Awakening


If you want to awaken
all of humanity,
then awaken
all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate
the suffering in
the world, then
eliminate all that is dark
and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift
you have to
give is that of your
own self-transformation.
— Lao Tzu

Maybe a personal transformation blossom is what my sustainable impact is while here in Thailand...

Two weekends ago I nursed my soul in Sukhothai; feasted my senses on 800 year-old Buddha statues, stupas, and shrines; and drank in the spiritual air of the oldest capital of the Kingdom of Siam (1238 - 1438 BCE).

These photos speak more eloquently than my words ever could.

Click to see the full gallery.

 

More to come soon about my experiences at the Special Education Center this past week.


Love & light always,

Sawatdee kha!

Emmy

Rural Reality Strikes a Chord

The girl was approximately 12, sitting on the earthen ground, her attire was so soiled with grime and dirt that I could hardly decipher the rosy pink color that her shirt originally possessed. Ropes wound around her wrists like shackles—-ropes that were apparently tied on each morning by her very own mother as a means of "dealing" with the problem; that is, if she was ever let out of their invasive grasp. Yet still, she looked cheerful, grinning at us between delighted noises at the wads of dirt and rocks she coveted.              

The problem, in this case, is severe autism...which I was quickly beginning to realize is particularly stigmatized in rural Thailand.  We were currently standing in an offshoot of a countryside town called Sa Moeng, something like 2 hours up a meandering mountain road from Chiang Mai city, my home for the summer. I had been warned that I might see shocking treatment of disabilities in rural towns, but this proved to be too drastic a contrast from what I had viewed a mere half hour before for me to handle.

A wrinkled Karen lady (one of the prominent mountain "hilltribes" of Thailand) slowly wrapped her lips into a  profound smile, baring her mangled mahogany teeth with no shame. She communicated her story to me without uttering a word; cavernous wrinkles carved deep ravines down her face and recounted the hardships of her lifetime alongside the utter happiness apparent in the deep crows' feet and creases that bordered her smile like winking parentheses.  She was donned in traditional attire from her wrapped head garb, to her dangling glass bead necklaces that twinkled in the sunlight, all the way to her exposed feet.  She caressed her grandson with gentle hands, the enchanting love apparent with each loving glance. This little boy had a mental learning disability, yet was treated as an equal with his brother, who sat alongside him gleefully stacking their brand new blocks in rows of straight colors--see deng (red), see kio (green) and see fa (blue), brought to him via the traveling staff with government funds.

The shackled girl jolted me back to reality--back to the reason that I'm here. To learn through viewing the hardships of others, no matter how much pain it brought to my astonished heart. And here I was feeling like a local celebrity. Intrigued eyes gazed at me, I could feel their piercing looks from all directions, inquisitively peering out at the obvious outsider.  And yet her mother looked through her instead of at her...what a sad, sad juxtaposition.

What made it worse is my complete helplessness to "help". As someone with a very (let me emphasize that again--VERY) basic grasp of the Thai language, it is impossible for me to support these people in any way but a smile. I am here mostly to observe, to watch with wondering eyes the environments that these children live in, and to see how the occupational therapists interact with them and deduct their level of independence and skill-building ability. At first the routine of the house visits seems the same as that of the ones I had been partaking in the week before in neighborhoods and villages just outside of Chiang Mai.  But these students have no hope of transitioning into "normal" schools or even prepping to go to one of the various "special" schools that cater to one of four main issues: hearing impaired, sight impaired, learning disabilities, and  due to their far proximity from any special training for disabilities.

As I climbed back into the dusty suburban, emblazoned with the tri-color symbol of the King (and thus government) on the side, I began to retrace the steps that led me to this place. The stark reality of the situations that some people must endure struck me harder than the car I imagined careening into our suburban a few hours earlier.

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A splash of glass hit my face like the crash of a waterfall and the crunching sound of metal against metal enveloped my ears; my eyes popped open and I looked down to survey the damage, only to realize...

...my imagination has gotten a bit out of hand here in Chiang Mai. I guess that’s my mind’s sick idea of punishment for finally giving in to the overwhelming urge to squeeze my eyes shut and pray for the best (as if the shrill Thai laughter that enveloped the interior of the car, directed at the hilarious farang wasn’t punishment enough). I had been fighting this knee-jerk reaction every time the suburban sailed blindly around a winding corner, which was quite frequently considering the serpentine mountain road our 5-person gas-guzzler was careening up.

As the chauffeur (as the Thais call all their government drivers) maneuvered around another corner seemingly mindlessly, I inhaled sharply and held my breath in a mini-gasp. Just as I feared, I had given the carload of special education teachers and occupational therapists yet another opportunity  to laugh at the silly farang who was some indeterminable mixture of absolutely terrified and overcome with carsickness.

Don’t get me wrong; there are some things I luxuriate in about driving in Thailand.  For instance, the fact that there is rarely a traffic jam or even a temporary standstill on the road; this is largely because Thai drivers understand each other and drivers frequently cross into oncoming traffic if there is a long enough break.  To ensure that this is possible, slower drivers move into the shoulder of the roads, which is also where motorcycles and mopeds predominantly remain. I quickly realized that the unspoken rule that the only driving law that must be followed (and is strictly reprimanded by police officers) is that every person on a motorcycle must wear a helmet.

Though, I do fear for the person that must re-train me to be on the right side of the road once I’m back in the good ole U.S. of A in August...

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With my stomach as sensitive as it had been the past few weeks, I had originally hesitated to join the group.  This continued all the way up the winding mountains to Sa Moeng; I felt like the car was my jail, entrapping me inside its tight grip while the beauty outside was nothing less than inordinate.

My mind had yet to realize how very free I was (and am) in simple contrast.

Blessings, 'til next time

Emmylou

Nobody Said It'd Be Easy

“If clouds are blocking the sun, there will always be a silver lining that reminds me to keep on trying.” ― Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

The sizzling of spicy green chili peppers and garlic floods my ears as I toss them into the piping hot skillet; almost simultaneously, oil droplets spring up and sting the back of my hand. As I stir the Thai concoction cautiously so as not to burn myself, the mouth-watering aroma inundates my nostrils. The smoke that the sputtering skillet emits stings the corners of my eyes and caresses my esophagus in a somewhat pleasant yet harsh manner. My Mae Keuao (Mae = "mom," pronounced similar to "meh"; Keuao = "glass" in Central Thai, her nickname since Thai names tend to be extremely long and confusing) looks on from the sidelines, guiding my hand to the proper ingredients and repeating "nit noi" (just a little bit!) with each ingredient--salt, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a whole slew of ingredients still exotic to my farang (a word used to describe all white people, deriving from the Thai word for "French") mind.

My Mae Keuao cooking on the floor...no wonder she is so strict about not wearing shoes in the house!

Five minutes later, I grin gleefully as my Paw Sim (Paw = dad, Sim = my family's last name, a sign of respect to call him such) bites into the plateful of leafy greens and tomatoes I carefully hand him, using both hands and bowing as I back away. He smiles joyfully and brags about his farang daughter learning to cook Thai food to the gardeners who are munching on their dinner, sitting cross-legged on the ground outside, their food spread out on a checkered tablecloth.  I have finally completed cooking a Thai meal from start to finish...and it tastes like it is supposed to--it's safe to say that I am beyond thrilled!

The past two weeks have been a blur of emotions--up and down, high and low, joyful then miserable, but seemingly never anywhere in between. I smile contently as I write this first blog post, pleased that I have decided to stay in this traditional Thai house instead of taking the easy route out and moving into the mansion of a family friend of the Sims, who have a daughter that lived in New York City for five long years and thus speaks near perfect "pha sa ang grit" (English language). While these past fourteen days have zipped past, I will be the first to admit that immersing oneself in a completely foreign culture is ANYTHING but easy; this is especially true for a 6'2'' farang who is proficient in Spanish and understands Portuguese yet chose to live in Chiang Mai, Thailand in Asia (land of the little people) to challenge herself and experience something completely fresh (but not so clean--I will have to post a photo of my filthy bathroom--humid heat and excessive water do not mix well).  

Things completely took a turn for the better on Thursday night, when I chose a quote from Silver Linings Playbook as my mantra during my yoga hour (the only thing that keeps me sane on most nights when I unwind in my room, FINALLY free from the confusing garble that is the Central Thai language and the overly-touchy hands of my Mae). I looked at the quote, slowly dropped my eyelids, immersed myself in it during meditation, and slowly repeated "silver lining, silver lining, silver lining" to myself every time I started to focus on the seemingly negative things as my body shifted from pose to pose.

Like the fact that I have to hunch over to do almost EVERYTHING, including washing dishes (which I offer to do daily) and cooking. Like the fact that I am constantly dreading what strange food will be put in front of me, offering no comfort and memories from home since this food is nothing like gourmet Thai food that we devour in America; it often includes whole fish whose sad eyes stare me down while I rip apart their body, splayed tails, shiny iridescent skin, and innards still attached (EEK!).  Sometimes I even make a game of it and try to swallow without letting the food touch my taste buds, then I smile as Mae Keuao looks on intently, waiting for my reaction.  

Or the fact that Mae Keauo talks and talks and talks (and then talks some more) to me and expects me to understand her, when in reality, the BYU liaison (who's a returned missionary and speaks fluent Thai) doesn't even understand her bewildering use of Northern Thai, which is completely different and mutually unintelligible unless you know the differing vocabulary. 

Me standing in a Thai door, and then eating pig intestine--yum; of course, I had to take a photo so ya'll would believe me.

Back in my bedroom, the briny flavor of sweat seeps into the corners of my lips, taut with the concentration of a vinyasa flow; I exhale deeply, spraying sweat onto my splayed fingertips, and push backward into Downward Facing Dog, trying harder with every breath to free myself from the negativity and focus on the silver linings.  Now I laugh as I smack my head on the door frame heading into the kitchen from my room, I smile and plead for help with my inquisitive eyes as Mae cackles at me for not knowing how to use her mortar and pestle, and I apologize profusely (ka thoot ka) as she laughingly berates me and swats my bum after I step over the top of her cooking utensils on the floor.  

Nobody said it'd be easy. And if it WAS easy, everyone would do it...and I wouldn't grow into an understanding and caring person whose future career dreams include only community-level development the world over.

Until next time, sawatdee ka (used for both hello and goodbye)! 

Sending love, light, and gratitude in all directions,

Emmylou <3