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Patience, Friend

Stay patient and trust your journey.

Coming back home to Manang after bpit term leaves me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

Maybe it’s just the green tea I am currently sipping on as it leaves my tongue, but something about the lingering aftertaste tells me that I’m tasting more than just tannins.

There is a bit of sweetness there in the recollection of memories created over the last few weeks.

Like being able to dress up as a superhero, teach dance, and work with other volunteers from all over Thailand at a summer camp in Korat. Or bear witness to a Pop Up Wedding on the scenic shores of Railay Beach in Krabi. Hike up off the beaten path in search of the tallest waterfall in Satun. Share sandwiches and wine on the beach with good friends. Sing Hotel California on stage at an Irish Pub in Hua Hin in a key best left to Don Henley. Make it out of an Escape Room in Bangkok with PCVs from Cambodia with just four minutes left to spare. Celebrate all that is just so good and right with the world with people I have come to know, love, and care about in just the past ten months or so. Living in a country that is slowly becoming an indissoluble part of me.

And yet, with this growing connectivity comes the weight of unavoidable responsibility.

Responsibility not only to ourselves but to our communities. People we have brought into our circle of trust, and who have entrusted us with the difficult work of development.

We are expected to produce tangible results, and therein lies some unexpected bitterness.

I am at times, unsure of the path forward. How it is that I can best do what it is that I came here to do. Summon forth the will and the strength to exert an effort beyond that which seems within my own personal capacity. Put in the work day in and day out to make an unfinished dream come true. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I feel like I am finding new ways to discover patience as time unfolds. Patience in the process. Patience in the planning. Patience in the outcome. Learning little by little that all good things come in time and that all great things take a lot longer than expected.

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Living in Dread

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

It is in the sublime beauty of nature that I seem to find a lot of answers. Like the purpose of pain, difficulty, and fear. To be real, no one really knows for sure, but here’s my theory. They exist to teach us how to let go. We are here for just a moment in time. And within that frame of life, we can either choose to fight everything that seems wrong with it or learn to flow.

Not everything can be in our control. In fact, most of everything isn’t. What happens to us, and the way in which the exterior world indiscriminately decides to act in tandem, is part of what has come before and will forever be beyond us. Very much in the same way that the current of a fast moving stream carries whatever passes through it in one direction and not another, we are surrounded by circumstances that may move us towards places strange and dreadful. What is within our control though, is how we choose to react and allow such journeys to change us. They can do us as much good in life as bad.

Feelings of great apprehension can preclude any possibility of growth. When taken on as a challenge to be overcome regardless of immediately unforeseeable consequence however, anxiety and unease can be the doorway to self-discovery. Who we are and how we understand ourselves, and the world we have created within, seeks to be forever at a standstill. It is only in pushing beyond that which we find to be most comfortable that we are able to become someone more. This is a lesson that is hard to learn and is something that I am still struggling with. Working daily to let myself be taken by the course without losing confidence in my ability to rise above feelings of stagnating insecurity.

They show themselves to be the very things that keep me inside, alone. Unwilling to share of myself with the world for fear that I will somehow be rejected. No matter what I do that piece of me will always be there. Trying to push its way towards the surface. Causing me to panic and frantically paddle upstream in search of more solid ground.

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New Beginnings

I have a tendency to get stuck up on the old, antiquated ways of doing things. My actions have become anachronisms to my present self.

It is as though I cannot push away from what it was that I was.

And so I carry on in the way that I have always done things. The way in which I have always thought. Stuck in a forever loop of cause and effect. My being me being the cause and my enacting that being being the effect. That being being me and my way of being who it is that I have chosen to be. Presently. And yet ever part of the past. Memories that haunt and inhabit me. From the moment I wake to the next. Where it is that I exist is never mine truly, but a part of a continuing timeline that has been passed on. From one moment to the next. Like a soul ever in search of a body that feels like home.

Why is it that I cannot break free from this never ending cycle of self?

Part of me understands that with every new beginning comes a kind of death. Be it one that is marked with pain or beset with struggle. Another part though, seeks to come to terms with the inevitability of that pain and struggle. Working hard to make me believe that making a change is not worth it. That who I am and where I am is enough. Always. Ironically, it is that part that keeps me up at night. That makes me question the value of my existence the most. For it is in this contentedness that I oftentimes feel the most discontent. It is in the achievement of everything that I seem to have been in search for that I discover that hole which will never quite ever be filled. In my heart of hearts I understand its purpose. To keep me awake. Alive. In search. Questing.

For what it is that is beyond my reach and understanding – ever pushing me to work towards new beginnings over, and over again.

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Every Knee Shall Bow

There was a time at Church during which my parents would ask me to kneel, regardless of what everyone else was doing around me.

If you are Catholic, you can probably guess right about when.

For those of you that aren’t, I’ll give you a hint. Consecration. The high point of the Mass during which bread and wine is turned into the Body and Blood of Christ. Pretty intense stuff. For the faithful, this moment is worthy of the greatest adoration. All “good” Catholics kneel, or so I was told. For that reason it came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I found out that some congregations actually chose to stand. Of all the irreverent atrocities! Little did I know that it was up to the parish to decide how best to worship together in solidarity. It was more of a question of unity rather than form. Nevertheless, my family, along with many others, chose to kneel. We would kneel amidst crowds of standers, even if there was nothing to rest our folded legs on but the cold, hard, bumpy tile ground. Why? Because, to be completely honest, kneeling is more reverent.

It conveys a sense of gravity and withdrawal that standing simply does not.

As human beings, we have a body that is capable of physical expression. We can use form to communicate meaning. Standing for me, is representative of attention, respect, and a willingness to cooperate. When done together with others, it goes on to represent oneness, solidarity, and strength by virtue of its uniformity. Kneeling is something of a more humble pose. It represents reverence, meekness, and a sense of servile solitude. It seeks to ask of something and is deferential to the plight of others, which is why, I think, most prayer is done in this position.

What then of this whole Kaepernick situation? 

He is kneeling when others are not during a time that is felt to be of utmost honor and veneration for faithful Americans. It’s a kind of church of its own with a congregation that has gathered to celebrate the great, hallowed sport of American football – only to be interrupted by a dark figure, kneeling quietly during the National Anthem. This highly revered song that has come to represent the nation itself. And he, Colin Kaepernick, is kneeling throughout the entirety of it. Wow.

Isn’t he doing what it is that all “good” Americans should be doing?

From where I’m standing, it seems like he is taking things a step farther and not only respecting the flag, but revering it. He is asking, praying for a nation that can hold itself to its own ideals of truth, justice, and freedom whereas others are simply giving it the respect and attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Both work within the context of the person making the action. We are a country of individuals, so why is it that we expect everyone to pay their due homage in the exact same way? It took me awhile to realize that as a teenager in the pews, casting judgement upon all those that did not do as I did and pay their respects (in my case, to God) in the same way that I paid mine. Only later did I come to apprehend the damage I was in fact, doing to myself. So focused was I on the practice of others that my attention was no longer on that which was most important. The object of my devotion served only as a bystander in the fight for orthodoxy. I no longer thought about anyone, or anything, but myself, what I thought, what I did, what I thought, what I did, and how I did it.

How is it that I expect to be seen and understood when I myself cannot see or understand?

In a poignant Presidential Town Hall, Obama says (and I paraphrase), “the only way we can make American Democracy work is by seeing each other, listening to each other, trying to be respectful of each other, and not just going into our separate corners.” There was a  point at which I decided to stop kneeling and started standing, if for nothing else to step out of myself and take on a different point of view. And guess what? I didn’t die. No lightning came down from the sky to strike me. It was an eye-opening experience, acting in direct opposition to my ego and yet, here I am still holding myself upright, gazing … O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Words that fall so easily from the lips but, in action, looks like a black man out on one knee in front of thousands of angry onlookers. We are part and parcel of how we choose to engage with the world around us. So let us do so with some compassion, recognizing that how we see and understand things may not be the same as how someone else does, and that getting angry over how our neighbor isn’t doing what it is that we are doing is not so indicative of him or her, but of ourselves and our own need to criticize.

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To live is to be slowly born.

So this is me trying hard to get back into the habit of writing again. Like really hard.

I’ve been sitting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting, over, and over, and over, and over again. It is so frustrating. Trying to get out the words to properly describe a thought. A feeling. Maybe even just a simple event.

I’m also maybe a bit of a perfectionist so it doesn’t help that I keep on reading over what I write. Stopping, hesitating, trying to re-formulate, re-space, and re-structure everything.

This is basically the story of my life.

Me. Trying hard to meet my own expectations of how it should be. How things should go. And not being able to decide. Wasting all my time and energy trying to control the process …

Even now I can’t decide as to whether or not I should keep what is written or delete it all. What am I even trying to get at here? What is the end goal? Where am I trying to take this? What is the point of even writing right now? I’ve been trying to put something, anyyyythinggg together now for almost three hours and all I have is this. Ugh, so pointless.

Little do you know that the fact I used both the words “point” and “pointless” in the same paragraph just now irks me to no end.

There are times when I feel like things are falling apart when really they are just not put together the way I want them to be. I have, in my head, a picture of the way things are supposed to be, and when circumstances change or life deviates and chooses to express itself a little differently, I can physically feel my heart drop a few inches in my chest for my stomach to catch.

It’s a stupid struggle I know, but it is one that I have been dealing with for I’m not even sure how long. Learning to be open to alternative ways of thinking and doing things can be a real challenge for me, which is why it has become something of a life goal of mine to work on trying to change the way that I think. To break down the rigidity of my internal expectations and become more fluid. To flow on the go. The world outside cannot always conform to the shape of my thoughts. In fact, it rarely ever does. So I need to figure out how to roll with it. Become comfortable traversing the highway since it probably won’t go my way. To stop trying and start doing. To make mistakes, be cool with them, and try again, and again, and again. Work tirelessly towards a goal that I may not be able to see right now without losing hope or becoming despondent. All the while keeping in mind that every difficulty, along with this stupid one, takes time to hopefully, one day overcome.

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11:34

“BANG, BANG!”

It comes almost right on cue. “SHAKE, SHAKE … RATTLE, RATTLE, RATTLE!” My door is visibly shaking. I can see a pair of eyes peeking in from a cracked window. Little hands are busy at work trying to get my attention from the outside. Voices too. “SAY! TEACHER! TEACHER SAY! HELLO!” Soaked in sweat from the bike ride home, my shirt is hanging from the door grate and I’m thinking through all the things I still have left to get done today. Consciously, I slow myself down.

“Relax, Clarence. Take a deep breath. Be patient.”

With unhurried, deliberate movements, I start unpacking my swollen backpack:

Muesli (do research on Positive Discipline), two new towels (make handouts for Teacher Training), some peanut butter I found on sale (create Reading Instruction Workshop), a can of green tea (complete VRF), lavender scented air freshener (compile Phonics Curriculum), baby wipes (work on Arts Camp), a loaf of whole wheat bread (keep up with lesson planning), canned fish (make video for HYEY), a bag of papaya salad (prepare a Scope and Sequence), and a hot paper pouch of freshly fried chicken (contribute to new resource share site).

The smell of the fried chicken makes my stomach grumble. Too bad this food is going to have to wait. I head over to the bathroom to wash up only to find that the water isn’t running. “Yay, outdoor shower for me later today.” All good. I wipe myself down with a baby wipe instead, tidy up my bottom floor area, put on a fresh shirt, and prepare to open the door. I hear giggling on the other side.

“Relax, Clarence. Take a deep breath. Be brave.”

In my head I’m thinking about how maybe banging on my door isn’t the best way to get my attention. But then again, I feel like their boldness is also a sign of comfort. Around me, a foreigner from America with eyes, hair, and skin almost identical to theirs. I’m a curiosity I know, but so are they to me on occasion. You can never know what to expect on the afternoon agenda.

Sometimes students just want to chat. Other times they want to come in and play Uno or Jenga. Soccer, running, or a trip to the market are also viable options. Plain old curiosity draws a few and they just come to watch or poke around. Every now and then someone will ask for food or something to drink. Nothing quite prepared me though for the latest request …

At around 7 PM today, a boy knocked on my back door and asked if he could spend the night. From what I gathered, his mother is at a party and will beat him if he is there when she gets home? I’m not entirely sure if I heard everything right. So naturally, I let him in and right now he’s sleeping on a mat in the next room with my blanket and pillow. What else could I do? As I write this, I can’t help but wonder what is going on in the lives of some of these kids at home. It takes a lot out of me to be available, to keep my door open, especially on the weekends. Part of me wants to draw a line between their world and mine – to separate myself. Draw myself in. Create my own space. Something familiar and knowable. Yet I know that is not what I am here to do. I’m here to embrace the unknown. The uncertain. The uncomfortable. I’m here to learn and grow, come what may.

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Man vs. Wild

One crazy thing about living where we do is that the fight against nature is constant.

In fact, I don’t think you’ve had the full Peace Corps experience if you don’t battle a wild creature of some sorts at least once a day. Literally just got back from trying to kill a swarm full of red ants at my door step with a mostly empty can of bug spray. They are seriously trying to take over. A fellow volunteer in my area swears that they come back for revenge and I am very much inclined to believe her. My door mat and shoes were covered with the annoying little things. There were also a bunch of bigger black ones sprinkled in the mix as well. Please take your colony somewhere else. I’m tired of having to kill ya’ll. Every morning I have to sweep and wipe up even the slightest hint of food from off my floors. Any snacks I have have to be completely sealed, and even those get hit sometimes too. My plastic closable honey container sits precariously from my bike seat since that’s the only place where it seems they won’t go to try and desperately climb the thing in an attempt to get at the golden, sticky substance inside. Hopefully that fortress holds.

I’ve also got a drain rat that comes up at night on occasion and digs through my plastic bag of a trashcan that hangs from a nail on my wall. Cockroaches are also still a thing. I had hoped that maybe I’d seen the last of them in Memphis, but they grow big and wild here as well. So much better about them than I used to be though. Little house geckos are a staple of every Thai home. They wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t poop so much. Just a bit of a pain to have to clean up all the time. Spiders of all kinds show up at times as well as the occasional frog, scorpion, wasp, cat, cricket, duck, and chicken. Have yet to have a snake come into the house. Small worms sometimes show up in the water as well so I have to be careful when I’m washing. Oh yeah, and of course we have mosquitos. What’s Southeast Asia without mosquitos? Not Southeast Asia, I can tell you that much. Did you know that mosquito eggs can lay dormant for up to 15 years and still hatch when conditions are right (aka when it is warm and rainy)? Fun fact. Mold is also a problem. Spent all of last Saturday morning taking everything out of my cabinet, scrubbing down every inch, nook and cranny of it with soap and water, and reorganizing all my things inside because of it. Makes for good exercise having to keep up with all that regular cleaning around the house.

On top of it all, the heat and humidity makes you sweat like nobody’s business, rain comes down in torrents unexpectedly, and running water is oftentimes muddy and unreliable. Still, it’s home. And I probably wouldn’t have it any other way. The struggles and small inconveniences of everyday life have made me a better person I think and I am grateful for all that nature has taught me about my own human nature. About daily maintenance and the importance of not only making do with what you have, but about being happy with what you have when you have it. Nothing is owed to us. We are here to learn and contribute, all of us. So make the most of it. Don’t waste even a minute of it whining or complaining. Believe in your ability to overcome any challenge. Work a little bit every day to map out the uncharted territories of your inner self so as to find a proper course by which to view the world around. Do not settle for less than what you know you are capable of. Contend with nature and never give up. There is always a way to win.