I woke up yesterday with a surprising email in my inbox. It was from Non, a 6th grader from Wang Yang Elementary School. She wrote in Thai one of the only phrases I can still easily read, that she misses me. I wrote back that I miss her too. I also tried to tie in a few vocabulary words we used every day during our warm-ups, signing off with perhaps the most favorite nickname I will ever own, Bai-Khao.
This email is a nice reminder of connections that remain between me and Thailand. Right now, especially, these little reminders are so helpful. I was never fully prepared (nor could have been) for the ups and downs of life after a year abroad. Returning at a time of high unemployment, particularly among recent graduates, adds to the uncertainty and frustration. About two months ago I decided to start a “Positive Thoughts” log, in which every time a discouraging thought about my floundering, unemployed self danced across my mind I would write something positive about myself to stay upbeat throughout the job-seeking process. Since then the log has been buried (both literally and figuratively) beneath resumes, bills, and the holidays. Well, I think it’s time to dig it out again and pick up where I left off.
I’m happy to announce that I signed up for the 21 day yoga challenge with Yoga Journal, which starts on January 10. It’s my hope that by documenting my commitment here, I will be more apt to actually following through with the challenge! Since I can’t yet afford classes, I think this will also help expand my current home practice and keep me focused for everything else in my life off the mat. Building up my yoga practice is one of my New Year resolutions, in addition to picking up Spanish again and returning to a writing regiment for this blog.
How are you doing on your New Year resolutions? If you are employed, are you happy where you find yourself at the beginning of 2011? If you are a fellow employment-seeker, how are you taking care of yourself during this time?
Wherever you find yourself, best of luck as we step into the New Year.
There was a lot about my daily life in Thailand that left me healthier and more balanced than when I arrived. Teaching and living in Thailand for a year afforded me the opportunity to unplug from the chaotic life I knew in the States, most recently as a graduate student, and really build a life I always wanted. I began practicing yoga on a regular basis, I ate mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, and I read lots of books. Changes, physical and other, were slow and went largely unnoticed by myself; it wasn’t until I shared company with loved ones again in the States (or when I was lucky enough to have visitors) did these changes really become apparent. I had shed the extra weight that crept on during graduate school as a result of papers, projects, and an absurdly constructed schedule that was always bursting at the seams. My hair and nails were stronger. I spoke slower. And I began to regard elders with more respect. Now I view interactions with my grandmother in an entirely new light.
Two notable, personal discoveries also occurred during my year abroad. Though they are independent of Thailand, they are very much in harmony with the Thai life I was living: 1) Through a New York Times article on consumerism I discovered Tammy Strobel and the minimal living mindset, and 2) I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Both minimalism and the consumption of real food are things Thailand does quite well and I was excited to be a part of it. I arrived with two suitcases (which in retrospect was too much!) and a computer, living with essentially an armful of clothing for a year. I was also consuming fruits, vegetables, and animals that were raised in the fields and farms I passed by every day going to school. The big question I kept asking myself: could I do this after my year in Thailand was over, back in the States? Back in the Midwest?
So here my next chapter begins. I’m moving/returning to Detroit in search of community-based work. Beyond that I have no idea what’s next, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. Maybe I’ll get involved in the urban agriculture movement, take a class at Wayne State, or tutor English language learners. I will continue my yoga practice and keep working on my holiday knitting projects, in between the job search, of course. I think I’ll also explore minimalist life in a post-industrial city. What does that look like, and is it compatible with what Detroit has to offer?
Thanks for joining. I’m looking forward to this project and am happy you’re here for it!
A view of my room from the yoga mat
Today I pay tribute to the mosquito nets I’ve slept under for a year. It has long become second nature to tie up my net each night before going to bed, and unfasten it every morning to avoid hitting it during my sunrise salutations. More than keeping the mosquitoes away from me while I sleep and protecting my bed from the gecko droppings that fall on everything, my mosquito net has become a part of my daily routine that truly distinguishes my life here from the one I left a year ago in the States.
I am quite grateful to have lived in a house with so many amenities, like running water, electricity (and Internet, usually), screens on my bedroom windows, a shower head and a washing machine with spin dry. Most Thai houses lack window coverings, so mosquito nets in those houses are even more of a necessity than mine is to me. I don’t have to take bucket showers if I don’t want to, and even though cold water still comes out of the shower head, it is quite a luxury to have two free hands while bathing. Also, most women in the villages wash their laundry by hand, which is an incredibly manual-intensive job, in case you’ve never tried it yourself. Now I don’t think twice about having to manually rinse my own laundry and line dry everything because I know I have it much easier than most. In addition to these differences, other things like squat toilets, fans, and floor mats are a few more examples of what makes my life here so unique and sets it apart from what is waiting for me at home.
I am so excited to come home to the family and friends I have not seen for a year but I am also nervous about many aspects of the re-entry process that will be more challenging, like eating foods my body is no longer accustomed to, washing laundry in gigantic machines, and falling asleep without the safety net I have grown to love.