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

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Homecoming

I woke up present to the fact that I leave in one week from today.

Though its only been 8 weeks, this feels like what I’ve known for so long. It is my “normal,” my departure a break in what is now routine.

As I walked to our morning meeting, the familiarity enveloped me. A bicyclist clicked its bell and I did not even glance behind me to know where in the road they’d pass, and where to step so not to block the path.

A chorus of my name (“Si-tacey! Si-tacey”) chases my every step.

I stop at the usual places: Egide’s shop to greet him, Mama Obama’s to say hello and receive a hug from local Obama- a 4 year-old whose smile alone matches the charisma of his namesake.

I glare at the angry cow who eyes me this way every morning.

People ask eagerly, “Ujia hehe?” (where are you going), though they know my answer never varies, and they’ve likely asked scholars who already passed.

As I let the normalcy soak in, I am struck by my blog title and initial post.

What is home? The locale where you experience this feeling of normalcy? A place you know intimately? A space you call your own? A sense of belonging? Community? A source of comfort? Where you find yourself surrounded by love?

Whatever the definition, it seems as if I’ve found [another] home.

Far from Cinderella

I had the most difficult night in Rwanda so far a couple of weeks ago. My scholars were feeling frustrated and I sort of picked up their emotions during our reflection session and carried them home with me. I was physically exhausted from a more intense morning workout, impromptu hike across the village, and carrying a 25 liter water jug from my home to one of my scholar’s homesteads earlier that day.

With aching muscles and a critical attitude I could not shake, I was relieved to sit down to dinner, knowing sleep would come shortly. As I ate with my sister, things only worsened as she leaned over and whispered, “you are…. lazy!” and burst into a fit of laughter.

I was absolutely distraught. Fears, anxieties, and questions overwhelmed me. Was I really perpetuating the stereotype of the lazy American? Was I not helping out enough around the house? Did I read too much? Shoud I wake up earlier than my usual 5:30? I tried to remind myself of the good work I was doing while also acknowledge the differences in culture and lifestyle that we both faced.

After some translation and clarification the next day, I learned that my sister did not mean lazy, but sick. She was expressing concern since I did not have my usual level of energy and cheer.

Though we cleared this up, I have been slightly self-conscious about my participation in chores ever since. The reality is, though I am far from lazy, my aptitude for this lifestyle is subpar at best. As I write, my hands are screaming in discomfort, rubbed raw from a morning of washing clothes. Their soft, uncalloused surfaces are ill-equipped to handle the most mundane of tasks here.

Yesterday, I decided to be more assertive in my desire to help. I plopped myself in their cooking area- a brick room behind the house with two rings of fire surrounded by rocks- and said, “Nchaka kwiga guteka kama mama” (I want to learn to cook like mama). To my surprise, mama did not discourage me or placate me with a menial task like normal, but handed me the spoon.

I suspect the kids ran up and down the street announcing this, because soon neighbors crowded the door of the kitchen, craning their necks to see the mzungu at work.

We fried plantains and sauteed cabbage with other vegetables mixed in. I resumed my role as observor as mama prepared the chai.

We did all of this with a single pot, which rests on the edges of the rocks around the fire. When it grew dark, mama and I alternated holding a burning piece of wood from the fire above our work for light. I worked with caution, for every misstep sent food flying into the dirt. As I peeled potatoes, I was painfully aware of my waste each time I cut deeper than the skin.

I am amazed at their utilization of resources and impressive conservation. Water begins to wash clothes and, as it dirties, the basin that was for rinsing moves to washing, and the dirtier water is transferred to clean the floors. Very little trash is accumulated because everything is reused. I see few paper goods and the plastic bags we use for groceries in the States are illegal here.

This is such a contrast to life at home- to the immediate gratification of a stove burner and faucet, the convenience of electricity, and the waste that piles high.

I know that if mama came home with me, she would be equally overwhelmed by my life- even kitchen- with its plethora of tools for each disparate task. And perhaps I would ask her a question in Kinyarwanda and mix up my words, offering an insult instead of concern.

With a growing understanding of this complexity, I am seeking to move to a pace of seeing these things as mere differences, placing no label of “better” or “worse” on either.

Even with this intention, I struggle not to judge myself for my smooth hands and over-resourced life. As I look out and see my many clothes splash a rainbow of color across the bushes while they hang to dry, I wonder if I brought too much, own too much. And I hope that I will learn from this other way.