. I know a couple of the girls from their time spent with me for the month of October. Most of them are the daughters of my coworkers at Hands of Hope, and they have the option to come work for their month-long school breaks twice per year. They only work on products from our children’s line, and they get a break in the morning and the afternoon - usually with an activity led by yours truly!
Anyway, I hadn’t seen one of the girls much since then, and she is full of energy. She bounced all around me and John, and some of her peers joined in. At one point, they used John as a human jungle gym. They are beyond cute.
The teens and kids continued to practice, and we got to see the very early work-in-progress previews. We got to see them improve, after many, many viewings - resulting in all of the songs stuck in our heads! Before we left for the evening, upon the urging of one of the teens who lives in the Garden with us, we joined in and performed with them. It is my favorite routine so far. Think Christmas meets Zumba - but way cooler than what you’re thinking. Check out John's blog for a video and more details on Christmas Camp: http://thefreunds.squarespace.com/johns-blog/2015/12/16/christmas-camp
So, in the midst of our busy weekend trying to accomplish our normal tasks in the midst of slow/intermittent internet and buying Christmas gifts in a new land, we stopped and enjoyed the real reason we are here: to be with the people here. John and I were on a natural high afterward.
As the week progressed, unfortunately I sank back into Christmas-prep stress. On top of some year-end work activities/goals, Antonia (with my help) has been busy preparing for the first two parties. Hands of Hope was to host the first Christmas party, and we are all preparing for the second Christmas party, too. This second party invites many of the people who benefit from the Outreach program here; approximately 200 people will be in attendance. There will be those performances by the kids, as well as by Hands of Hope (and I’m directing the patients in a performance, on top of it!). Even though it’s a lot, I try to remind myself that it’s just fun, and that the goal isn’t to get Broadway performances out of everyone. I did find out that this is the first time that the patients have performed at this Christmas extravaganza party in years (maybe ever?), but no pressure, right? :)
Another sad complication is that our nurse assistant, Bon, ended up having an accident. A dog ran out in front of her motorcycle, and she ended up on the ground. Everything is okay, except her knee. It was pretty bad at first, but now we’re hoping that it won’t be a major ligament. Time will tell…
Bon is one of the major glue components that keeps the Care Center running. Besides more tasks than I will bother to name at this point, she often does two overnight duties per week. The staff scrambled to put together some replacements, but being thoughtful of us as always, no one asked us to help. We found out that someone who usually doesn’t do night duty by herself was going to take two overnight duties this week. John and I jumped in and took a second overnight duty for the week.
After our first overnight shift, I was a little over-taxed and stressed and perhaps overly tired, so I ended up having a mini-meltdown (just a good cry, really) - but it occurred in the middle of my morning. A dear colleague and friend made me stop what I was doing and change my plan for the morning, so I could take some time for myself. Later that day, as I eased back into Christmas prep with Antonia, I reflected a little. I thought that if I’m going to have some Christmas stress regardless, I would prefer that is for the reasons I have now: to take care of other people when they need it and to give people a joyful Christmas, people who really don’t have much.
As I look back on the Hands of Hope party (now that it occurred today), I think about my various coworkers here that I have come to know and love. There is the man who has cancer and is in the midst of treatments that they are not sure will help. He was really weak, but got to come to the party even though he has been not well enough to work in weeks.
There was the home worker (who I had as my Secret Buddy) who was so excited that I had her. She came and sat/stood near by me at several points after the reveal. Since she works at home, she doesn’t get the chance to connect with our coworkers as much - which can be a little isolating.
Then there is my coworker whose mother passed away this Sunday, but she traveled back from Laos anyway to be back in time for the party.
All these people: this is why I’m here. And this is why it’s okay to get a little stressed-out making a beautiful Christmas experience for them.
Of course, I would love to be the person who doesn’t get stressed so easily, but hey - one thing at a time! (At least the reason for my stress has improved!)