During my last day in our host country, I decided that there was a very special woman I wanted to visit. Everyday as I passed through the train station to go to my placement, I always saw an elderly woman (“Dadi,” translated directly means "grandma").
I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply I am moved by these women.
When we sit side by side, our sweaty arms stacked on top of each other, jostling with the rhythm of the bus as it careens across town, I feel a part of something sweet. Even though we are segregated to a certain portion of the bus, I would rather be in the ladies section than anywhere else here.
Coming into the trip I hadn’t ever been out of the United States, and was eager for my first time spending time abroad. In one sense our host country is very different from the United States; the way you eat, the way you use the bathroom, and the culture is very different, but in other ways I found that some things were very familiar to me: the emphasis on family, the story telling and most of all the hospitality. One way I received hospitality this summer was from a woman named Mary.
On good days when our Daa finds himself in a good enough mood, he will crack jokes with us, teach us some Thai words, and practice his choppy English vocabulary. On one of these days, he kept saying this one phrase over and over, “Why you came?” Michael and I looked at each other and laughed.
Our site is located in Phrapadaeng, which has 1 of the 13 former leprosy colonies in Thailand. The majority of the people do not currently have leprosy but had it at some point in their lives. The few that do still have it are usually in the hospital located in our site. In the past, leprosy often caused its patients to not only have physical ailments but also social consequences. Lepers were ostracized and forced to the outskirts of towns and cities, where leper colonies formed.
He was hanging out the door as the train lurched towards home. The army of commuters between us made those ten feet seem like a mile. B and I were caught in rush hour after a long day walking around, and the next stop was ours. I caught his glance as I tried in vain to maneuver my body through the wall of people. He was younger than many on the train, but appeared to know the ropes as he hung precariously out the side of the car. He tipped his head, as locals here do, towards the outside darkness.
One of the things we’ve been learning here, both about this culture and about doing work in a foreign culture in general, is flexibility. Sometimes it’s great, like when we showed up here and were asked to teach English classes, or when spur of the moment, we’re invited to do a high ropes course or invited to a wedding. Sometimes it’s not so great, like when our bus shows up 20 minutes late. Good or bad, it’s certainly been teaching us a lot of patience.
This morning we arrived at our mid-Trek retreat, which started with a time of silence and reflection. During that time I reflected on our host village, her people and culture, and gave thanks for the many gifts we received from the community. So far, the most humbling of these gifts being the invitation into the culture. From the rich language to the delicious food, we’ve been truly blessed.
One of the ways God has really blessed me in my host family is through two of the girls there—Iban, who is 9 years old, and Bernice, who is 8. I recently learned that Mexican culture in general is more affectionate than the United States and these girls are even more so. One day when I came back home and went to drop of my stuff in the bedroom, I just stayed inside and cried for a minute because I couldn’t keep it in any longer.
After about a week of being a bit displaced, through the blessing of the Lord, as well as the hard work of our fearless director, we made our way to our new site. We are now working and living with an organization called Armonía that helps provide education to indigenous students.