One foot in America, the other in Thailand

As some of you have requested, I eventually want to clarify some of the logistics of our life here. But first, let me indulge with some other thoughts and feelings. I don’t want to belabor the point, as I feel like I did in person before I left, but I really miss you all. I miss so many things about my life. Sometimes it does indeed make me wonder what I’m doing here. While on the east coast for training, I met a volunteer from a few years ago, and when following up with me, she mentioned having the same thought when she first arrived: what did I get myself into?

And it’s not that I don’t appreciate that I’m here. I truly enjoy the people I’m with, and I especially feel like I’m making a difference when massaging the patients, employees at Hands of Hope, and the staff. I’m grateful for this opportunity.

But it doesn't make me miss my previous life any less. I also recognize that I (like most people) look back at the past with a rosy hue of nostalgia and perhaps glorify it a bit. But man, I do miss it. I miss the band like crazy. I haven’t found a good way to replace my love for music here. I’m trying to, but there are a few things in my way: the way-too-small keyboard that I brought, a lack of sheet music, my right arm and shoulder pain following me from last week, my sadness for missing what I had, and the lack of persistence to create and adapt musically here thus far.

(Note: if you want to support the band in Chicago sans yours truly, check out their gig this upcoming week at The Mutiny: October 2nd).

I miss my friends and family. I miss my private massage clients. I miss my coworkers. I’m sometimes frustrated that life is happening in the states without me. I’m missing the joys and the frustrations and the illness and the babies and children growing up. I realize that I’m sitting in a moment of self-pity. All in all, I have been in a better spot with all of the transition the past couple of weeks, but intermittently since I have been here, I have these types of thoughts.

These are some things that help to fill my soul: 

  • the endless beauty in the sky and how it changes every evening and every direction you look
  • the quiet evenings and their often lack of obligation
  • the joy of sticky rice
  • the delicious meals on Monday nights when we have a community dinner with the rest of the Garden
  • how much more I appreciate the cooling effect of rain
  • the smiles of the people here, especially a 16 yr old girl and the patient who has a childlike nature due to TB of the brain
  • the hugs from Sukanya and Viscinie. They are both very thin, live in the garden with us, and work at Hands of Hope. Sukanya was unable to walk due to her health, but now can walk, work, and take care of herself.
  • the English-speaking and Thai translations from Jiranun - who always has a smile for me, even though her uncle just passed away

Onto a few logistics. I hope I’m not repeating too much from our previous posts… We live in the Garden of Friendship, along with the Care Center and some additional housing for people who work, as well as some higher-functioning patients. John works at the Care Center full-time, with the shortest commute ever: maybe 100 feet away.

It takes 7 minutes to bike to Hands of Hope, my primary place of employment. The schedule may continue to shift, but I massage my coworkers there on Wednesday afternoons. I massage the patients at the Care Center on Monday and Friday afternoons. I also assist with a group activity at the Care Center, one morning per week. I will also begin music therapy at the Care Center another morning, along with Kate (pronounced Gate) - one of the social workers. 

I know that I will (and already do) appreciate aspects of this volunteer year. I am already much more aware of the need in the world, now that I’m faced with it in very real ways every day. I think my priorities will be even better upon my return. My longing for my previous American life makes me want to live a little differently upon my return: to let go of some of the anxiety and nonsensical worries and time-wasters, and to find ways to spend time with the people I care about, doing activities I enjoy.

View from the Temple, overlooking Laos across the Mekong River.

Part of our bagged lunch: chicken and egg!

…Then we have days like today. It was a big field trip. Almost everyone from the Garden of Friendship came: the people who live in the houses/units, all of the patients who can walk unassisted, and some staff. We hopped on the back of one of the covered, pick-up trucks that the sisters own.  We drove well over an hour in the back of the pick-up truck to a temple (wat) up in the mountains, overlooking the Mekong River and Laos. There were some really wonderful views. We experienced a little bit of Buddhist culture, and even got blessed by a monk with a surprisingly large dousing of holy water. We ate lunch in the covered area of a nearby market (it was incredibly hot today, so the covered part is important). We ate sticky rice, spicy papaya salad, chicken, boiled eggs, and a few other dishes. Then we headed to a second temple and experienced some other Buddhist rituals (perhaps I will cover the details of these rituals more in another post).

It was a really great day to connect with this community. I got to know Maddy better. She is 8 years old and full of energy. She sat by me during one of the car rides and taught me some Thai words for animals (i.e. ling = monkey). Her mother shared with me today that she arrived in the Garden when she was pregnant with her and prayed that Maddy wouldn’t end up with HIV/AIDS; thankfully she did not. 

I was able to connect with another, newer patient today. John actually describes some of her background in an upcoming post. She is the wife of a patient who passed away 10 days after we arrived. She had a previous husband who abused her, and as a result, she walks slowly with a significant limp. She is also an alcoholic and was not allowed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous due to the fact that she has HIV/AIDS (There is a fairly extreme aversion or shunning of people with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and definitely some misinformation or lack of information out there - as I’m sure some of the same still exists in the U.S., too). 

As I stated, her husband very recently passed away, and, as an alcoholic, she would walk to the village and drink. However, she has not done that very much the past week. The main nurse here finally said it was okay for me to massage her. I had a very positive first massage with her, involving some energy work, because she could handle very little pressure on the area she wanted to focus on: her leg and front of her hip. The next day (today), we went on our field trip to the temples. She and I were connected in a whole new way, and she smiled so genuinely at me. I helped her walk sometimes, since the day involved lots of steps and kneeling and getting back up.

It’s days like these that take me out of myself and encourage me to accept all this year has to offer, rather than focusing on what I’m missing.

Flower offerings to give at the temple. They also give these to special guests. We received them many times during our first week in Thailand.

Flower offerings to give at the temple. They also give these to special guests. We received them many times during our first week in Thailand.

Before I wrap up this post, John and I had on our first overnight shift at the Care Center without any other employees to assist us this week (some of which was very challenging, but I won’t go into details now, so as to not extend this blog post any longer than it already is!). We put a couple of patients to bed, because they need assistance. Nancy, whom I have mentioned before (she had a stroke and cannot really talk and has limited strength and control of her legs), seemed to want something else before I left the room. After getting her blanket situated and a few other things, I didn’t know what else to do. So I leaned in and gave her a hug. She smiled, and it seemed like everything was complete. When I was chatting with John a few moments later, he said that is what she must have been indicating to him a little earlier. She wanted to give us a hug!

So that is how I shall end this blog, with a hug from Nancy, and I’ll let you envision her shining smile afterward.