Back Home

I have dreamt of this moment since the day I set foot back in the States. The moment when I would arrive in Nan again, when I would see my students again, their smiling faces and their clammy hands wrapping around me. When I would hold them and tell them “See, I told you I would come back.” And yet all this happened today and still, I feel like it’s not quite real.

Maybe it has to do with the stuffed up nose and still plugged ears from a long 24 hour journey, filled with 4 plane flights and a groggy overnight stay in Bangkok. Maybe I still can’t really believe I am here. I mean two days ago I was at camp, screaming my heart out over dinner and loving the color purple. I was giving endless piggy-back rides and eating raw onions with kids screaming in my face “Just put it all in your mouth.” Maybe it is the fact that even though I have done this all before I am still desperately nervous, frightened of the homesickness and the inevitable bouts of loneliness.

I know that all of this will pass. That in a week’s time I will wonder how I ever felt this way at all. I will step back into the classroom and remember why I love this job so much, why I decided to sacrifice my time with family, put off medical school one more year, and sweat my butt off in a un-air-conditioned classroom.

Yet I have fears. Fears that this year will not nearly be as wonderful and successful as last year. Fears that everything that frustrated before will only make me more frustrated this year. Fears that somehow teaching will be different with new students and new English teachers surrounding me.

I don’t want make it seem like I don’t want be here. Because I do. I made that decision long ago. I just wanted to share these conflicting thoughts I have on my first day back in a town that I came to love and now suddenly seems so alien to me. I think this whole experience is so jarring because rarely do we get to experience a foreign culture so intimately and then immediately return to it after a short respite at home. Maybe the amenities of America have taunted me. Maybe getting a taste of home—all the burgers and steaks, carpet beneath my toes, sweaters and boots, soft beds, and wait for it . . . snow—has made this place seem a little more complicated.

It’s all a little difficult to explain. I’ve never felt this way in my entire life. It as if I am going through some weird Déjà vu but certain parts are missing—the two other teachers I worked with last year for instance, and even the rooms of the school (they built a whole new building while I was gone and now suddenly I don’t know where anything is). Everything more or less looks the same yet it is so completely different. I wake up and still wonder where I am for a second before I realize I am back in the tiny Thai town that I love. And yet this tiny town almost seems dreamlike itself, as if all the buildings will suddenly dissolve around me and I will find myself sitting on my couch back home, waking from a short nap during a commercial break of some TV show I could care less about.

I’m thinking a little more sleep and a few more days in town will make me feel like I never left at all. At least that is what I found of my time at home. It’s interesting how you can be gone from somewhere for so long and yet within days you feel as if you never left, as if nothing changed, and no one even really ever missed you because now you are home.

Now you are home.

Me and my second grade girls on the last day of school last year.

Me and my second grade girls on the last day of school last year.

The Official Announcement

Me and third grade make a field trip to a temple.

Me and third grade make a field trip to a temple.

It’s official! I am teaching for another year in Thailand. Wow, never thought I would say that when I started this whole journey.

But somehow throughout the course of this year I fell in love with teaching. I fell in love with this community. I fell in love with this culture—the colors and traditions and language that still continues to baffle my ear.

It is difficult to explain in words the happiness that I have found here; especially when there are still many days where I become frustrated with the qualms of working in a foreign country, the moments where I cannot understand a word that is being said around me, the times where I miss my family desperately and just want to go home. I don’t know if I will ever be able to explain why I want to stay, why I feel I must stay.

The reasons are hidden the in small victories in my classroom, moments spent doing yoga on a porch in the setting sun, writing in the quiet light of morning, and evenings spent surrounded by people who have suddenly become my family.  The reasons are buried somewhere in my everyday life

It is when one child who has barely spoken all year decides to volunteer to spell the bonus word for the spelling test on the board. She gets it right and as soon as I turn to her and tell her she is correct, a smile lights up her eyes and she stands a little taller. She doesn’t say a word, only returns to her desk and keeps smiling.

It is in the moments where I have kids coming up to me all day during school, placing stickers all over my skirt and shirt so that any time I leave the office I add three more to my collection and by the end of the day when I am sitting in my first grade classroom, they can count 19 stickers on me.

One girl reaches up and places one more near my neck. “Twenty,” she says with a smile.

“Thank you,” I say, completely satisfied with where I am—surrounded by forty six-year-olds who never fail to make me smile and laugh.

It is in the moments where I am with the fifteen other foreign teachers who live in Nan, sitting at a bar, playing Cards Against Humanity and having to scream at one another so that we can be heard over the music coming from the five different bars around us. It is when we all keel over laughing at something that is not even particularly funny. What gets a party going? Dwarf tossing.

These moments and so many others have infused my life with energy and joy to a capacity that I didn’t even know existed.

The afternoon I officially decided I was going to stay in Nan for another year was the day before Children’s Day here in Thailand. My second grade class was having a party at the end of the day, each student giving one another a gift to celebrate. When I walked into their classroom that day after lunch, I was greeted with orange and pink balloons and kids shouting at the top of their lungs. Hands started to shove rubber shells of balloons at me, indicating with pursed lips that I was to blow them up.

“Teacher!” one student shouted from across the room. I looked up as she let a blown balloon fly from her hand, the orange rubber dancing around in the air until it flailed to the ground.

I laughed. This was the chaos I had come to love. It seemed only appropriate that minutes earlier I had admitted to my friend in the café across the street that I was going to stay another year. I had taken a big breath inward and said I’m going to stay as quickly as possible. I had to say it out loud to really believe myself, believe that this was what I really wanted. I had then said it slower—I’m going to stay. I had gotten over my fear of putting off medical school for another year, my fear of what people back home would think when I told them that I was staying in this very foreign country to continue teaching. I got over the fear of being away from my family and home for yet another year and finally said what had been in my heart for months and which, for a long time I had tried to stifle. I love it here. I love teaching. I love my students. I’m not ready to leave this all behind quite yet.

It was as if my kids somehow knew that day that I had decided to stay, even though I hadn’t said a word to anyone else. They continued to throw the balloons into the air, giggling and laughing. They thrust balloons into my hand one after the other until the room was filled with pink and orange floating circles. At the end of twenty minutes I was out breath and my fingers were sore from tying so many balloons. Yet, I couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to bottle this moment and keep it in my pocket forever. This was pure joy. And as I reluctantly tried to calm my students down so we could at least do a little classwork that day, I couldn’t help but think this was not simply a celebration for Children’s Day, but a celebration for me. A celebration of all that had already happened this year. A celebration of everything I had accomplished, and the bigger adventures that were still yet to come.

One of my first graders Earth took this picture on my phone right before class without me noticing.

 

 

To Fist Pumping and Bungee Jumping: A Tribute

I found out this weekend that my dear friend Galen passed away. I have known Galen since my first summer at Camp Wapiyapi, a camp my siblings and I started attending after my sister was diagnosed with cancer when we were thirteen.

Galen and the boys.

Galen and the boys.

Throughout our friendship Galen has taught me many things. He has taught me the precise way to fist pump to country music and hip hop songs alike. He has taught me how to laugh so that when you are in a room with friends you are all on the floor holding your sides and gasping for air. He has taught me to how to live life, no matter the circumstances.  Galen had been fighting cancer for a long time and even after doctors said he didn’t have much time left, Galen showed everyone just how much time he could have. He defied everyone’s expectations, showing us just what it means to “beat” cancer.

But I think the biggest thing Galen has taught me is how to smile. How to smile when through the dark, hidden by trees and big sweatshirts, you see a friend making out in the camp coffeeshop and you all can’t help but giggle and run away. How to smile when you’re playing a round of mafia and suddenly Galen thinks it will be funny to convince everyone that my brother is the mafia when really he is nothing at all (and Galen isn’t either—he just wants to see everyone smile). Galen has taught me how to smile when there is seemingly nothing to smile about. He has taught me just how powerful a smile can be. And now, living in the “Land of Smiles”, I find myself comparing every smile to his, that big grin that breaks across his face at the smallest joke, the tiniest wink, the mere mention of singing “Salomi” at the campfire.

I found out Galen had passed away just after I had come back to my hotel from bungee jumping. I sat on the porch outside, unable to move, guilty that I had just jumped 150 feet, screaming my heart out, while my friends and family were at home remembering Galen. I desperately scrolled through Facebook messages and pictures, hoping that somehow my friends’ words would make me feel closer to home. Closer to Galen. I wanted to write something myself. But the words escaped me. I thought to the hour prior, my hands shaking at the top of the platform, my heart beating furiously as the photographer urged me to the edge.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

I took a deep and heavy breath.

            No, I thought. I am not ready.

“Yes,” I said.

“Three . . .”

I just have to go. I just have to jump.

“Two . . .”

I can’t think about it.

“One . . . “

I lifted my arms up and without thinking I leaned forward. Off of the platform. Falling into the sky. Hearing the wind whistling past my ears. A small scream escaped me. And then I opened my eyes. I was alive. I was incredibly alive.

I smiled big and wide—like Galen. I danced off the cement walkway and jumped to high five the photographer at the bottom, handing me a “Certificate of my Bravery”.

At the time I was so proud of myself. I had bungee jumped. I had jumped from a platform 150 meters off the ground and I had done it without hesitation, something so uncharacteristically me. Me—who has been known to sit at the top of a rock wall for twenty minutes (multiple times) because the fear of ascending doesn’t scare me so much as gliding down. That me had jumped from 150 feet without ever looking back.

But as I sat on the cold cement porch of my hostel in northern Thailand, I realized it was not just me who had pushed me off that platform. Somehow I felt Galen had been there, with his giant smile and thrill for life. He took hold of that Brenna that would have held onto the rails of the platform long after the photographer had counted down to one. He took hold of her and told her to just jump. Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Galen showed me that I shouldn’t wait to let go. He showed me how to look fear in the face, look at an impossibly far jump, and just say, Alright let’s do it. And smile. He showed me how the whistling of wind in my ears was the greatest gift I could ever have because it meant I was free.


I am saddened that Galen is no longer with us to show us that killer smile in person. But I am relieved that he is finally free. Finally free to bungee jump and fist pump and dance to every single country song ever written.

Thank you Galen for sharing your smile. Thank you for showing me how to let go and just jump, not matter how scary it seems. Thank you for showing me how to be free.

Galen is on the far right (of course in a cowboy hat).

Galen is on the far right (of course in a cowboy hat).

IMG_1106The story behind the picture above — At the end of our weekend in Chiang Mai we visited a popular temple called Wat Chedi Luang.  At many temples they have yellow cotton sheets for people to write their names and addresses.  Once the sheet is filled, the monks drape the fabric around different parts of the temple and pray for the people held within the threads. I only found it appropriate to put who I was really thinking of that day.  Love ya, G.

Two Girls and a Computer

Warning: There will be no pictures of rolling hills or breathtaking white sand beaches.  Not even a single picture of a wide eyed, bright toothed smiled little Asian child.  Don’t let this hinder you from continuing to read.

It’s strange how the world works sometimes.  I was just about to write a blog post, inspired by some of the days that were turning around me.  A day where I walked upon a parade in the middle of a Sunday and watched, from my bicycle, the sparkling outfits and dazzling hair do’s skate by.  A morning where I spotted a monk with his bright orange fabric wrapped around his chest and torso and I couldn’t help but imagine how he must have dipped that cloth in saffron and cinnamon, letting it soak in the sun for days until the fabric was ripe with color. A Thanksgiving day where my first graders swarmed me as I walked into the classroom, thrusting gifts of plastic light-up snowmen, tiny blue ballerinas complete with a music box, homemade cards with imagined families and giant turkeys drawn on the inside, and even real red roses, into my arms.

But all this inspiration was put on hold when my computer suddenly stopped working.  Instead of writing in a little café with an overly sweet latte in my hand, I was on the phone to Apple for hours at a time.  Quite honestly I thought: This is it.  I can’t go on.  Life simply cannot pass without Teacher Brenna having a computer constantly by her side.  I called my mother the other night and when she asked what I was doing I had to admit that I had just eaten an entire tub of ice cream (granted they are MUCH smaller here).  “It’s like I’ve just broken up with my boyfriend,” I said.  “Or rather he broke up with me.”

I was stressed.  I wasn’t happy.  And not even my kids’ bright smiles and crazy antics couldn’t cheer me up.

Somehow though, those moments of torment and distress seemed to cease the other night after dinner.

I was by myself, hoping that some solitude and a blank notebook would give me some relief.  I had to chuckle to myself when an old woman came to share my table with me because the table she sat at with her family was too full.  “I’ll sit with the American,” she said in Thai, not thinking that I could understand her.  I nodded as she sat down at the table, a mutual agreement that we were both okay with this arrangement.

I continued writing as if nothing had happened until I heard a small crash from the front of the restaurant.  When I looked up to see the source of the noise I saw that it was the owner of the restaurant’s younger daughter falling down on the brick floor.   Now, I must tell you that I frequent this establishment quite often (maybe 2 or 3 times a week) and I have come to know the family who owns the restaurant very well.  The older daughter, Dear, who is say maybe 17 years old, always takes my order and will come over after I have my food to teach me a little Thai.  Her younger sister, Dew, around the age of four, always scuttles around us, making fish faces at me and showing me her little plastic toys, but she is always too shy to answer my questions, whether they be in English or in Thai.

Now, when I looked up to see Dew’s hair all askew, brushing off her shirt as she was standing up, I made a fish face at her, thinking she would do her normal turn-and-act-like-I’m-not-there move.  This time, however, she came up to me and immediately starting chattering away in Thai.  I had never heard the girl say more than two words strung together.  Now she couldn’t shut up!  Her friend trailed behind her, a girl with short, shorn hair and wildly big eyes.  She started touching my arm hair and fondling me like a new Barbie doll.

Soon we had the entire restaurant looking our way.  I’m sure this was quite the sight.  A tall white woman playing with two small Thai children in the middle of a restaurant.  The girls crowded into my seat next to me as I ate and soon we were using a pencil case as a telephone, counting each other’s fingers in Thai and English and testing how much Teacher Brenna really could say and understand in Thai.

When I got up to go, the girls blocked the entrance to the restaurant, throwing up their thumb and forefinger to form a gun.  They held each other’s hands and stretched their arms wide, giggling and throwing their heads back so far I thought they might tumble over into the street.  They asked if they could ride on my motorbike with me, saying that was the only way I could leave.  They followed me down the block to see, not a motorbike, but much to their dismay, my orange bicycle.  When I mounted the bike and turned to go home, they ran the remaining length of the sidewalk, their small legs pumping against the pavement.  They waved goodbye to me desperately, arms flailing against the air.  They shouted Good bye!!! See you later!  And I turned to see smiles stuck to their faces.

In the cool brisk air riding home that night, I realized how futile technology is.  How had my happiness for the past few days revolved around a block of silver metal?  How could I ever think that a computer was so important that I thought without one life could not move forward?  It was as if the computer was a part of me and it stopping meant that I couldn’t keep walking, like a leg being amputated.  It seems silly to me now that we as a society have become so focused on our technology, so centered around our computers and our phones that we miss out on what’s around us.

I don’t want this to turn into some mushy story with a moral.  I know how very important technology is and I have felt incredibly grateful for it during my time abroad.  It has allowed me to connect with family and friends and make this whole living half way across the globe SO much easier.  But in that moment with those two girls’ arms waving viciously in the night air and screaming at the top of their lungs “GOOD BYE!” I felt this surge of happiness that no machine can ever give me, no matter how powerful or necessary.

I came to accept that my computer was broken and no matter how many tears I shed it just may not be fixable; that yes, I might have to shell out a little (or a lot of) cash for a new one.  Ironic then, how the next day I receive a call from a friend here in Nan saying that she has an old computer lying around after receiving a new one as an early Christmas gift.  “I heard you might be in use of one,” she said.

Yes.

Funny how the world can give us perspective and then bring us exactly what we need.

P.S.  If you were wondering how I was writing this post in the first place it is due to the very generous spirit of another friend, a friend who went on a trip a week ago and gave me her computer to use during her time gone.  The world has blessed me with some pretty incredible friends her in Nan.

Grateful.

Glory be to God for dappled things. 

– William Wordsworth

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It seems strange to me that just last year (and three years prior to that) I would be flying home now, just about to sleep in my own bed. Just about to hug my brother and sister at the airport before being embraced in my mother’s arms. Just about to smell the thick scent of turkey roasting in the morning. Just about to taste the soft cinnamon crumbles of my mother’s coffee cake and feel the steam of a fresh cup of coffee underneath my nose. Just about.

And even though I am not on a plane home right now, I feel like I am just about to do all of these things. Even though I won’t do a single one this year.

It is so odd to me that tomorrow—yes, tomorrow—is Thanksgiving. Is it strange that I’m not sad I won’t be home for the first year ever? Somehow it feels like this is the way it has always been. And I have to keep asking myself if this is really the first Thanksgiving I won’t be home, the first Thanksgiving I won’t even eat turkey, the first Thanksgiving it won’t be Thanksgiving at all.

I have told my classes about this holiday we have in America. This holiday where we spend the entire day gathered around the oven as we watch the turkey roast for hours on end. (They gasp when I tell them it takes about five hours to cook a turkey.) This holiday where family and friends sit around the table and eat the biggest meal of our lives. This holiday that started with Indians and Pilgrims and somewhere along the way we forgot all that and just gave thanks.

I watch as my students make Indian hats out of colored construction paper, cutting and pasting the paper feathers to their paper headbands. I watch as they carefully write the words I am thankful for, one word on each feather, and then choose one thing. One thing they are thankful for.

They are thankful for family. They are thankful for cartoons. They are thankful for mothers and fathers and dogs. They are thankful for friends. They are thankful for Teacher Brenna.

I cannot express how much it makes me smile when they choose their one thing to be thankful for as me. I am thankful for Teacher Brenna, their feathers read.

But I don’t know if they will ever fully understand how thankful I am for them. Each of them has changed my life in unspeakable ways. When I think of any one of my students I see a permanent smile glued to their face. I can see their eyes full of color, or hear their laugh, or see their socks loose around their toes, or their little legs jump up and down as I they see me for the first time that day.

I am so grateful. This Thanksgiving I may not wake up at home with my mother downstairs on the couch and my brother and sister asleep just down the hallway, but I will wake up in a new home of sorts. A home that has made me more grateful than I think I have ever been before.

I am thankful for students who make me excited to wake up and teach everyday. I am thankful for teachers who support me and encourage me when I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing in the classroom. I am thankful for friends who have become my community and support system in this very foreign country.

I am thankful for Thailand. I am thankful for long motorbike rides through rolling mountains where every turn reveals even more beauty than the curve before. I am thankful for giant Buddhas that sparkle in the waning afternoon sunlight, the mountains thick with green behind it. I am thankful for bright pieces of fabric that dry in the moist afternoon air. I am thankful for white paper lanterns that burn into the night sky and lit candles placed on banana boats that twinkle as they bob down the river. I am thankful for homemade witches hats and Frankenstein masks, costumes thrown together the night before Halloween, but yet still make me smile when I cannot recognize my student beneath the scattered glitter and scribbled crayon marks. I am thankful for nights where I fall asleep early and wake up late, exhausted by smiling and laughing and loving my students a little too much.

This country and this experience has pushed me more than I could ever imagine. But with each challenge and obstacle, it continues to show me that I am more than capable. I have learned so much here and some days I look at myself and barely recognize the person I have become. I am grateful for this. I am grateful for adversity and lessons, frustration and patience. I am grateful for the smiles and hugs that make it all worth it. I am grateful that my students are thankful for me.

So even though I will not be at home this year watching the parade in my pajamas, helping my mother hoist the turkey from sink to pan, getting my hands dirty and moist from mixing the stuffing, and getting so full that I think my stomach will burst if I have another bite, I will be surrounded by friends who have shown me the power of community and children who teach me each and every day that the capacity for human love is never ending.

some crazy first grade princesses on Halloween

some crazy first grade princesses on Halloween

banana boats that were let down the river on Loi Krathong, a Buddhist holiday celebrated as representation of letting go

banana boats that were let down the river on Loi Krathong, a Buddhist holiday celebrated as representation of letting go

first grade witches

first grade witches

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motorbike ride through the beautiful mountains of Thailand

homemade masks

homemade masks

letting my lantern go on Loi Krathong

letting my lantern go on Loi Krathong

Travel Tales.

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Travel Tales.  A simple title for a breathtaking three weeks spent in paradise.

I returned from my trip about 2 and a half weeks ago but I have been so busy with planning Halloween parties, celebrating Loi Krathong (a beautiful Buddhist holiday in Thailand), and making a trip to Chiang Mai to reunite with some fellow Loggers that I have been unable to write a blog post.
Now to remind you all I headed out for a three-week vacation to Indonesia and the southern islands in Thailand after finishing my first semester of teaching. It’s impossible to put this entire trip into words and I wish that I could describe each and every magical day for you. Instead, I have taken some short excerpts from my journal I kept along the way. I think this will give you all an intimate look at some of the thoughts I was having while traveling while also revealing some of my greatest adventures.
Now, keep in mind—Number One: These entries do not include all of my adventures in my trip, including a rafting trip and an early morning volcano hike in Ubud, Bali. I will try to include pictures of some of these obviously wonderful things I am keeping out. Number Two: This was a three week trip with many breathtaking moments and thus this post is VERY LONG; brace yourself.

And as always, enjoy.


JOGJAKARTA, INDONESIA

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October 7th Jogjakarta, Indonesia

We rose at 4 am this morning to see the sun rise on the top of Borobudur, an old abandoned Buddhist temple just outside the city. My flashlight weakly lit the stone steps as I ascended. My legs already burned from the short exertion at such an early hour. Once at the top, we waited, quiet and patient. I was a bit nervous as it began to brighten that it would be one of those sunrises devoid of color, the clouds slowly growing brighter until the sun appeared and the day began.
But it was not so. It was a subtle sunrise, certainly; not one so vivid with color that my camera could pick up every hue and tone in the sky. But it was in its softness, its quiet and humble way it seemed to dissipate the sky and light up the day that I found its beauty.
Fog hung heavy on the ground, the thick steam rising to fill the gaps between every tree and make the once hard edges of the mountains surrounding us soft again, so you didn’t know where the mountains started and the sky ended.
My camera clicked as I tried to snap every picture I could, but I turned frustrated as none of them came out. They were all too dark. They were blurry. They showed the stupas black but the sky bright white. After too many tries, I gave up. It didn’t matter. Even if I got a good picture, I could never truly capture this. I could never in a picture show the steam rising from the earth; the exact soft pale pink of the sky that looked like human flesh, as if the yet unseen sun were attempting to breath human life into the new day. I could never capture the extreme sense of peace I had, leaning back on one of the 72 ancient stupas that filled this temple, a statue of a Buddha kept hidden inside each one.
Even now, I know these words don’t give justice to what I have experienced this morning. But I hope I can hold on to that feeling of peace that overcame me on the top of that temple. I hope I can hold on that feeling of uninhibited gratitude as the sun finally poked through the clouds over an hour later, slowly rising in the sky, a pink glowing disk unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I hope I can remember that feeling of my easy breaths and thoughtless mind as I saw the sun shed its pink glow and shine bright white, a line of stupas becoming clearer and even more beautiful in the light.

stupas lit up by the rising sun.

stupas lit up by the rising sun.

the entire temple

the entire temple

climbing down after the sunrise

October 8th Jogjakarta, Indonesia

There is so much culture here, with girls in colorful headscarves and others in long patterned Batik skirts, thick fabrics with printed flowers and embroidered geometric triangles and lines running vertically. This city is a clash of Spanish, Arabic, semi-African, and a little Asian—at least this is how it feels to me. The English alphabet surrounds me and the meals of white rice and fried chicken are so reminiscent of my time in Chile that I can’t help but feel the Latin American vibes of this city. But then I hear the call for prayer and as I pass one of the dozens of mosques that dot the street, I see an older man in his small cap, kneeled on a mat, his head to the floor, and I cannot forget the deep Muslim roots that run through this city. And somehow, despite the fact that I have never been to Africa, I feel as if these crowded street roads with children playing in dirt colored clothes and cheap plastic balls is reflective of children with much darker skin playing in similar streets in similar cities half a world away. This is all so different from Thailand in such a refreshing way. There are things here I have never seen before, religions I have never interacted with. After only one day of driving through the streets in an air-conditioned bus I am utterly in love with this mysterious yet enchanting city.

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a few pictures from the parade/festival celebrating the anniversary of Jogjakarta

a few pictures from the parade/festival celebrating the anniversary of Jogjakarta

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October 9th Jogjakarta, Indonesia

I don’t know what it is about this city, but I really feel at home here. It’s a little rough around the edges with dirty streets and store front windows that look like they are straight out of my high school textbook that taught me the definition of a third world developing country. I think I must feel at home because the people are incredibly nice.
We went to a festival last night that celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the city. Amidst all the passing costumes, dancing puppets, and kids roller blading in the street, we met a woman named Das, who after talking to for about an hour or so, invited to take us around the city and introduce us to Indonesian food.
And so this morning she picked us up in a van outside our hostel, a small breakfast of jellied confections for us on the front seat and an itinerary in hand. We headed first to the local Sultan Palace, getting a rapid tour before going shopping in a silver shop with homemade rings and necklaces. After a quick lunch of hundred year old eggs (I’m not kidding) and fried chicken we went to an “ancient” Islamic temple built in 2010 before going to one of the crown jewels of the city—Pramabanan Temple. Pramabanan is a Hindu temple built in 700 A.D. and it was here where Das stopped to talk to three local boys shaking fruit from the trees. She talked to the boys as if they were already friends and before we knew it, she held out three apple-like fruit for us to try. We could barely get four steps before a local woman sweeping the street asked if we wanted more. “I can get a few from the tree,” she said in Indonesian as she pointed to the tree branches above her. Das nodded to her and said no thank you after what seemed like a three minute conversation “just catching up,” Das claimed.
“Do you know her?” we asked Das.
“No,” she said. “That is just how everyone is here in Jogja.”

In front of Pramabanan Temple.

In front of Pramabanan Temple.


BALI, INDONESIA

At the top of a volcano which we hiked at 3 a.m. in order to watch the sunrise.

At the top of a volcano which we hiked at 3 a.m. in order to watch the sunrise.

Oct. 10th Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

We had our first day in Bali yesterday. Wow! How incredible it was. I had forgotten what all of this could feel like—the sand sticking to my legs and arms, getting caught in my bikini so that even after I have taken a shower, I can still feel little gravelly grains on my chest and legs as I dress.
After soaking in the late afternoon sun on the beach, music blasting from the portable stereo we brought, I decided to go on a short run down the length of the beach. The sun was a golden orb beginning to sink into the ocean. The water was drawn out and calm so that when I ran along its edge the sand was hard beneath my toes and almost no footprints remained in my wake.
Muslim women sat on the beach in their full black burkha and blue-rimmed sunglasses. Their husbands (although I only saw one man) sat next to them in tan shorts and a polo shirt. The women seemed silent as their children ran around their feet. Sand brushed over the women’s black silk covers. I felt conscious as I ran across the beach in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. I didn’t even have shoes on.

October 11th Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

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I played soccer on the beach tonight. Only minutes before I was thinking of how much I missed being able to play almost whenever I wanted to. And then suddenly I saw men, their skin dark and tan and the words from their mouths sounding scrambled to my ears, pulling goals down onto the beach and placing piles of jerseys onto the hard sand. I asked if I could play. When they said yes, I pulled a damp red jersey over my bikini top and slipped into a pair of shorts. The Indonesian men seemed impressed with me—a white girl playing soccer with all the boys. Mind me, I was not the only foreigner to join the match. Both my friend Chris had slipped into a jersey along with a few other German tourists.
The game started. The ball felt slippery when I received a pass. My skin stung a little when I made a pass myself up the beach, the ball bouncing awkwardly on the hard sand to the man near the goal. But as the sun sunk into the sea and my feet ran along the hard wet sand, avoiding shells poking through the ground, I felt supremely happy. I felt as if I was in a dream because something this beautiful, this magical, simply could not be real life.

Oct. 12th Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I love the smell here—a stream of jasmine incense and flower petals. It hit me as soon as we landed in Bali and I can even smell it now, a soft hint in the air. There is meditative music playing somewhere in the distance. I can only faintly hear it from my spot on the porch of our hotel room. The music mixed with incense creates a dream like atmosphere. I am so grateful for all I have around me—this opportunity to teach, and more importantly, learn in Asia. My pen races across the page and I feel at peace, as if the world has stopped momentarily and I can see everyone around me frozen—stiff and beautiful.

We went to a monkey sanctuary where Chris was mauled by monkeys : )

We went to a monkey sanctuary where Chris was mauled by monkeys : )


GILI ISLANDS

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October 14th Gili Islands, Indonesia

I have just eaten lunch. I am sitting right on the ocean in a bean bag chair and a small table sunken into the sand. I need to keep asking myself what I could have possibly done to deserve all this. I am sitting on what I imagine to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The ocean is a crystal blue, like something out of a movie. Boats painted blue, red, and cotton candy pink bob up and down in the water. Some look as if they have been passed down in fisherman families for generations, their paint chipped and peeling, the wood of the boat seeming to rot in the salty water. Two or three boats have “Life is Good” painted on the side and I can’t help but agree.
We came to the Gili Islands, a small set of islands off the coast of Bali, yesterday. We took a magical hour and a half boat ride through blue skies and even bluer water, my hair whipping in my face and my skin turning red in the sun. I could not stop smiling.
As soon as we arrived on the island, kicking off our shoes and holding our bags above our heads to deboard the boat, not onto a dock but straight into ankle deep water on the beach, I felt like I had walked into the most wondrous universe I have ever seen. It seems like this island has slipped back in time with no paved roads and only bicycles and horse drawn buggies to get around its small perimeter. I feel like I have been removed from the world entirely. And for now I am totally okay with that.

the perfect lunch spot

the perfect lunch spot

October 15th Gili Islands, Indonesia

I am in the water, cooling off after reading in the sun. Three local girls, with long stringy hair already wet from splashing in the ocean, laugh and run into the sparkly blue water, the black sand covering their legs washing away easily as they immerge. They swim over and introduce themselves to us—Nana, Lita, and Nila. Beautiful names that stay on my tongue along with the salt water that fills my lips each time I dive under. They bounce in the water. One of their skirts lifts up, the gray fabric floating around her. It makes her seem like an underwater dancer, something painted in a picture that hangs in a small art museum in upper Manhattan. They swim off and I watch as they interact with other tan girls in small colored bikinis, practicing the little English they know. What a strange life it would be to grow up on this tiny island, a western tourist world constantly surrounding you. Blonde girls and big muscular boys walking the lengths of your beaches every day.
After the girls leave I continue to swim. The water is clear and my feet dangle beneath me, kicking back and forth to keep me afloat. Fish swim two feet from me, their scales glint in the sun and I am in awe just as they swim away. I point to them as if this will make them more real. But when I look down again they are gone and I ask myself if they were really ever there. The sun is warm, the water cold. This is not real, I think.

October 16th Gili Islands, Indonesia

Tonight the stars were faint pinpricks of silver in a black sheet that extended between our white sand beach and the island next to ours. The water curled to shore, the sound of water rushing on to land and then retreating again, leaving small pieces of coral behind—a gift. If you looked closely there were blue stars that dotted the sand just after the water retreated. It was an algae that stuck to our feet if we walked along the beach, leaving glowing footprints that resembled the liquid from glow sticks that stain your hands after you break them open in a mad 11-year-old rush to understand what’s inside. We dipped our toes in the water, hoping the blue algae would stick to the bottom of our feet. We padded across the sand and waited for the little dots to glow in the dark, a reflection of the night sky right under our fingertips.

October 17th Gili Islands, Indonesia

It is evening and everyone is napping after a long but wonderful day of snorkeling. I saw a sea turtle—a real, live sea turtle. Its shell was so breathtakingly beautiful, as if crafted by a fashion or jeweler designer. When I saw first saw it I forgot to breath for a moment.
The turtle floated slowly through the water, it’s green fins flapping lightly so that you could still clearly make out the geometric pattern sketched into its water prone skin (the same pattern etched on its shell). I floated above it for forty or fifty seconds in awe at its quiet and powerful manner. And although twenty other tourists swam around me, kicking their flippers, their eyes going wide as they saw the turtle for the first time, and a few men above me started snapping pictures with their waterproof cameras, I felt like I was completely and utterly alone with this beautiful and mysterious creature.

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SINGAPORE

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October 19th Singapore

We explored Singapore this afternoon between our flights from Bali and to Phuket, Thailand. The city, from the little we saw was superbly clean. At first it was hard to tell who actually lived in Singapore and who was just visiting. Just on the metro ride, I saw what to me seemed like a cultural textbook flashing before my eyes. Women in saris sat next to schoolgirls in headscarves and Chinese businessmen with phones in their hands. White men strolled the streets outside with their white children and the girl across from me with her red hair chatted with an Asian looking man in English. Oh yeah, that’s right, I had to remind myself, English is the national language here. Strange. What I came to realize after riding the metro for about an hour is that this city/country is sort of like a melting pot for Asia, with Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, white expats, and a few other nationalities I couldn’t place right away living here.
We didn’t have much time so we only went to the mall to eat before heading to Bayfront Park where giant statues of mangrove trees stood, flowers and foliage twisting through their metal structures so it seemed as if the trees were really real. On top of these structures were solar panels and inside a boiler that turned organic waste into energy. With a giant modern mall and these beautiful trees around me, I felt as if I had walked into a Western world stuck in the middle of Asia.
Now I’m ready to head back to Thailand and explore the beaches of the beautiful country I have called home for the past five months.

Tree pose in front of a giant tree.

Tree pose in front of a giant tree.


KOH PHI PHI

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October 21st Phuket, Thailand

We are back in Thailand. After spending a day and two nights at Kata Beach in Phuket, we decided we wanted to make the additional trek to Koh Phi Phi. What a good decision this was! The cloudy ferry ride this morning ended with us circling Maya Bay, a picturesque cove of giant rocks jutting from the ocean, their cliff faces laced with green foliage. An announcement over the ferry intercom stating that we were approaching Koh Phi Phi made all the passengers creep from their spots on the boat to take pictures on the deck. Couples in matching t-shirts took turns taking photos of one another with the giant rocks in the background. Women in long dresses and colorful sunhats made their boyfriends snap pictures of them with the bright blue ocean behind them, telling them to include a few rays of sun and make sure to only get her good side.
After arriving and getting a hotel room we are now at this beautiful, white sand beach so totally different than Gili, but breathtaking in its own right. We are in a circular cove where it seems like the big ocean swells cannot harm us. The water doesn’t start for another 50 or 100 feet from the beach we sit on, and thus, some boats sit sunken into the soft mud-like sand as they wait for the tide to come in. When I do walk to the water, my feet pad along the strange beach/ocean floor and I can see pock marks in the ground. Crabs peak out from the holes and if I look from a distance I can see them scuttling along the sand, making conversations with another.
When you finally reach the water you must trudge through it for another 25 feet before it even comes to your knees. At this point I we (Haley and Sam are with me) are so exhausted that we plop our sweaty, sun bathed bodies into the water that feels more like old bathwater than the cold blue current we grew accustomed to during our five days on the Gili Islands.

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a boat sunken into the sand at low tide.

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October 26th Nan, Thailand

We are finally back in Nan. It felt so good last night, even arriving at 3 am on a night bus from Chiang Mai, to walk the tiled floor of the hallway before opening the door to my own room and collapsing on my bed. I have missed this place so very much and it feels good to be home. Yes, I think after being away for so long this place is finally starting to feel like a real home.

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Itinerary: Bangkok, Yogyakarta, Bali, Phuket, Nan

My bags are packed, albeit with too many things and yet probably not quite enough. I have repacked my backpack two, three, four times today. Each time I take some things out only to put them right back in five minutes later.

I have four envelopes stuffed with my salary from this month and I am wary that it will slip from those envelopes like candy, quickly being spent on dinner and drinks, boat rides and snorkeling tours, a new pair of shorts and a few new tank tops. This will be my first true test at budgeting.

I am headed for the airport in just under an hour. First we will head to Bangkok, spending a night and day there before we fly to Yogyakarta, Indonesia where we will rise with the sun to see a famous, abandoned Buddhist temple and then head back to the city for a few more days of sightseeing before jetting off to Bali. Ten more days will be spent in beautiful Bali, with attempts made at becoming Julia Roberts riding her bike through rice fields on her way to a medicine man in the movie Eat Pray Love. Then we will head back to Thailand, flying to Phuket where we will lounge on another beach paradise, digging our toes in the sand and feeling the sun on our chest.

I am excited. I haven’t been to a tropical beach since I was fourteen. (I don’t count Washington or Oregon beaches—as tropical as they can sometimes be.) And I find myself dancing in my room this morning to Madonna and Michael Jackson as I lay out all of my clothes on my bed and then proceed to stuff them deep into my giant blue backpack.

There is a part of me, though, that is nervous. A part of me does not want to leave this tiny town of Nan that I have grown so accustomed to. A part of me is going to miss this little place where a woman comes up to me and grabs my hand, looking me straight in the face and asks if I remember her from the other week—we met by the river when her daughter boldly said hello to me and tried to start a conversation in order to practice her English. I will miss being one of only 15 white people in town. I will miss being able to draw stares and having to worry about what I wear simply because if I am seen in shorts and a tank top at the grocery store I will most certainly be talked about at school the next day. I will miss my kids’ screaming voices. I will miss their tiny presents—small clay roses and bracelets made of miniature hair elastics. I will miss this wondrous, small, at times suffocating, ten block radius that has become my home over the past four months.

But off I go, anyway. To experience a little more of Asia and a little more of this beautiful country.

Good bye, for now.

Brenna
Will Return: October 27th (with breathtaking pictures and even better stories)

This is Why I Love Mondays

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Never could I have guessed before I moved here that not only would I love teaching, but that I would love my students so much that I wake up almost everyday excited to go to school and see their faces.  Much to the distaste of the other foreign teachers at my school, I am always ready for Sunday to end as it means I get to see my kids the next morning.  On days where I think I don’t want to teach or I would rather be in a café writing or even at home in my mother’s arms, all I have to do is walk into my classroom, with 36 seven-year-olds screaming my name and jumping up and down.

This last week has brought some of my darkest days here in Nan. Thinking about my future and what I really want to do in the coming years has taken a toll on my emotional state. I’ll be honest—I found out my MCAT scores this week. And they weren’t superb. It made me have to think about the next steps and where I see myself not only in 10 months, but in 3 and 5 and even 10 years. Its’ a daunting task to have to ask a 22-year-old woman to think about her future like this. Normally I would go for a long run. But with only the river or the stadium as appropriate places to run here, 3 miles is as much as I can really do. So where did my solace come this week?

     My kids.

            Their bright shining faces. Their smiles. Their laughs. Their informative voice as they told me we would be playing English Olympics that day—a game I recently invented and which my second graders have come to love almost a little too much. Their mouths that nearly drop open when they hear I can speak more than a full sentence in Thai. Their eyes that light up when they ask a question in Thai and I miraculously understand.

These are the moments that keep me going when I am unsure of myself.

I can’t imagine what it will be like to leave their faces in just two weeks time when our semester comes to a close and I head off to Indonesia for a three-week vacation. I don’t know what I’ll do without seeing those smiles and hearing those tiny voices everyday. Just thinking about it, makes my heart-ache. And it’s only three weeks.

I want to leave you with this poem I wrote this week. It doesn’t have to do with my kids. But I think it will give you all a good sense of why these kids are so important to me.

 

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A little weekend exploring reveals this beautiful gold stupa to me just outside of town.


I miss home

I do

Not the hamburgers and French fries

Or the repetitive pop songs on the radio

Not the colorful leaves that freckle the mountainside at this time of year

Or even long thin socks pulled over thick leggings

I miss home

I miss the easiness of waking up

And having no where to be but Oppenheimer Café

With a steaming cup of tea and a plastic tub filled with oatmeal from home

I miss watching rain drip from those glass walls as friends passed

I miss thinking about the world and all it has to offer

I miss being naïve

Being scared of the future but knowing no real choices had to be made yet

I miss the cold mornings

With pink iced clouds

And streets that glistened with rain from the night before

I miss late nights in Harned with Beyonce blasted at full volume

And sweat pants caked in chalk from too many midnight study sessions

I miss whispering in class

About notes

And ice cream dates

And what the hell we were going to do with our lives

It seemed simple then

But not

Like we had to choose carefully

But not too carefully

Because it didn’t really matter

Did it?

How can it feel so different now?

Only four months later.


 

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The reservoir. One of only two places I can run in town. But I’m not complaining.


Snapshots of Nan

I have struggled to come to terms with how to continue writing this blog. It seems inappropriate to merely summarize each week’s events or even to focus on one single event. Each week seems to bring with it so many moments that I can’t simply choose just one and yet it seems unfair to merely skim over all of them. My solution—and it is not a perfect one—is to give you snapshots. Not snapshots in the traditional sense of the term. Snapshots, as in a brief description of some of the many moments that make up my every day. A short paragraph, a bundle of sentences, a list of words, that attempt to give you all a picture of some of the enticing, challenging, and wordless moments that are strung before me each day. Of course there will be some pictures that accompany this post, but they may have nothing to do with the descriptions that follow or precede it.

This is my first attempt, in what I hope is many more to come, of a post entitled Snapshots of Nan.

Enjoy.


  I sit by the river. I have come here on a whim. By myself. Nothing has prompted it except for the intuition to get on my bike and ride the ten minutes to the park in order to watch the sunset. I am grateful for following my instinct. The sky is lit up bright cotton candy pink and the clouds seem sketched into the sky as if they are in a painting. The water reflects blue and champagne pink and the light from the lamp just to my left draws a long yellow line along the rippling water. I can hear the grunts of men, all in unison as their boat draws into my sight. The boat is bright orange, and I can barely see the wood peak out from the water it is holding so many men in its thin perimeters. The men’s tanned arms all crank back and forth, back and forth—a synchronicity that is memorizing. The water slaps against the boat in perfect rhythm with their movements.

The sky lights up bright pink. Lightening. As the boat quickly continues past me, I am entranced with the scene before me. A long, thin orange painted boat full of men preparing for the annual boat race in October. The lights of restaurants twinkling in the fading evening light, their music softly coming through their windows, a strange mix of American and Thai pop. The clouds that light up a bright pink every 20 seconds or so, a light quickly flashing behind their deep enfolds.

I watch as the sky darkens. The sun, without my noticing, slips beneath the earth and I am left with the dark water, the sound of men’s arms moving together, and the sky flashing like a camera taking a picture.  


  “Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.”

I listen to the rise and fall of her voice, her small arms moving with the beat of the music. I have heard this song many times before—too many. And I have heard this little girl sing it about 15 times. She still gives me goosebumps. A quiet smile spreads across her face with each pause in the music. Her voice does not waver on the high notes and she doesn’t hesitate to belt out the final note that I have heard so many American girls fail to make sound good.

“I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage onnnnnnnn . . . “

This is her second language. I must tell myself that each and every time she takes the stage, just after lunch and before the afternoon classes. I am coaching this student of mine for an English competition, making sure her pronunciation is correct in each part and that her movements match the lyrics.

The child does not need coaching. She finishes. I simply nod my head, my skin tingling and my hair on end.

“Good, Pin. Very very good.”

She smiles.

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Selfie with my student. (Not the same one who sings Frozen)

 


    IMG_1248 Sweat runs down my legs. Leaves stick to them as I climb the rocks, my own hand slipping on my thigh as I try to press my body up each step at a time. I am tired. We have been climbing, the sun hitting our backs, for about a half hour now. It doesn’t seem like long, but with the blue sky and the afternoon heat, I can feel my body rapidly losing water. I pull out my water bottle. Normally this purple Nalgene would last me an entire day. Here, though, I can drink the whole thing in a single morning, sometimes a single hour, and still not have to pee afterwards. There is only a small amount left. I put it back in my bag. I want to save it for the descent down.

After a few more minutes of climbing over an unmarked trail full with leaves bigger than my head and grasshoppers that dance around our feet, we finally reach the top. Where is the entrance to the cave? I look around desperately. I do not want to have climbed all this way to simply go back down. And then there it is. A small hole in the rocks that leads into the ground, a green metal sign hangs above it written all in Thai. It must say: Here is the cave you just climbed up an entire mountain for. Enjoy the encroaching darkness.

There is a ladder that leads into the cave. Sam, a fellow PiAer, goes first. I go second. The distance between each rung is too great for my body and I must jump in between them to reach, letting my body teeter between each damp wooden hold. I reach the bottom. Boy, is it dark. And cold. Thank god. I turn on the flashlight on my phone. I knew there was a reason I brought my American phone along even though I knew I would never be able to make a call out here in remote countryside Thailand.

The walls are damp and the floor slick. We continue to walk further into the cave. It opens up into a large room and we climb a small hill, our sneakers slipping along the rocks. I feel as if I am in a Harry Potter movie. This simply cannot be real life. I want to go further but . . .

“We didn’t tell anyone we were coming here,” Haley says, already walking back to the ladder—the exit.

I stay a few minutes longer, letting the dull light of my iPhone shine on the walls of the cave. The walls go high above me and odd shapes jut out, a result of the artistic ability of water to soften and sculpt the rock. I shiver. My sweat is drying. My legs no longer feel slick. I turn and head to the ladder, an unwanted exit back to the afternoon sun. IMG_1287   IMG_1265  


  He clings to my arm, burying his soft hair into my belly.

“Are you finished, Earth?”

He nods yes, handing me his worksheet. He pulls my arm harder.

Stamp approaches and hands me her worksheet. I take it with my free arm. Her bow is perfectly placed, just like the rest of the students. Even after lunch, all of the girls’ hair is immaculate. Not a bow out of a place. I wonder if someone sits on the steps of the classroom before class begins in the afternoon, retying elastics and ribbons in each one of their hair.

Stamp comes close to me now, placing her hands on either side of my stomach, ignoring the fact that another child is already clinging to me. She pats me, mutters something I cannot understand—Thai—giggles, and then smiles. She’s calling me fat, isn’t she? She pats me one more time and then leaves.

Earth wraps his arms around my middle, holding on so tight that I must loosen his small fingers only slightly so that I can breathe. I am a novelty to them—a bright shiny Barbie doll they can’t bring home.

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The poofy dress and green ribbon require a whole other explanation.

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Earth showing the class his favorite toy for Show and Tell.

   


 

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     “I picked her up at the warehouse,” See says to me as he points to the small kitten prancing around on the porch.

What warehouse and why he felt the need to bring her home I do not ask.  I have learned here to not ask such frivolous details as this.

“She’s cute,” I say to See before I head upstairs.

Later I play with the kitten, petting her belly and feeling her tiny bones beneath her fragile skin and fur.  We name her Iggy and I soon come to find I am slightly allergic to cats.  My eyes itch and I sneeze a little as she hops into my lap each night.


 

These are my moments.

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This Little World

I have finished the MCAT. Haley (one of my housemates and fellow PiA’er) and I went to Bangkok this weekend to complete our MCAT journey.  Regardless of how we thought it went, Haley and myself were more than thrilled to be finished with studying for such a vigorous test in a foreign country and with a full time job.  We enjoyed a nice weekend in Bangkok–which ended up being much more overwhelming than either one of us anticipated.  Filled with extravagant shopping malls, streets that seemed straight out of Vegas, and more foreigners than I have seen since my arrival in Thailand, I began to experience a very different side of this country.  After spending the weekend feeling a bit like I was in a Spring Break video with so many foreigners around me getting drunk, talking about their Thailand beach adventures, and their supreme lack of knowledge about this country or the language, I was very happy to come back to Nan.  

The last couple of days have consisted of me catching up on school work, sleep, and trying to figure out just what I’m going to do with my free time now that I don’t have to study for the MCAT.  I have enjoyed just coming home after work and reading a good book.  And I must admit it is very refreshing to have time to work out again.  However, while all of these amenities are nice, the thing I was looking forward to the most after I got done with my MCAT was having the time to write.  

I have kept a journal here.  But many weeks the entries are sporadic at best.  After looking through the journal, I wanted to provide you all with one small moment that has stuck with me during my time here so far.  It is a brief moment that happened at the beginning of my time here in Thailand, but now feels like an appropriate time to share it with you all.  

Enjoy.  


This morning I woke to the sound of rain pounding on the roof and unlike the usual smattering of sunrays that leak through my bedroom window, the sky is hazy and I have to turn on my lights in order to see the contours of my face in the mirror. I ride to school on my own, a little earlier than normal. When I arrive, the schoolyard is empty. Small puddles litter the pavement and there are no first grade boys with their brown sneakers to kick at the water or little girls in their black Mary-Janes to tip toe around it. There are only a few shy faces to smile at me before I climb to the office, quite a peaceful change from the bombardment of sticky hands and faces shouting hello to me with a thick accent and a mouth filled with milk.

The rain continues to come down incessantly and by the time I walk to first grade at 9 am (only 2 hours later), the sidewalks of the school have already self converted into rivers. It is much to my surprise to find my ankles sink into the water before my feet hit the pavement. Two girls try to pass me under their purple umbrella, attempting to haphazardly step around the water by hugging the wall of the school, but I can already see the liquid soak into their white socks.

I am only three minutes into my lesson when five children have come up to me and ask to use the restroom. Teacher Ann (my Thai co-teacher) looks at me: “It’s raining. They have to use the bathroom.” She smiles. The small bladders of children stimulated by the pounding rain outside their open-air classroom—it is something I never experienced in my own childhood. When there were thunderstorms in Colorado we would shut all windows and pull the drapes. The teacher would congregate us in the middle of the room and read us a story, trying to keep our hands from shaking and our ears focused on something else other than the next thunderclap.

“Five minute break!” I shout above the noise of the rain.

They all sprint to the door, grab their sneakers, shoving them on their feet only well enough that they can still walk the 50 feet to the restroom in the rain. They open their pink and turquoise umbrellas, unsnapping the strap and letting the wires pop open in front of their faces. Their arms brace the handle and their eyes close as the force of the pop spreads the waterproof fabric out in front of them. Umbrellas overhead they head in pairs of two or three, the girls holding hands and smiling at one another before they jump from the curb and run to the bathroom as quick as they can. The children left in the classroom giggle and squeal, shuffling to the door every thirty seconds to see their classmates brace the rain. A few come up and ask if they can use the bathroom too—“May I go out please?” they ask in their high pitched voices—and I watch as they too do the same rushed routine before a smile quickly spreads across their face when they jump into the rain. Five minutes pass easily like this—the kids coming and going, umbrellas opening and closing, dry and then wet, shoes off and then on, socks clean and then only slightly damp. I become entranced by the sheer joy they exert. Their smiles, their laughter. I am amazed that a simple skip to the bathroom in the pouring rain can fill them with such joy and bring me such happiness as well.

They lay their open umbrellas on the porch steps just right outside the classroom. This portion of marble stone is still covered by a roof. Their colorful domes stretch across the patio and it looks like those candy dot sheets I would buy on the 4th of July as a kid. The candy where I ended up eating more paper than sugar because I would rip them off with my teeth, no care for the plastic backing that would come with it.

It takes some cooing and loud words to get the kids back in their seats but about ten minutes later we are finally ready to start our lesson. The rain is just as loud but they are all much quieter now. Their hands folded in their laps and their feet resting on the bar of their desk just above the ground. We only have 30 minutes of class left and I know I will not get through all I have planned for that day. It doesn’t matter, though. The simple moment of stopping and enjoying the rhythmic pound of the rain on the ground; the sound of sneakers slipping through the water; observing my students faces as they jumped from a place of security and guaranteed dryness into the wet, oncoming rain; seeing their fingers comb through their wet hair after they laid their umbrellas out to dry; and the smiles that can’t seem to fade away even after many of them peel their damp socks from their already wrinkly toes and hang them on the metal shoe rack to dry; this is far better than any lesson I could teach.

 

 

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