Moving in: Talking relationships with Brandi Carlile and music with Elizabeth Gilbert

It all began in the middle of December 2010, and ended last Tuesday.  I knew I had no idea what I was getting into, but I had no idea what I was getting into.  The Peace Corps tells new volunteers to make sure they bring their sense of humor.  I was about to find out how necessary this was.

My journey began in the middle of December as this is when I moved out of my apartment and back with my parents before I left for Thailand.  I didn’t realize, for the next four months, my independence was going to be destroyed like the Minnesota Twins in a playoff series against the Yankees.

Taken at my going-away party. I thought I was just hitting baseballs, but it turns out it was a metaphor for my future - the baseball representing my independence for the next four months.

Thankfully, my father let me use his car in the time I was back in Forest Lake.  I still got out when I wanted or needed to as I prepared to leave for the Peace Corps.

While I stayed in Philadelphia, Tokyo and eventually Ayutthaya, Thailand, hotels, for training, I had a roommate.  Paul is a great roommate, so I still hadn’t really felt I was lacking independence.  It wasn’t until I was sent to live with a host family where it started to hit me.

I should point out that both of my host families were wonderful.  At the same time, I was a 32-year old man who’d lived alone for a good part of the last nine years since college.

My independence disappeared like the head of a frightened turtle.  But I was okay with this because this is what I signed up for.  I knew I’d be learning new life experiences while sacrificing luxuries.

What would I be learning?  I made the point of forcing myself to learn when I checked the box on the host family application sheet that asked if I was willing to live in a home with small children.  I get along with most kids.  Some of them even like me.  But I’ll never be one of those people who baby talk with the infant behind them in line at Target.  I can build a repoire with kids, but when I meet them, I’m normally as shy as they are.

So I spent the next two and a half months living with a seven- and two-year old (girls).  We got along great.  There were times I wanted to tell the two-year old, “I’m reading my book.  Leave me alone,” or, “Please don’t touch my food with your finger that’s been Buddha-knows where,” or, my personal favorite, “Don’t hold that cat like that!”

Despite their cat-handling skills, these were two good kids and we had fun together.

Luckily, my time in Sam Bandit was more than just trying to teach the two-year old how to be nice to the cat.  There was many good times and most involved Ti (

Then it was off to the tambon of Thepraksa, the ampur of Sangka and the province of Surin.  (Got it?)  Peace Corps requires volunteers to spend the first month at their sites to live with a host family.  Some volunteers choose to live with their host families for the entire two years, but most move to a place of their own.  As for me, my host family could have been Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Gilbert and Brandi Carlile and I still would have wanted to get a place by myself (I would still frequently visit those ladies, of course).

As it turned out, my second host family was even more fitting for my tastes than the first.  There was my host mother, Pramuan, and father, Kamsingh, who are a quiet, but well-respected couple in the community with no children living at home.  Pramuan is very patient with my Thai and taught me how to cook and even made her dog bow to me.  She has my back, that’s for sure.  She’s given me numerous household items from her home to help fill mine as well as an open invitation to return whenever I’d like to visit or share a meal.  I’ll be taking her up on that offer often.

Pramuan shows me how to cook Thai-style.

But despite their efforts, I still needed a place of my own.  I missed the daily responsibilities a home has.  Believe or not, I didn’t like being waited on.  I like making my own meals and washing my dishes.  I want to be able to not make my bed if I don’t feel like it.  And more than anything else, I want to have the option to have a beer on Saturday night if I feel like it.  I never thought of doing this with my host family.  I felt too much like a high school student and it would be frowned upon if I did.

So, a week ago, Tuesday, I moved out.  Originally, it wasn’t the fantastic feeling of release I was hoping it’d be.  It was scary.

I’m going to be here for the next two years. 

Months ago I couldn’t wait to get my own place.  I pictured myself drinking a few beers my first night alone.

I didn’t feel like it.  There was, not only a feeling of intimidation seeing the next two years in this place, but also a bit of guilt leaving my gracious host family.

But that was last week.  This week I’m content.  Last week I had so much on my mind I couldn’t even read.  This is never a good sign.  Then, my mood jumped up and I finished two books in four days.  I was told most Peace Corps volunteers’ moods swing.  I like to think of myself as an optimistic person, so I’m hoping my lows won’t be too low or for too long – so far, so good.

My new home for the next two years.

I felt better after talking with a number of other volunteers in the same group (123) and quickly found out everyone else was going through the same realizations.

So, here I am.  I feel more of a Peace Corps volunteer now that I have a place of my own and I can honestly say the honeymoon phase of the ride is over.

As I write this on my laptop in my house, it is 8:09 a.m. on Sunday morning (May 8, 2011), it’s not hot out yet, I’ve been up since sunrise, I’ve already ran five kilometers, ate some bananas, drank a cup of coffee (probably why I’ve written three blogs already), have a load of clothes soaking in soapy water outside that I’ll be washing by hand after I eat the breakfast I will prepare, there’s a fan blowing cool air on me as I look outside my open door to the view of rice fields, coconut trees and rubber trees, Bob Dylan is singing about tombstone blues through my computer speakers, I’ve written one really long run-on sentence fueled by too much coffee and not enough food, and have a full week of mystery ahead of me.

It’s all good.


4 thoughts on “Moving in: Talking relationships with Brandi Carlile and music with Elizabeth Gilbert

  1. I have to say I love reading these posts. There isn’t a single one I read that I don’t actually laugh out loud. There is a part of me that loves living vicariously through you from the safety of my home in Eau Claire, but a tiny bit of me is jealous. Maybe I will find a way to visit you some day. Until then…keep the coffee induced posts coming.

  2. Jeff, I’m curious, what the hell is a repoire and how does one go about building it?
    One word (compound): spellcheck. And why the hell didn’t I get set up with two picture-perfect supercute little sisters? I got brats. Nice house, by the way, it looks, what’s that word again…oh yeah, clean. Slipped my mind for some reason… Oh and Jeff, I think someone messed with your baseball pic as a prank, your ass seems to be photoshopped out of it.

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