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Breaking the silence

I sit in front of Tonsai pier. On the southwest center of Koh Phi Phi, I look out to see towering limestone formations draped in shrubbery, a stretch of water between me and them. The bay is crowded. To the left is a neat row of longtail boats, the traditional vessels adorned in ribbons to bless the journey and honor the ocean. To the right, clusters of speedboats abound attesting to the booming tourist industry here.

Behind me is a paved road cluttered with shops boasting of imported goods for the tourist’s consumption.

To understand my emotional response, we need to turn back the clock three weeks.

I arrived on Koh Lipe- an island five hours by boat from my current location- on Thanksgiving. More remote, it is in the midst of a transition Phi Phi’s already seen. 

In the past nine years, Lipe went from having four resorts to over 200. The island’s center, once swamp, was converted to a “walking street market”. The local Chao Lay people- originally semi-nomadic fisher folk- are being crowded into an increasingly smaller pocket of land away from the shore.

When the students arrived to Lipe, we met with the Chao Lay group and learned about their community organizing efforts. They told us their story of selling their land to a business man some thirty years. They explained their unfamiliarity with the notion of land as something to own; the enticement of short-term profit without a sense of long-term costs; the twenty-year lag before any consequences came. When the man (now in jail for his role in a human trafficking ring) sold it in plots to hotel owners and other developers. When Lipe joined Phi Phi amongst the must-see spots of Thailand’s attractions.

We spent the next week paddling around the Adang Archepelago camping on neighboring islands. Surveying tourism’s other costs as we snorkled at dwindling reefs whose fish populations decline every year. (To be fair, commercial fishing and changes in climate also contribute to the reefs’ threatened state).

I probably should have better considered all of this when scheduling an island vacation to directly follow. Or perhaps this is the best time to really examine myself as a tourist.

Either way, here I am. Peering into Lipe’s future as I step onto Phi Phi.

Getting off the ferry, there was a line of tourists 200 deep. Just one of six departures for today, as I too am one of countless boatloads being ferried in.

While I want to handle all of this with the complexity and nuance it deserves, today I feel the need to just respond emotionally.

To sit in my sadness. My fear. My guilt. To wonder where we are heading and what my role is in the future of this resilient though greatly taxed planet.

To ask: should I be here? How do I do so responsibly?

What is my every purchase supporting? What livelihoods- and life- does my presence threaten?

How do we account for the fossil fuel consumption, waste production, and cultural imposition of travel? 

These questions crowd my throat, tearing at my voicebox. Begging for a response that alludes me. Stripping me down to the desperate inquiry: how do I find space to breathe in the midst of all of this? Leaving me fearful of the more pertinent: how are my choices choking off the planet’s own breath?

That’s where I land today. On Koh Phi Phi with a growing concern of what that means. I’ll leave you here to go find some trees. Whom I’ll thank for their important work of inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. I’ll breathe in this gift as I unite mind, body, spirit with the breath of the world. As impartial of a response as it seems, I’ll return to my practice, inching closer to a disposition from which to view this crazy beautiful, deeply aching moment in time.

From which to be me: a tourist, an activist, a healer, a consumer. A living contradiction.

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First things first

Following my recent post naming this moment in history as white America’s wake up call, I received comments and inquiries from people asking what exactly they can do to contribute to racial justice. This is a great question and one I plan on addressing soon. But before I share that, I want to outline eight core assumptions I hold when working for racial justice.

I am starting here because these mental models inform the action and recommendations that I’ll offer. Without an understanding of how I see race and privilege, I think it is easy to then misunderstand what it is I am calling us to. With the intention of creating mutual understanding and identifying our shared foundation- or points of divergence- I offer this list. Continue reading “First things first”

Dear white friends

4:00am in Chiang Mai. A neighboring dog has been incessantly barking for the past hour.

It feels like the perfect metaphor for my mind. Because another looped alarm has been ringing since the day I left the US.

It was an interesting day to leave the country. June 27, 2015.

You might recognize it. The day after the historic Supreme Court ruling that established marriage equality in the United States.The same day our president stood before those grieving the loss of nine black churchgoers who fell victim to domestic terrorism.

It was a big week. As someone committed to creating a more socially just world, it was a week that made it feel counter-intuitive to be settling elsewhere when the country feels ripened for— and in desperate need of— social change.

I don’t believe in such dualities in terms of where one must be to engage in important work. Yet still, a question of responsibility remains ever present.

Increasingly present in fact, when, in the six weeks I’ve called Thailand home, at least five black women have died in police custody.

It is this that I want to speak to here.

Specifically, it is the responsibility of White America I’d like to address. Continue reading “Dear white friends”

Five weeks in

Five weeks ago, I arrived in Chiang Mai to make a new home and start a new job. This past month was filled with adventure, learning, joy, and a fair amount of “oh, shit” moments.

Note that time to blog is missing from this list. To catch you up, I thought it would be fun to give you a run down of my experiences by week and “theme”…

Week one: The week of unbridled enthusiasm

In a nutshell: My enthusiasm was unbridled

The moment that captures everything: Riding my bike through the old city and realizing that this is my daily reality

Overheard saying: “I am just so happy!”

Lingering questions: When am I going to clean my kitchen? Why didn’t I bring any dresses? Is my transition really going to be this easy?

Week two: Learning at every turn

In a nutshell: I started my new job, began daily Thai language classes, and figured out how to feed myself, get around, be a host, and do laundry

The moment that captures everything: That time I realized I’d washed two loads of laundry with only fabric softener…

Big takeaway: Never leave your house without a rain jacket

Lingering questions: In such an international city, how do I be intentional about connecting with local people and culture?

Week three: This is why I came here

In a nutshell: My co-workers and I headed to Mae Hong Son province for a week to meet with our community partners, hike up a mountain, and review the field activities for the Forests course

The moment that captures everything: Hanging out on the stoop of a neighbor’s house having the kids teach us how to make paper airplanes and say Thai tongue twisters late into the night— and by that I mean like 21:00

Overheard saying: “Tableu!” [hint: the Karen greeting and word for thank you. Be careful with your tone though, otherwise you are saying “crazy”]

Big takeaway: I already love my job

Week four: The week where it feels real…and lonely

In a nutshell: I had this depressing thought that if the three friends I’d made couldn’t hang out, I had no one else to even ask. Then the thought followed me through a week of really long training while my Person was without access to the Internet.

The moment that captures everything: Walking through the aisles of the farang grocery store clutching a box in my hand while repeating out loud, “I will not lose it over goldfish. I will not lose it over goldfish.” after going to the grocery store for some goldfish (there weren’t any) at the end of a hard day

Overheard saying: “I will not lose it over goldfish.”  [people nervously clear the aisle as she walks by]

Big takeaway: If you see something you want at Rimping, buy it

Week five: Sprinting the marathon

In a nutshell: In response to the week prior and my training having wrapped up, I booked my social calendar a bit too full and then hit a wall on Friday giving myself a solo weekend to reconnect and reassess my daily rhythms

Overheard saying: What are you doing tonight?

Big takeaway: Though an extravert, I do still need alone time even as—especially when— I deny myself it
Lingering questions:
How do I create balance in developing community and cultivating healthy rhythms? What self-care practices do I need to dedicate myself to? When am I going to clean my kitchen?

For more beautiful, challenging, and funny moments—or really to see a lot of pictures of pretty things and my favorite drinks (read: beer and coffee)— follow me on Instagram @staceystravels

Scattered pieces

I flew into Chiang Mai close to midnight. The city was dark as a co-worker drove me to the house.

As we passed buildings and navigated the city streets, everything felt vaguely familiar. I recognized shops and remembered different landmarks, but couldn’t quite place them geographically. Struggling to conjure an image of the city’s grid, I held miniature puzzle pieces in my hand with little recollection of the picture on the box. Continue reading “Scattered pieces”

Reality check

Riding my bicycle through the Old City of Chiang Mai yesterday, I passed a woman also riding. She was meandering slowly down the street while an auto rickshaw driver prepared to pull out in front of her. I knew I had time to get around them before turning left at the next light.

I checked my mirror and then over my shoulder. Using my arm to signal, I swiftly moved into the other lane.

It was a simple moment. A simple decision. 

Yet as I passed, I experienced this deep revelation: I live in Thailand. Continue reading “Reality check”

Re-dressing

I am back in San Diego and excited to have more clothing than what I carried on my back the past eight months. Getting dressed this morning, I was struck, though, by the ways that my clothes fit differently.

A shirt flares out at the hips in a way I didn’t remember; my pants feel tight in my thighs.

I likely misremembered some of my clothes, like this shirt’s quirky cut. The rose-colored lens of nostalgia remembered how things felt on a bright day more than what they were. I don’t think the material changed from lack of use, but its tempting to say that’s another piece.

I suppose too my body has changed. Legs boasting the muscle built from a more active year. Stomach softened by the carb-heavy diets of communities abroad and beer-filled nights once back in the States.

Staring at the mirror contemplating this outfit that feels new and slightly off while familiar and so me, I think ‘yep, that’s about right’.

Because this is what returning is like…Coming back to a place that is different than you remembered it- both in the ways its changed and in the ways your memory of it made it something else. Being different than you were when you were last here.

I feel a bit as if I am in a fitting room that is my childhood town. Easing into relationships and tugging at their seams. Turning around to get a 360 view of what things look like. 

It’s all new and slightly off while familiar and so so me.

The circle game

In a profound circle, I find myself at the final country of this trip, my first last year. For our South Africa orientation, we are staying at the backpackers where my TBB travels began seventeen months ago.

My first photo from last year's trip, taken at my current accommodations
My first photo from last year’s trip, taken at my current accommodations

As I crawled into the bed I first slept in at the onset of my international tour with TBB, a rush of memories flooded my mind. Faces of students who are now dear friends resurfaced. Conversations and views played on a loop, cycling through various joys and adventures of TBB.

I fell asleep laughing with my co-worker and friend, another repeated experience.

This morning, I wrestled with the water heater and then found a flat spot to lay my yoga mat. Every action is simultaneously new and repeated— not in a boring sort of way, but in a centering one.

With this return to the beginning, I am reminded of the thrill and excitement of the start. My eyes are opened once again to the beauty, the wonder, the daily gift of this life abroad.

On the road to the students’ homestays where they’ll settle into later this week, there is a curve just at the top of a hill. As you round it, it reveals a stunning view of the ocean. The water stretches out behind a row of houses, with the sky as expansive just above. Every day as we made this drive last year, Beth would say “take a moment!”. With brimming gratitude and disbelief at our job, lives, and world, we would look out at the view and feel all that we’d been given.

In truth, this same job is now routine; this life, sometimes tiring. Yet this world is still full of wonder; gratitude and awe are still the appropriate responses to the opportunities before me. Long forgotten in the normalcy of my extraordinary, today I took a moment.

Greeting the sun with some salutations, I felt at home. It was a feeling of at home in the universe that Parks speaks of and to which my blog title alludes. I was rooted in a connected orientation to life.  One that Knows gifts when they are given, that takes time to remember and experience wonder anew.

As I moved through the asanas, the sun rose above the clouds shining directly on me. I stood in its light, in my own Light. I circled back with a smile and sensed that my return is not only to South Africa, but also to self.

Crescent moons

With the new moon— a time to reflect on what we are giving birth to within— and three weeks of my 2015 intention of LOVE, I wanted to explore what it looks like so far…

Love looks like mindful mornings:
waking with music, greeting the day
with joy and creativity.
Opening my journal, and my heart, to the present moment.

Love looks like regimented sleep.
Screens off. Lights out. A time for rest to be fully indulged.

Love looks like process.
With accidental late nights and open screens
slipping through the cracks
of better set plans.

(With mantras to remember that its okay to slip sometimes.) Continue reading “Crescent moons”

Wanderlusting

She set off around the world with the gushing optimism of a twenty-something landing her dream job.

Lesson number one: dream jobs can still be challenging.

She accepted this. Embraced this. Learned to be open to life in all its complexity— desperate loneliness and profound community, agonizing pain and overwhelming joy.

Paradox became her normal. Her honest truth.

Contradiction revealed itself at every turn as she labored toward a life of congruence.

Continue reading “Wanderlusting”