“Oh, mama / Could this really be the end / To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.” –Bob Dylan
I can see how this isn’t going to be easy. It almost seemed like it might be through training. I had the support of 65 new friends who were going through the same situation I was. Now, I’m on my own.
I love it, but it is not easy.
I only have 20 months to go. How will I make it? As a Peace Corps rookie, I have developed some strategies to carry me through this marathon.
Be as Thai as possible
I’m learning more and more Thai every day. It’s usually not until after I’ve talked with someone for half an hour that I realize, Holy shit! I just spoke Thai for 30 minutes! There is a lot of body language and me saying, “Mai kao jai (I don’t understand),” but it works. The more Thai I learn, the easier it will be for me to fit into my community and enjoy my time.
I’ve gone to a few wedding receptions as well as some dinner parties (Thai dinner parties do not have white wine and conversations about Russian literature. It’s more like men sitting on mats drinking whiskey talking about women while the women make the dinner.)
Christine, Joe, Kelly, Erin, Tracy, Josh, Erica, Mark, Dev and many more
Speaking, hearing and thinking Thai takes work. The English language is second nature. Therefore, when I’m with my fellow volunteer friends, I can let my guard down. I don’t need to listen extra carefully and I don’t have to think for three seconds before I speak every sentence. Talking and being with fellow volunteers will be my salvation.
A few months ago, I spent the day with my friend Christine, who’s located a couple of hours north of me in Ratanaburi. We spent some time with her host family and then Christine packed her things in her room. We sat there for an hour or so while she packed. When we went back downstairs to eat, I almost forgot where I was – Thailand. Talking with Christine about our lives in our own language had relaxed my mind so much that it was almost as if her room was American soil. It was as if I had just slid into third after tripling into the gap, driving the pitcher from the game. Standing on third base and talking with the coach while the new pitcher warmed up, I was protected. Once play began again, I realized I had to get my mind back in the game.
Some of the friends I listed are fairly close to me. I’m hoping for some fun, yet relaxing weekends with them. I have plenty of room at my house. I can easily accommodate two or three friends for a few nights.
There will also be full-fledged vacations within the country and, eventually, outside the country (no, not America.) There is so much to see in Thailand and one of my closest friends lives in the south near the beaches and mountains.
I also have an inkling to see Vietnam. It’s a bit safer since my father was there.
My good friends Philip Roth and Ernest Hemingway
Peace Corps volunteers trade books like prisoners trade cigarettes. It’s almost our dollar. I love this society I’ve joined. In the mornings before I go to work and the evenings I read. Sometimes constantly and sometimes I only read for an hour or so. I fought owning a Kindle for so long and now I don’t know what I’d do without it.
It’s still early. I know more difficult days are ahead of me. I can’t see myself turning into Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now – “the horror … the horror” – but I can see myself losing it a little bit. I had the idea recently that I should devote one day to listen to Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde on repeat all day. I tried it. I made it three times through and needed a change. I guess I’m not demented enough, yet.
Running through rice fields, sweating off the anguish
February of 2010, I was going through a mental rough patch after breaking up with – as my father described her – “girlfriend number 57.” February in the Midwest is a nasty month where baseball fans hear about their favorite pitchers and catchers basking in the Arizona and Florida sun while we only have the patience to scrape off a telescope of ice and snow from our windshields making our cars lethal weapons for the first mile from work thanks to our impatience to escape the cold. My head was not in the game as I was experiencing extreme cabin fever while also mending a broken heart. My mother gave me good advice when she prescribed a day outside cross-country skiing. My winter laziness scoffed off the idea, but I eventually dragged myself to a nearby park that rented skis. After inhaling an hour of cold, clean air and getting my blood flowing, I felt fantastic and wished I’d thought of this at the beginning of the winter.
Exercise not only keeps my body healthy, it does the same for my mind. I’ve been running a morning 5K two or three times a week. I’ve also kept steady with push-ups and sit-ups in my house at night. I’m not looking to run a marathon or hit a home run like Barry Bonds – just stay happy.
You are reading another survival tactic. I’m happy to have something to write about again (besides baseball.) I keep a small notebook filled with Thai words in my pocket at all times. When something strange happens, which is often, I’ll write a few words in my notebook to remind myself to write about it later. As I write this I have 13 blogs written and ready to publish and 10-15 in the works.
I talk with my parents about once a week. I love to crack up my co-workers at the office with my broken Thai and sarcastic sense of humor. I write and receive e-mails from my friends in the states. I even write the occasional letter.
“Pull it out / Paper sleeve / Oh, my joy / Only you deserve conceit”
It will be a long two years and it will also be short. Days will go slow, but the two years will fly by. When I don’t have friends at my side, I just think of a quote from the film Almost Famous, “Whenever you get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” I wish I had a record store, but luckily this is 2011 and I have iTunes.
For the first few weeks of training, I didn’t turn on my computer or use my iPod. This thought scares me now. At the end of those weeks, when I finally did plug in my earbuds, “Hail, Hail” never sounded so good. Now, when I return from work, I like to listen to some tunes from my iPod while eating some fruit on my front porch as my neighbors drive by shouting “hello!” from their passing motorcycles. I give a smile and wave while I’m really hearing Bob Dylan sing about the changing of the guards or Pearl Jam tells me to just breathe.
“Hey Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me / I am not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.” – Dylan