Remember how John and I shared about our ideal days here and what they looked like? Well, I haven't had one of those in awhile.

I mentioned last week how busy my work has been, and how busy everyone has been preparing for Christmas - as I’m sure you all have been busy preparing for the holidays yourself in your respective homes!

I have also written about the large amount of personal time we have had, and we just haven't had as much recently. John and I have come to see that extra personal time as necessary here. It gives us a chance to process all the new things here - because everything is continually new! It’s our first time spending the holidays away from our families. It’s our first time buying all of our presents in a new country - on a smaller budget…

We had a bit of ‘fun’ with gift-buying. The staff decided last-minute to do a ‘lucky-dip’ exchange (as Sr. Pranee calls it), where we each bought a gift of 200 baht to bring to our staff Christmas party the next day.

Here's a photo of a U.S. nurse and a Thai nurse (Krisida), with Sr. Pranee in between!

Thankfully, Krisida, the Thai nurse here, let us borrow his car to make a quick trip to Nongkhai to buy a couple of gifts. We were wandering Tesco and stumbled upon a bargain bin. Well, we decided to buy a hot-water pot - the nice kind where you just push down on the top and hot water comes out the spout - like most every coffee pot at a 7/11 or gas station back home in the states.

When we got home, I decided that we should try it to make sure that it works. After several tries by John to fix it, it still took about 20 pushes on the top to get half a cup of hot water… That was a flop!

It was after 8pm at night, the gate to the Garden where we live was locked, and we don’t travel at night on our bikes. Buying another gift was not an option. Thankfully, we had bought some extra, special Hazelnut instant coffee. So we plopped that and a coupon for a 15-minute massage by yours truly into a gift bag as one of our ‘lucky dip’ gifts.

Christmas Eve celebrations at local Catholic church - with many presentations and plenty of food beforehand outside!

Since that was our last guaranteed night free from events until Christmas, we also filled it with some thorough cleaning before the next big Christmas party in the Garden, John’s first attempt at baking cupcakes in Thailand, and wrapping a few gifts. We had just had overnight duty the night before, so you know what that meant the next morning? Let the record show that John was still sleeping and I was awake writing this - because that rarely happens!

I’ll let John share the joy of baking in another country, if he so desires at some point…

At one of our many parties, we ate this egg, called a 100-year-old egg. Its different color comes from ash in its preservation (or something like that!).

The reason that John is so tired after overnight shifts and I’m usually more functional is because John is so thoughtful of me. He lets me sleep through the night if we don’t have unusual cases in the Care Center. He often stays up until midnight and then awakes at a later time to check the pampers of our patient who suffered a stroke years ago and does not have the full mobility of her limbs. Then we both wake up around 5:45am to complete all of the morning duties: preparing morning medications and assisting our less mobile patients with showering.

As I write this and have experienced my own Christmas ‘stress,’ I am dually aware of other coexisting aspects here. Being around people who experience poverty and marginalization changes my perspective at times. It's hard to describe what it's like to be around. It's not any one thing that you can put your finger on.

We have our Secret ‘Buddies,’ and the patients are a part of that pool. The ones in wheelchairs cannot even walk to the ‘corner store’ to buy their presents for the final exchange. As we were leaving Tesco from our last-minute stop, with ice creams in hand (and the new Merry Berry dip that we have just recently discovered at KFC) - because really, I pretty much can’t stop at Tesco without buying ice cream… We ran into one of the young adults from the Garden. Without totally understanding what she meant (she speaks quietly and of course there is a different language involved), I gleaned that she wanted to come back with us in our borrowed car.

We had more than one ice-cream experience this week. All of us staff enjoyed multiple rounds of ice-cream at our staff Christmas party - including Antonia!

Eventually, she conveyed to me that she wanted to be dropped off along the way, and we finally discovered how she had made it all the way to Tesco. She biked halfway, and then most likely took a tuk-tuk (the Thai version of an open-air taxi cab) to Tesco. We saved her some time and money in returning her to her bike.

So in the midst of my own busy day, I can also see the privilege that I have. When I need something last-minute, I can ask for it and get it - even in a foreign country. I asked Antonia for time-off to run the errand, Krisida let us borrow his car, we had enough money saved from our stipend to buy some last-minute gifts without worry…

John and I have been reading these little one-page reflections - written by former/current volunteers - as part of our pauses during the holiday season. This week, we read about how once you have done something like our volunteer year, you are ‘ruined.’ I didn’t like the negative connotation of that word at first, but I can definitely relate to it as it sits with me a few days later.

I think I am ‘ruined’ in a good way already. I don’t think I’ll ever look at Christmas, or gift-buying, or my privilege quite the same. And that’s a good thing. We all need to be reminded of what we are blessed to have and what others are not.

Before I came here, I was aware of my privilege in some ways already - at least, intellectually at times. But here - I can feel it in my heart and the very essence of my being. And I don’t ever want to lose that. So I’m okay with being ‘ruined’ for life. It will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Finally - a moment to breathe! We enjoy internet time with a view of the fish pond at Hands of Hope.