Two weeks ago we received a visit from our desk officer Kate and her friend Heloise. Ben and I were up late evicting wildlife from our living room and removing peeled paint from the floor. Everything except the rotting contents of our broken fridge was spotless and ready for inspection. Tomorrow afternoon they arrived and each observed one lesson. Unfortunately my M5 class were 20minutes late and only half turned up. Afterwards we all discussed our project and talked about getting an increase in our wages. Kate agreed that 4,500baht a month was barely enough to live on and was shocked that Pra Yang had been buying us shopping almost every week. Although later in Tesco Lotus she understood how impossible it is to stop Pra Yang paying for everything. Our host really is the kindest and most generous person I have met in Thailand, deserving of the name ‘Khun Maa’. We cooked Paneng gai (red chicken curry) and sat together on our living room floor, (defiantly a dish I intend to cook back home and at Uni).
We stopped over in Phana and were treated to a cooked breakfast at Lawrence’s. I haven’t had fresh bread since home and it was delicious beyond measure! The only downside to our stay was being awoken at 5am by Phana’s morning news that blares from a megaphone outside his house. According to Pensi, (Lawrence’s wife) this way of keeping the community informed has been in practice since Phana was first founded. I am glad Muang Samsip has no town crier!
Breaking our traditional stay at the Bua, we took rooms at the Sree Isaan along with the other Isaan volunteers. The place was an improvement on the Bua , complete with English TV, showers that weren’t aimed at the toilet or door, and stain free carpets (although the thin walls meant we could hear everything being said in the opposite rooms). We all dined at Spago, courtesy of Project Trust, on margarita’s and wine. Sufficiently stuffed, we waddled back to the hotel and got ready for a night out with the veteran volunteers. After a week of filling them in on this year’s gossip, we thought it was time to hear about all the stories from when they were Hong Thong fuelled 18 year olds.
At Ubar we met up with another past volunteer, Calley who had worked in Phana 4 years ago. Whilst Kate and Eloise left for an early night (and an avoidance of our interrogation), I listened intently to Calley’s own story. As we sat out on the balcony in the smoking area, the bassy tremors of House vibrating against our backs, we heard of how Calley gave up a place to do Law at Cambridge for a life in Isaan. She told us of how she met her husband at the end of her year, came back, married and now works in Ubon. Initially you might think this a spontaneous and perhaps regrettable decision. Yet Calley, who also does not drink, was very straight forward in telling us why she chose this life over studying... ‘Yes I find some of the customs strange and I didn’t exactly have a choice when he decided our child’s name would be Snow (on account of her white skin), but I have no regrets. I love my husband, our 8month old daughter and where I live. When Snow is old enough to start school I will come back to the UK but till then I am enjoying life in the land of smiles’.
We listened and talked about our summer plans till the early hours of the morning before saying our goodbyes to Calley and agreeing to meet up for more Ubon nights out. On our way back to the Sree Isaan, whilst watching Ben collecting traffic cones, (it always amazes me how gifted drunk people are at finding them), I thought whether I would have had the strength to choose the path which Calley had chosen. Maybe not. Maybe if I had as strong a reason to stay as she does. I love life here but there is so much I miss and look forward to back home that I could not see myself teaching shrieking Thai children my whole life. Saying that there’s a whole 7 months for me to change my mind!
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