Hello friends and fam!
After this week, I have five more weeks volunteering with the home. My last day will be at the end of April, and I will fly out of Chiang Mai in the first week of May. I feel very content with this timeline as there are things that I still want to accomplish inside and outside of work. I now work with the children in the daycare in the mornings, and on some days I teach English in the afternoons. Although I am dreading a final goodbye to the mothers and children, I think it will be easier than I expected. Many of the women I have grown to know and love are visiting their families over the course of the next two weeks. Feeling their absence while I am volunteering is foreign but healthy. It has already given me perspective on many things. For example, their life extends outside of the WFH, just as mine does! I’ll try to hold on to that while I am saying goodbye to them.
I have never been around children this much, and I have to admit, it brings the good, bad, and ugly right out of you. In the time that I have been working with the children, I have seen it improve my Thai language skills superbly, but that comes with a new responsibility. Now that we can communicate our words pretty fluidly, I have to make sure I communicate well with my tone. I’m not referring to the five tones in the Thai language but to my attitude. This whole experience here has been a non-stop lesson in communication and the power of our words as well as our tones. Before I left the United States, I read a book called The Feminist Persuasion. The fictional story was thought-provoking as it made me question things I had never thought of before. For example, “up-talking.” I do this a lot, especially to strangers. It is a common practice among women where they lift up the ends of their sentences tonally. This makes the sentence or fragment unclear in regards to it being a statement or a question, therefore it may come off as less confrontational. Upon learning this habit, I challenged myself over the summer to speak more boldly and directly. It was an empowering yet humbling practice. Speaking confidently all of the time required me to always be checking my heart, interests, and motives. There would be a lot going on in my head, but I think that would subdue with more practice and better self-awareness.
After arriving in Thailand, I went back to “up-talking” all of the time for several reasons. I was a new guest at the home; people were taking care of me and trying to help me; I wanted to be liked right off the bat, etc. Before embarking on this journey, I had read articles and conversed with past tourists about the communication style here in Thailand to make sure I was prepared. I wouldn’t say that it was natural for me to conduct myself in this manner, but it wasn’t very difficult, that is until the topics we approached were ones that I felt pretty straightforward about. These topics, that could be personal (like my decision to get tutoring outside of the home and to meet with friends on the weekends) or work-involved (my desire to work on a few grants in a way I felt comfortable and productive), slowly but surely reintroduced my direct tongue. As things began to go a little “awry” during the first few months of my time here, I was always pivoting my gameplan. In order to get to something or maybe get past something, I needed to access the situation many times before doing anything. The questions that I pushed on my experiences (which felt like data during my assessments of this new environment) all circulated around one desire: “How can we all move forward without making me feel like my values are going one step backward?”
My time here in Chiang Mai has consisted of many calibrations of my tenderness and strength. These calibrations have produced some of the most important lessons I’ll take back home with me, most importantly regarding people that I have more challenges with. I recently had a discussion with my supervisor that gave me space to fully explain some issues and fears I had with the organization. My suggestions for some changes in the operations were taken as personal digs, and I received some back in return. As I realized where the conversation was going, I quickly said “Hey, same team. We both are working towards the same mission. Let’s remember that for a second.” If I had been more prepared beforehand, I could have conveyed my suggestions in a better way. But that conversation was an important lesson for me because it showed that in the thick of tension we can still take a timeout and recalibrate.
There have been wins and losses in this exploration of better communication here. The losses create tension and worry, but the wins create harmony and peace. For example, I was fearful of asking to move out of the property and into a space of my own back in September. I didn’t want my desire to leave to be taken for reasons it wasn’t, so I worked hard (meaning, I practiced in front of a mirror and drafted good points with family members) to make sure I spoke with brevity and clarity on my decision. The practice and focus (and prayer) on this conversation beforehand may seem unnecessary to some, but for me, it helped me understand exactly what I needed to convey. The practice calibrated the soft boldness I wanted in that conversation. I’m so thankful for the extra time I put in because having an apartment of my own has been incredible! And, it came without any tension or resentment towards me from my organization. It’s been wonderful to have space where I can just process my health (emotional, physical, and spiritual) and talk with the people I love easily.
I recently bought a film camera and have been using that more. It’s super fun, but now I don’t have many more pictures to post on here. I’ll make sure to post more on my next post.
Thanks for reading and for caring!