Note: I recognize that I have yet to update all that has physically happened here in Thailand, seeing as I am well into my second month here. So here it is. All that I can remember and all that I recall.
These past two months have probably shaped me more than I realize now. It could be months after returning back to Canada before I even know how much this trip has shaped me. I feel like I have talked enough about my experiences and initial thoughts in coming to Thailand and I must say that I have not been wrong about the emotional steps that would take place while being here. Before I came I would always say, “I don’t think that being away from home will actually hit me until my second month in.” I was right about that. But it didn’t feel like how I thought it would. It didn’t feel like I was missing home, but just people and friendships, and real, hard conversations with friends. It is something that is definitely posing as a challenge with having a language barrier. Not to say that hard conversations are impossible to have, just with the frustrations of not being able to clearly communicate everything you wish to say, and questions that can be translated into simple language is not something I really expected to have. However, in the short month that I have been in Takua Pa I am astonished by how quickly I have formd friendships, and strong ones. How quickly the kids I am teaching and will be spending so much time with, how they immediately loved me, and how it is only growing stronger. I would always joke about how people only like me for my hair. The bright red curls, and then how it throws them off when I tell them that my dad is Jamaican. It could be that maybe, my hair makes me appear more friendly or likeable or something along those lines. And there is proof to this statement! I’m not making this up, but, at least here in Thailand, Canada is a different story, but people here will always look up at my hair first, then at my feet (as if they are confirming whether or not I am wearing heels) and then look back at my face and give me a huge smile. In Canada people are just confused as to what exactly I am. But it’s incredible how quickly relationships have formed. I could easily just say that it has happened quickly because I am a foreigner and typically foreigners are quickly accepted, but this is different. I am not just passing through, so the smiles are different when I see some people more than once. Whether that’s at the 7-11, which are literally everywhere, they are basically what Tim Hortons is to Canada, or at the grocery store, on the street, at the schools, or in church. This only gets me more excited for the three months to come. Which sounds crazy to say.
As I say that I miss friends and family from home, I don’t feel like I have left. I actually try to stray from saying home, and just say Canada, because home in Thailand, and home in Canada feels the same. When you leave for an extended period of time, with the culture we have in our church, with friends we write letters to each other to remind us of why we are where we are, and also send them off with a little bit home, and a whole lot of encouragement and support. My friend Maddie wrote me a letter and in it she had said ‘it feels more like we are sending you home than we are sending you away.’ What she says is true. I really do feel so much at home here. Although I have a lot more learning to do in terms of language and culture, and also teaching, and just everything I am wanting to do here, but along the way I am learning. My friends are helping me learn the language by pointing at things like a tree and saying ‘tonmaay’ every so often. Although in a conversation they may never be talking about a tree, it’s still something. I went through a couple weeks where I was so frustrated because I felt like no one was talking to me. They knew English, but I felt as if they were talking around me. But then through only speaking Thai I was expected to learn the language which maybe should I be here for a year that could possibly work, but I was upset. On the other hand I do know some Thai, but I do not feel that it is enough to actually hold a conversation. So I was frustrated that I the amount of Thai I knew wasn’t getting me anywhere, that I was expected to just learn the language by listening, and to understand. It made some days and some moments really hard because I wanted to speak, and I wanted to talk but I just felt like I could not. I thought I had convinced myself that I could learn by listening, and start to understand, but that was it, I was only convincing myself rather than actually taking the time to listen to what was being said, whether or not I could understand. Which is where I got caught up. I wasn’t understanding, so I stopped listening. After speaking to my hosts about this and trying to establish a way that I could start to learn by just knowing the context of the conversation, I felt so much better. Also my close friend here, her dad is very passionate about me learning the language, so he has taken it upon himself that whenever I am with their family he teaches me as much as he can. Which is so encouraging. He believes that the best way for anyone to learn a language is to sit in a room and talk about the surroundings, which is exactly how I learn. Being very visual it helps to see what it is that is being talked about to also understand the meaning and context. With Thai being very different in the way how English has one word, but within context has a different meaning, Thai has a new word for the same thing depending on the context. Which I think is awful because then you have to learn and remember more words, but also is not as awful as I see it to be because then words are not misunderstood within context becuase the word changes. Anyways, after coming through some difficuties, which I had anticipated since the beginning, and will only encouter moer along the way, I am truly enjoying everything here. So I will now give you the timeline of all that I have done this month!
I landed in Takua Pa on March 6 with a friend, Matthew, from Bangkok. The first week was really great because I had month long friend with me, who spoke English, and was staying in Takua Pa for 3 days. Matthew and his family are partnered with Imagine Thailand, the organization I am volunteering for. This first week, not a lot had happened. I met the kids from the centre that I would be spending my full 4 months here with, and they are just absolutely beautiful. I love them all so much, and they so quickly warmed up to me. You know that it will not take long for them to love you and want to always be with you when the first thing you hear from about six of them is ‘oh! Suay!’ which ‘suay’ (soo-ai) means beautiful in Thai. And after playing with the kids for about 20 minutes they start fighting for you attention. It has been a great month here with the kids. Even as I am in Thailand at a weird time where the kids have their summer break in most of April, and some of May, many of the kids are finished school, so they do not come to the centre as much, or even at all now. After Matthew left, and from him doing most of the teaching because he needed pictures for his visa, it was my turn to teach. And we, as native English speakers, may think that English is really easy, and that it is not hard to understand at all, but try and teach it to kids. Not even just converstion, but the use of ‘a’ and ‘an’. It was not until I had to teach this to kids that I had fully grasped how ridiculous of a language English truly is. Trying to expain that, ‘well an is used infront of honour, and honest. And a is used infront of uniform‘ just really made me hate English, and just question everything that it is. I have only taught an English lesson that was so specific to grammar since, and I am so thankful.
After my first week in Takua Pa I had a few days on my my own before another friend, who is also my contact while I am here in Thailand, came up for the weekend. I was excited, but honestly, that excitement faded and almost kind of died because this was the first moment that I felt left out, and experienced the ‘talking around me’. He speaks Thai, what I think is fluently, to to say the least, the weekend was filled with conversations I didn’t understand and was not apart of. It was not intentional, but I am guessing they were conversations I did not need to be apart of, but it still would have felt better to be apart of a few. In saying this I was starting to wish that I had the first week to myself, so that I got the opportunity to become comfortable or aware of the differences and changes on my own. As this realization set in, that I was no longer understading anything at all really, that I was not feeling ‘comfortable’ or confident anymore. Becuase the amount of Thai I knew was perfect for getting by in Bangkok, but was not enough for living in Takua Pa. Also the difference in dialects in Thailand varies on the region, just as in Japan, or Ireland, and even Canada. This little bug of frustration, thankfully, did not grow as big as it could have, which I believe would have completely ruined my experience here. My personality has never been one of confronting. I always think if I can get over it, then it is not worth bringing up or talking about. But being in a place where that kind of thinking does not work, especially if these moments of frustration repeat themselves and last longer than they had initally when I first came here, then it is something that needs to be addressed. I am learning that it is important communicating feelings and that when I am asked to ‘evaluate’ my time spent here that I am not criticizing anyone, I am not complaining, and I will not hurt people’s feelings which is why I am hesistant sometimes, or most of the time. I am learning that how I feel is valid even if the other person thinks that what I am feeling is wrong, or that I am making it up. I am finding that it is important to communicate feelings to maintain honest and transparent relationships, but also that it strengthens a relationship. This continues to be a challenge because in the moments where I am frustrated I still stay quiet because I am still convincing myself that I will eventually get over it. I still feel the need to be invited to talk and to be honest when really I should not have to. This will be an on going process for what I think will be years to come, but it will in the end benefit every friendship and realtionship in the future.
When I was told I was teaching I had no idea what age they would be. So when I was planning the lessons and creating the games I had no idea I would walk into a room of 3 year olds. I sat in front of the kids with wide brown eyes staring at me. I suddenly felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Then I remembered something I had been told is that the best way to learn is through repetition, and then I had to go back and remember what it was like being three and what I liked to do. Or even just generally what 3 year olds like to do, and that’s move around. You can’t expect them to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time. I walked into that first day so unprepared for the age, but I was forced to think quick and think of games that they could understand. I can’t say that even by the end of my one month of teaching that I got it all figured out, but I do know that I got a group of 3 year olds to be so excited to shout the countries of the flags that belong to ASEAN, and to be really eager to say “My name is _____!” louder than I have ever heard an English speaking kid say. So I would say there was some success. The amount of times I listened to the animal sound song is beyond me, and how many times I counted to ten and back down. All I know is that the amount of times is only going to increase as my last two months are spent in 30 minute classes of more pre-kindergarten, but I am so excited. I must say that the best part about teaching English is that everyone learns. The children learn, the teachers learn, and even I am learning. I am learning how to teach in the best way that is both fun, engaging, and easy to understand, but I am also learning Thai from kids. Which there is nothing more humbling than learning from kids. It reminds you that you do not know everything. That you do have to look to others to learn, and learning a language the next best way is through kids. I was told by friends during my time in Bangkok, that learning from kids and being around them will help me learn the language becuase they use simple language. Do I understand what they’re saying? Absolutely not. Am I understanding any more? Maybe? I am not quite sure, but I do know that the smallest bit of Thai that I learnt has helped me in the classroom. I am able to ask the kids very simple questions and understand maybe 1/10 fo what they say to me. All the while it is a learning process and I will never stop learning. And there are now about 13 three year olds talking like I do 🙂
Three weeks into being in Takua Pa was the church camp which I flipped between dreading and being just so excited to be apart of. I was not exactly looking forward to it because if I am being honest, I was really wanting the weekend to be in English, which I did not let myself get too excited after seeing the speaker’s name was Joel. Some Thais are getting tricky with their western names that you just never know. When we arrived I was on my excitement high. The drive was breath taking, and the view from the hall that was rented out for the church was something out of a dream.
When I showed up two of some of my favourite girls shouted my name and ran to me with so much excitement and gave me a hug. Being around the kids from the centre, of which many of them attend the church, always brought me so much joy, just being around them all, so it was pretty well impossible for any frustrations to surface while I was around them. There were also a lot of youth that were there so I was feeling very optimistic about the weekend. I can honestly say, I have not been so excited to see a tall white man enter a room, as I was when the speaker of the weekend walked in. I was actually probably too excited. Anyways, over the course of the weekend, I was able to solidify and strengthen realtionships between the adults in the church, as well as the youth who are there. It was a pivotal weekend. Not only for myself but for so many in the room and it was so encouraging. I mentioned in my last post that I was having troubles really connecting with God even though I came here for him, I felt as if nothing was happening. So the first night Joel prophetically called out physical ailments that people had, and more than half the room stood up. Some people had multiple ailments that Joel was calling out. So he got everyone who was sitting to ask God if there was anyone specifically that he wanted us to pray for. I wasn’t really hearing anything, or feeling anything, so I just went to someone who had yet to be approached by anyone. This lady had pain in her right leg, from what I could understand, but what was also spoken out in a testimony later the next day (huehue spoiler) was that she’s had this pain for over a year. So as I prayed and thanked God for her, and her life, and for the healing that he was doing, it was time to test it out. She said that it was feeling better, but as Christians we sometimes like to be the nice Christian and say ‘yes it feels better’ even when it feels the same. Which is crap. I would love to why because you are not helping anyone. How I perceive this is almost saying ‘well, God didn’t heal me this time, so I guess I am supposed to live with this pain.’ Maybe I am wrong, but that’s how I see it. With the obvious language barrier, it was difficult to really be able to tell if it was feeling better, or if she was just saying that because she did not understand what I was saying. So Joel asked those who were feeling a difference in pain to raise their hands and all around the room hands went up. He did the “100% better, 80%, 50%, hardly, a little, or same” survey and the hands varried. We praised God for those who were feeling 100% all the way to even the slightest bit better. Then to encourage those who were not feeling better at all, and for those who had improved, Joel quoted Mark 8:24 where Jesus prays for a blind man twice who after being prayed for once could “see men who walk like trees” and so Jesus prayed for him again and could see! So we prayed a second time for those who were still in need of healing, and many more improved while some remianed the same. He continued to tell testimonies of people who he had prayed over and were healed over night, and even over weeks, that the Holy Spirit would move over night and people would wake up healed. So the next morning he asked who had been healed, and so many hands went up. it was amazing! Over the weekend hands went up throughout the days, including the lady who I had prayed for. It is important to recognize that I did not heal her, I just said some words, nothing fancy or Earth shaking, but a simple prayer, and God healed her by the end of the weekend. The pain that she had for a year was gone in just three years! God is so good!
As the weekend progressed I was becoming closer friends with everyone there. The women absolutely love me, and I just absolutely love them, and over three days my frustrations were stripped away. As of 2 weeks, which may not seem like a long time, but nonetheless, I have not felt the least bit frustrated. My focus on pretending to listen and acting as though I was OK with not understanding has completely flipped. I am hearing words, and almost feel as if I understand which has made being around people in the church, and the kids at the centre, as well as teaching my little 3 year olds, so much more enjoyable, but also so much fun. I have a good 3 months for more challenges to come my way and I can only expect that, however I am not worrying about them or anticipating when they will come because in coming to Thailand and going after the call God has on my life I did not want it to be easy. I did not want to be comfortable. If I had, I would have just stayed in Canada and lived out my life there. That’s not all what I want for my life. To be uncomfortable with God, is to exercise trust in God, and faith in God. To allow Him to be your comfort, not your church to be your comfort, or your friends, or your family, but God.
With much love and thanks,