Like most good stories, this one begins with a lot of beer. The backdrop is the tourist clad streets of Bangkok. The characters consist of sixty-six Peace Corps volunteers who have been given one night of freedom. It was the first time in seven weeks that any of us had been allowed to stay out past 6pm without supervision. The twist? It was my birthday. You can imagine the pandemonium that ensued. I will spare you from most of the gritty details, to avoid spending an entire blog on the drunken antics of Peace Corps volunteers and the unmentionable number of beers they are able to consume. That being said, I must share with you the highlight of my night.
After over thirty volunteers had taken over the top floor of a bar, things were getting wild in all good ways. Then, the band started playing a song and it seemed everyone around me knew the lyrics. Then there were candles in front of me and I realized the entire bar was singing happy birthday to moi. After seven weeks of stress, confusion, frustration, you name it, it was all starting to feel right. I had the realization that the people surrounding me were no longer strangers, but my closest friends for the next two years. And how lucky am I? I actually adore every one of them.
The day after our romp in Bangkok was one spent mostly horizontal. Understandably. But even the world’s worst hangover couldn’t get me down because I was about to go on a trip. I have a lot in common with puppies. I like going for runs, I will eat just about anything (often after it has been on the floor), and if you say the word ‘go’ I am jumping for the door. Put me in a moving vehicle and I am a happy dog. Thus, when I took my overnight bus to go visit a current Peace Corps volunteer, the only place my head was, was catching wind out the window.
I spent the next night eating pizza and ice cream with a good group of female volunteers. The next day I was full of nerves as I headed for the city of Chiang Mai to meet my future supervisor/principal and one of my co-teachers. I figured we would head straight for the village, but instead I was treated to a day in Chiang Mai walking through markets, eating delicious street food (two words: carrot slushie), and visiting the most important temple in the province. It was instant friendship with my Thai counterparts which is great because those connections are priceless. Oh no, not for future jobs, but for the fact that my principal owns an elephant camp and offered to come let me ride her elephants whenever I please. Hey, if this Peace Corps gig doesn’t pan out maybe I can just become a professional elephant princess (this would entail riding the elephants and wearing a tiara because training them would be too much work and picking up the poop is obviously not an option, but wearing a tiara is always enjoyable).
The following day I hopped in the truck with my principal and set out on the one hour drive to reach my village. The buildings shrunk and the greenness pulsed. We turned off the main drag and onto a quieter road that eventually led us up a steep winding hill, through a National Park, then dropped back down into the trees. When the road leveled I could see we were driving through sprite farms nestled in the embrace of several small mountains.
Despite all the awkward moments that hung in the spaces between language and culture, I was completely enamored with the little Amphor called Mae On. While I was being whisked around on my grand tour I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking in somebody else’s life; the beauty of this place couldn’t possibly be mine to relish in. It all became real when my co-teachers took me to the house I am to live in for the next two years. On the bend of the quiet road sits a little blue house. To its left is a pond, and on the other two sides lie fields of green that reach their generous arms until they grab onto the feet of the mountains. Cows can be seen grazing out my kitchen window and I can plant my herbs in the hanging baskets out front.
Sometimes you walk into the things you never knew you wanted. This time I opened the front door.