Comfort in the Quiet
Written by Erin Carden (current WorldTeach Thailand volunteer)
Today marks 22 weeks that I’ve lived in Thailand. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here for almost half a year now I still sometimes have the urge to pinch myself “awake.” So much of my life here still feels like a dream because of the fact that it’s so completely different from the life I had before. And I don’t think this will change. I think I’m going to move back home to NYC and look back on my time in Thailand as some sort of surreal dream that I didn’t wake up from for several months.
Living alone in rural Thailand has given me a different temperament, a new disposition, you might say, that I didn’t have before. I think different places lend people different moods and mindsets depending on the atmosphere. I think people are different versions of themselves depending on where they are in the world. There is a certain slowness that has become a part of my life here. I have learned to find enjoyment in simple things. Things like wiping down my kitchen counters so that they shine. Hanging my wet clothes out on my porch to dry in the sun. The sound of roaring cicadas nestled between wide banana leaves.
I am still searching for the feeling that I have two feet planted on the ground. Some days I feel that I do. Some days I don’t. I think this might be a constant, life long search for most people.
On Tuesday morning it poured. I’ve never seen it rain as hard as it does in Thailand. It’s literally as if buckets of water are being poured out of the sky. This kind of rain is where the saying “it’s pouring” comes from. My porch has a roof covering that protects from the rain and so I sat on my porch with my morning coffee and listened to the rain fall. The sound of rain falling is probably my favorite sound in the world. I watched raindrops trickle down banana tree leaves and I was comforted by the sound of the rain and the way everything was grey and foggy but also vividly green. And I smiled to myself as I sat here because I felt extremely lucky to be able to sit on this beautiful porch that I can call my own, lucky to be able to have many moments like this where I sit in silence with myself and watch and listen to everything that surrounds me.
This week I learned that trees scattered with colored ribbon means that spirits live inside them. There are numerous trees like this in Thailand and so I was glad to finally learn the reason for this. When I first came to Thailand everything was so different that it was rather overwhelming. I was curious about too many things, there were too many questions to ask about culture and life style, and about the way things are. There were simply too many things to point at and ask, “why?” I still have questions about Thailand and Thai culture that I don’t know the answers to. Sometimes Thais answer these questions for me and sometimes I learn for myself through experience or through reading. It’s interesting how quickly a new place becomes normalized. I am no longer stunned by new sights the way I was when I first arrived here. I can say that I am comfortable, settled, maybe even “used” to the way of life here and the way everything looks. This level of comfort that I have reached has allowed me to forget that I still don’t know the answers behind some of my questions. Now things simply “are the way they are.” This realization has taught me that it is important to never accept this inevitable normalcy. Yes, the Issan region of Thailand is “normal” now but I should not take this comfort as an excuse to stunt my curiosity. I should continue exploring and asking questions. Just because I am settled does not mean that I have all the answers. I want to carry this “lesson” wherever I go in life.
Today I met my new seventh grade class. I was surprised by how at ease I felt walking into the classroom. I remember how nervous I was on the first day of class when I initially began teaching. I felt like a completely different person walking into the classroom today. I wasn’t red in the face, sweating and shaking with nerves. I was smiley and loud, laughing with my students as they giggled in embarrassment when they tried speaking to me in the little English they know. I went up to every student and asked them introduce themselves. I asked them to tell me their favorite hobby, favorite animal, favorite color and what they want to be when they grow up. I walked around the classroom feeling light. I was comfortable. I owned the classroom. It was mine. I felt like a teacher today.
When I feel my village growing stale to my eye I remind myself of the feeling of wonder I felt when I first arrived. The delectable chaos of vendors grilling gai yang (marinated grilled chicken) and selling bua loy (dessert made of rice balls filled with black sesame that float on top a ginger or coconut broth). The “restaurants” attached to the back of motorbikes scattered along the sidewalk. Toothless old men squatting in the sand drinking rice whiskey and listening to mor lam country music.
Sometimes when I feel too far away from everything, far away from my friends, my family, from my life on the other side of the world, from the version of myself that I understood before coming here, I tell myself: if you want to be full, you have to allow yourself to be empty.
I am seeking comfort in the quiet of my own thoughts. I am trying to accept the emptiness that I feel on the monotonous weekends spent sitting on my porch in my pjs, reading and writing and staring ahead at the greenery of my garden. I may feel a sort of emptiness during these times but in ways that are not obvious, the stillness that has entered into my life here is really in fact, making me full.
Read more from Erin at her blog as she continues reflecting on her time in Thailand.