I am not sure if every marathon runner feels this way, but the miles from 11-13 can be pretty disheartening. You are exhausted and it dawns on you that you are not even halfway done. You encourage yourself by counting the 11 miles under your belt. And yet you didn’t sign up for an 11 mile race, you came for all 26.2! It is then you wonder “What the heck was I thinking! Why did I think I could do this?”
And yet, you always do.
As a math lover, I always loved fractions. Somewhere along the way I developed a strange habit of doing fractions in my head when I hit a low in a race or needed to take my mind off of the present. I will not lie and tell you that I did not do this often during the first 6 months of my Peace Corps service. I was having a tough time, and I was trying to “hang on.” Luckily, if running has taught me anything, it is to not give up.
January 11th, 2013 was Jeff and I”s “11th mile” in Thailand. It marked exactly one year for Jeff and I in Thailand, with still 15 months to go. We are group 124 peace Corps volunteers and will be here until March 2013. This post is dedicated to looking back at the last year and all that has changed.
Loss of friends and family. This year has been a hard year for losing loved ones. Since we have arrived, we have had one family member and three close friends die (3 tragically). Not being able to go home for the funerals was difficult and made us realize the true cost of living abroad. There were also numerous weddings we missed. These things cause you to ask yourself, “Am I still considering an embassy or foreign service job?” As Jeff’s dad will tell you it is all about “support networks” and he is right. In addition, group 124 has had 7 out of 52 fellow volunteers go home already. This is a big hit to morale and also speaks to the tough time commitment of 27 months, as two went home for family reasons. Still, I believe in the 27 month commitment. You need at least two months to train and learn enough culture and language to go out on your own, and one year is not enough time to make any big changes. Two years also sets our program apart in the Thais eyes. It says Peace Corps is different. Peace Corps volunteers are willing to stay longer, they want to become family. This is not a gap year activity.
Loss of weight and hair. Both of these are not uncommon for Peace Corps volunteers. Hair loss within the first six months is very common according to our PC doctor, as the body is shocked by all the changes it’s undergoing (food, time, temperature), etc. Fortunately for us, the hair has mostly come back, but not the weight. I never would have said this 10 months ago, when I almost cried at being presented another bowl of rice, but I love rice! I actually get hungry for it. It sounds obvious, but the Thai diet of rice, spicy dishes of meat and vegetables and the most delicious fruit you have ever tasted, hardly have you missing the bread, cheese, and chocolate. Healthy food is cheap and readily available and unhealthy “western” food is not. In the US, where these items are abundant this healthy eating will surely be challenged. However, I am committed to growing vegetables myself when we get back, trying new foods, and cutting down on anything processed. I even want chickens!
Increased patience. One phrase that newly arrived volunteers will hear a lot is “jai yen yen” which literally means “cool cool heart.” The person usually telling the volunteer this is their ajaan, or professor, and he or she is saying it because the volunteer is being too impatient or type A. Needless to say, I got told this once or twice, especially about wanting to learn Thai. This indeed has been a necessary skill for surviving professionally and personally in Thailand. One year ago I would have texted if I was going to be arriving somewhere so I didn’t have to wait. Now I give an approximate time and bring a book, knowing the person will come when they can. At the moment I’m writing this, I’m on part 2 of a 20 hour, 3-part trip to the south of Thailand. And I’m not too fazed. Thailand has taught me you can adjust to anything.
Revised expectations. Most volunteers arrive to their peace corps experience exploding with pent up energy to DO! Both the 2 month pre-service training and the subsequent peace corps country often deflate this energy bubble almost completely. Note, I think this “deflation” is both necessary to some extent and problematic. Most of us arrive to our sites so exhausted from 2 months of realizing we “don’t know jack,” just to be faced with resistance to the program’s goals. My energy bubble was pretty resilient, but it too finally admitted defeat after being constantly worked on by Thai culture.
There is a reason why the Peace Corps slogan is “the toughest job you will ever love.” Our jobs are about capacity building, i.e. about changing people, and this is a slow, grueling, patience-demanding task. I quickly learned that if I didn’t change, dare I say “lower”, my expectations for my co-teachers, I wouldn’t be able to handle going to the job every day for 2 years. It became clear to me that getting the teachers to change in small ways, actually wasn’t so little after all. These were big changes for them, even if it didn’t feel like that to me, with my notoriously high standards. Note, to future volunteers if you are a perfectionist and hold people to high standards, this will be especially tough for you. Remember those extremely laid-back boys in your freshman class who didn’t stress about grades and liked to chill? They will fit right in.
Teaching my teacher friends how to bake American goodies because class was canceled again.
Getting back to the basics. Besides the air pollution and lack of salt in the food, Jeff and I couldn’t be healthier right now. We are forced to have an extremely healthy diet, rarely drink alcohol, get daily exercise, ride bikes everywhere, have work that doesn’t necessitate us sitting in front of a computer all day, and we get sufficient sleep. To be fair, all of these things are made a lot easier by our situation. I can’t eat cheese easily as it takes effort and money to get. We can’t ride motorcycles as it is against PC policy. The beer in Thailand isn’t great, etc. It is yet to be seen how we will or will not revert when we are back. It is easy to eat organic veggies everyday when you happen to know all the farmers at the co-op 800m away and can buy kale for 30 cents a head. When forced to pay 4 USD back in the states the decision might not always be so easy, especially if we choose not to go for the high paying job.
A typical purchase at the market. This all probably cost around 6USD!
There are often volunteers who go home after one year. But it will not be the Bastings. We are going to see this through to 26.2 and then maybe treat ourselves to a post-race Asian tour. We hope you will stop by sometime along the way. We are already excited to welcome Robyn King, former PCV, to mile 12, Jeff’s parents and brother at mile 13, and my parents at mile 19.
Thanks everyone for your love and support. Seeing your faces along the “route” in the form of comments to the blog, calls, letters, Christmas cards, and care packages help keep us motivated.
To a good 2013!