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Tomorrow is my last day in Khon Kaen. Maybe I could say that I am incredibly sad to leave, or maybe I could say that I am dying to go home. But instead, I feel in the perfect place exactly where I am right now. I have a day to myself before tomorrow (our "Goodbye" day), and it is precisely what I need, to reflect and prepare.
The past few weeks have been busy and not busy at the same time. Our group completed our Gender & Sex Unit (studying women's issues, LGBT, HIV, sex work, etc). The Unit culminated in a Weaving Village, where women had formed a union-like organization for their work with weaving silks. Many women worked with the silks in addition to organic farming. I got to spend my final homestay with one of my best friends here, and it meant a lot to me. We ended up in a farmhouse, living with a family who raised buffalo and cows and had 2 incredibly cute puppies! I was amazed at how much my Thai has improved since the beginning; I was able to have in depth conversations with our "Meh", and we looked through family pictures and talked about Thailand and so many other things. Bonds are certainly made through language (though they can be made without it as well!). One memory that sticks out in my mind is our first morning in the village. Waking up at 6, my friend and I were brought to a massive gathering for breakfast (which consists of Thai dishes) with the entire village. Everyone had gathered for a wedding that would take place in a few hours! But before the wedding, the villagers turned their attention to the 2 farang at the outdoor tent and tables.
It is Isaan tradition to tie a white string around someone's wrist to wish them happiness, health, strength, luck, etc. when they will be traveling or embarking on some new journey. I have had a few white strings throughout my travels here... but I have never experienced SO MANY well wishes. The entire village came together to decorate our wrists in hope and joy! Each and every person said something kind as they tied the string around my wrist, patted my hands and genuinely wished me well. I have never experienced such kindness from strangers.
Later, my friend and I got to attend the wedding; where the bridesmaids actually braided our hair for the occasion.
We got to see silk worms and the process of weaving, and learned about the entire process. The visit culminated in a great Isaan feast, where we were further blessed by a religious ceremony and more white strings. It is customary to hold up the arm of someone receiving a white string, to signify the strength from kin. We were bonded together in a single white string as well, circling around our group to bind us together in well wishes. Leaving this village was hard for our Meh, who cried and told us how much she loved us. It was great to make such a friendship.
The next few weeks became Project time... Our group split into subgroups to work on projects of choice. My group focused on Maternal Health in the Northeast (Isaan) of Thailand. We studied how cultural traditions have changed, and how Thailand is medicalizing and moving towards technology. We also studied attitudes towards breastfeeding, and habits of breastfeeding mothers. We went to many villages and surveyed/interviewed mothers and hospital workers. It was a great time, despite many drawbacks, and we were able to learn a lot. If you are interested in our findings, feel free to ask! It felt really good to be working with data again (that is what I like best!).
Our time in Thailand is ending. Each of us have been spending time with friends we care about and going places we may never experience again. Sneaking in all the Thai snacks we can, and enjoying low prices on things like massages and beauty treatments... We had a bar party to raise money for the Mining Resistance Campaign, with plenty of drinking, dancing, and live music by our friends and teachers. It was an amazing way to send ourselves off!
Each of us have felt the angst of wishing to return home and move on to our lives again. But we have also felt such gratitude and enlightenment from our time here. I expect to reflect even further, and find exactly how this experience has fit into my life. While I have heard that transitioning back to the US can be hard, I have learned to handle what life throws at me. Change and adaptation are vital to life, and I am willing to flow with whatever I experience. I have learned so much about Thailand, about other people, and about myself. What fun it will be to integrate it into my world at home! Even if it is difficult, it is something new and worthwhile that I can incorporate into who I already am. So I'm coming home, with a whole lot more to me and my brightness that I want to share with everyone!
Much much Love, from Thailand and everywhere else,