Sister Doctor

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I recently found out I have a blood clot in my leg, and since I didn’t know how to explain it to my host family, I sent my sister P’Nokyung (a nurse) a link to a medical website in Thai about it via text. I didn’t hear back from her which was unusual, but then I got a text from my oldest sister, P’Plao, who is a doctor in a nearby province. It was just so sweet to me that the family had obviously shared it with one another, and that P’Plao checked in with me. It also made me feel a lot better and a lot safer about returning to site🙂.

Adventures of Dudley the Deadly Blood Clot

I have a blood clot. And I named it Dudley.
More on the moniker later.

It all started a couple of weeks ago, although honestly it probably started much sooner.

I was in Bangkok for Peace Corps medical clearances, and while walking down the sidewalk with my girlfriend, Meghan, I managed to slip on a slick piece of slanted granite wall. Although I caught myself, I fell at an awkward angle. That was on a Friday afternoon and I felt fine during the weekend. But by Monday, my knee swelled and hurt like hell.

I’ve had issues with my knees for quite some time, and being in Thailand has exacerbated them. Peace Corps Volunteers walk barefoot and spend a lot of time sitting on hard floors eating meals and socializing. We sit in awkward positions (at least they’re awkward for me) at temples, and most of us aren’t used to squat toilets. It takes a toll on your knees, and I’ve been feeling the effects more and more. The slip aggravated the pain I already felt each time I achingly rose from a tile floor, limping around until I could walk normally again. I made sure to elevate my leg and ice my knee, and I found my IT band strap from America and began wearing it. But over a week later, I still hurt, and I contacted the Peace Corps doctors about seeing a specialist. They set me up with an orthopedist for last Wednesday.

Since I live in Kalasin province in Northeastern Thailand, Bangkok is about an 8-hour bus ride away. I conked out during my ride and didn’t even stir when we made our mid-point pit stop and all the lights came on. By the time I pulled into Mo Chit bus station, my knee was stiff and aching from staying immobile for so long. I now regret that.

I went to my appointment at Bumrungrad Hospital, a state-of-the-art international facility that feels as though it is part of an entirely different world than the village I call home. The orthopedist scheduled me for an MRI on Saturday, so after confirming with Peace Corps that I could make the appointment, I headed to my friend Lizzie’s apartment to hang out and visit with her until the weekend.

Luckily Lizzie was on break for the week, and we had a blast watching movies and ordering in and catching each other up on big, upcoming life changes. I didn’t heed her advice about keeping my leg elevated on Thursday. For some reason I hate doing that, and since I’m stubborn, I blew it off and assured her I felt fine. Then Friday morning happened.

I woke up with what felt like the Charley horse from hell. I mean, from HELL. Like the devil himself had afflicted me. It was in my left calf, and nothing seemed to help. I had tried walking on it, even venturing outside to pick up lunch, but it was killing me. By that evening, my foot had swelled to “you don’t have an ankle, Carly” proportions. I soaked in a bath with epsom salts, but it didn’t help the pain. Lizzie was amazingly sweet and rubbed my calf and foot, and she remarked, “I don’t like this.” Something didn’t feel right to her. Her suspicions were right on.

The next day I went to my MRI, and my doctor informed me that my meniscus was fine (I had been worried), but that I had cartilage damage under my kneecap to the inside of my knee. We discussed treatment options, and then I let him know about my hellacious never-ending Charley horse and foot swelling. He felt around on my leg, triggering jumps and jerks from me, then said, “Oh, I’m worried about this. I think it’s maybe thrombosis. Do you know this?” I just shook my head. Sounded like a metal band or something. “Blood clot,” he answered. I laughed out loud. “What?” I asked. “I hope not!” “I hope not, too,” he said. “But I will schedule an ultrasound for tomorrow to check.” It had never even occurred to me that my pain was being caused by a blood clot.

NBCAThe Peace Corps placed me in the Sara Inn, a hotel directly across from the hospital, and that evening I began researching deep vein thrombosis (DVT), better known as blood clots. I ran across this amazing site for the National Blood Clot Alliance, www.stoptheclot.org, which provides a lot of fascinating information about clots. I learned that more people die every year in the US from blood clots than from AIDS, breast cancer, and motor vehicle accidents combined. That blew my mind. And then it scared the shit out of me. I read about how blood clots could break free from the leg and travel through the heart or lungs, causing pulmonary embolisms (PE), and that 1/4 people who suffer a PE die. “Oh my god,” I thought lying in bed. “Oh my god, what if it’s already moving? How would I even know? Just lie still, don’t move. Crap, I have to pee. And brush my teeth. Shit!”

That night was some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. Imagine the worst Charley horse you’ve ever had, at the height of the pain, and it was that, but constant. If I was lying down, it was tolerable, but as soon as I sat up or stood up, the pain was searing. I’m sure it would’ve been a sad sight to see, but I stood at the bathroom door crying harder than I have in a long time, gritting my teeth and forcing myself to move. And praying that whatever the hell was in my leg would stay there.

The next day I did the ultrasound, and the advising doctor to the technician came in to check the images. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You have DVT. Your doctor will talk to you about treatments.” I met with the orthopedist again, and he showed me the multiple images of the various affected veins in my left calf. Then he scheduled me to meet with a cardiovascular surgeon.

While I was in the waiting room, I messaged Meghan who had been waiting to hear about the results. “Yep, it’s a blood clot.” She went out and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok.

I met with Dr. Chumpon, who told me that my inactivity (bus ride, not elevating/moving my leg on Thursday) brought on by the knee injury had resulted in the blood clot. I thought only old people got blood clots, but I’ve since learned that’s not true at all. I’m a runner, and even way healthier/stronger/more active athletes than me get them. Dr. Chumpon let me know that I would be getting an anti-coagulant shot in my stomach that day, and then I would start blood thinners for several weeks. I let him know I’m flying back to the US in less than a month, and he assured me I would most likely be fine. We had caught it early on, and I was lucky for that. Had I not already been in Bangkok and had been at site instead, I may have waited longer to get treatment, and, well…that 1/4 statistic definitely ran through my head a few times.

So what do I do when things seem a little bit serious? I poke fun at them.

Mind the Clot
Meghan got in about 4:30 am and I hobbled around a little bit trying to answer the door as quickly as I could. She helped me get settled into bed, and then we stayed up a while chatting about everything. I made jokes about my concern over the fact the pain in my leg had shifted from the left side of my calf to the back of it. “It’s moving,” I said. “I mean, where’s it going? Can I feel it moving if it decides to make a run for my heart? What if it’s just messing with me? And what if I wake up one morning and my leg feels totally fine? Should I be worried?” Then I made a crack about waking up in the middle of the night to find it lying on the pillow next to me, staring at me. Meghan joked that I’d wake up frantically thrashing around, “Where is it? Where is it?” and I’d have a bloodshot eye. Or one really rosy cheek. “Wellll…I think I know where it is…”

This evening I went for my follow-up appointment with Dr. Chumpon and was prescribed enough blood thinners to last me 3 weeks. He also gave me a sweet compression stocking I get to wear every day until then. I’ll do another ultrasound the weekend before I fly out to make sure everything is okay. When Meghan and I got back to the room, I began checking the StoptheClot website again. I read aloud another deadly statistic, much to Meghan’s delight (sarcasm). One of them included the phrase “non-fatal deadly clot”–“How can something non-fatal be deadly?” I asked. “Do I have a deadly clot?” “Potentially deadly,” she answered. “I’m gonna start calling it Deadly then. Oooh! No–Dudley. Dudley the Deadly Blood Clot!” “Seriously? You’re not funny.” “It’s a little funny. I’m gonna write a blog post!” And boom–here it is.

So this is the tale of Dudley. My battle with him has just begun, but I have confidence the medicines will do their job. And that awesome compression stocking. But I have to admit I’m a little bit scared about going back to site tomorrow. I have to take that long bus ride back alone–with crutches–and I’m definitely not going to be anywhere near a state-of-the-art medical facility should Dudley decide to strike out on any new adventures inside my body. But, I have an amazing host family I can stay with and a host sister who’s a nurse and aware of my condition. I have no doubt they’ll watch out for me and make sure I’m alright.

I’m gonna steal from one of the patient stories on the website, and end with some takeaways about DVT:

1. Surgery/injuries increase the risk of DVT
2. Birth control increases the risk of DVT
3. Inactivity/immobility increases the risk of DVT (especially long rides)
4. DVT often starts out feeling like a painful Charley horse
5. DVT doesn’t discriminate based on age!
6. Even active, healthy, fit people can get DVT
7. DVT is one of the deadliest and least known about conditions in the US

Stay alert, be your own health advocate, and don’t let a Dudley happen to you!

Picture 5

The Children of Myanmar

“Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.”
–Ron Wild

My friend, Mayumi, and I visited Myanmar for a little over a week back in October and had a blast! As I was organizing and editing my photos from the trip, I realized I shot a lot of the children we encountered. A lot. Which is something I usually find myself doing when I travel. I love kids immensely and have always found great joy in being around them, and ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved to take pictures, so it makes sense that kids would often find themselves the subjects of my photography. During my time in Myanmar, I was able to capture some pretty great moments with some amazing children, so I decided to dedicate a blog post entirely to them.🙂 I hope you’re as enamored with them as I was!

A note: The golden powder you see on many of the children’s faces is thanaka, a paste that is considered beautiful to wear in Burmese culture, and it also helps cool the skin.

Also, please click on any image to enlarge it for better viewing.

Our first stop was Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital of Yangon, and right away this proud papa was more than happy to share his baby’s cuteness (I always ask first).🙂

Check out my baby!
Check out my baby!

Sweet dad :)
Sweet dad🙂

Who can resist a novice monk with a Power Ranger?
That's East meets West for you right there
That’s East meets West for you right there

This little girl took a turn at ringing the bell with her family:
Giving it a whirl
Giving it a whirl

In Bagan, Mayumi and I took a break from the heat inside a large pavilion and watched this young girl carry in a large basket of beans on her head:

The girl has skills!
The girl has skills!

When it was time to go, a young boy she had been playing with tried to fold up the cloth properly so he could carry the bowl back like she did. He couldn’t quite get it, though.🙂
Almost had it!
Almost had it!

But not quite :)
But not quite🙂

There's just something about the laughter of children :)
There’s just something about the laughter of children🙂

Here was a spunky young novice monk walking about one of the many pagodas in historic Bagan🙂
A young barefoot monk walks around historic Bagan
A young barefoot monk walks around historic Bagan

And this mother and her children were taking a rest in one of the temples:
A family rests in one of the temples in Bagan
A family rests in one of the temples in Bagan

One of the most famous sites in Mandalay is Mahagandhayon Monastery. Approximately 3,000 young novice monks live here and attend school, and every morning they line up with their alms bowls to receive breakfast. Afterwards, many young children from poor families wait patiently outside the refectory, hoping to receive some of the leftover food.

A young girl waits with friends for the monks to finish their breakfast
A young girl waits with friends for the monks to finish their breakfast

One of the drawbacks of tourism here is that many tourists, undoubtedly out of a desire to help, pull money and snacks from their bags to give to the children, who then flock to foreigners hoping for more. I struggle with these spontaneous acts of charity because on one hand, to be critical of them begs the question, “Well, would you just rather not give them anything at all?” And I most definitely understand the desire to want to help in some way, however small. But on the other hand, it troubled me to see visitors videotaping and photographing these interactions as though the children were an attraction, their poverty an opportunity for tourists to become 5-minute heroes to a few while others received nothing.
Handing out money to expectant children
Handing out money to expectant children

It also seemed to be creating a Survival of the Fittest environment amongst the groups of children, with the bolder, bigger children often pushing their way in front of younger children with hands out to get first dibs. At first I was struck by the lack of gratitude displayed by the kids, especially since I was coming from rural Thailand where children largely “kop khun” (offer thanks) everything. But I realized that these moments were more about the competitive nature of receiving these gifts than they were about the consideration of them.
Children asking for gifts of money
Children asking for gifts of money

While Mayumi and I were walking around the monastery, we noticed a young boy walking down a narrow pathway between buildings. He was carrying a plastic bag, and two monks approached. One monk kept walking, but one of the monks stopped to place some food items in the boy’s sack. Perhaps this quiet moment of giving was the monk’s way of helping without creating tension or suffering within the other children.
A monk offers a young boy food from his alms bowl
A monk offers a young boy food from his alms bowl

A young boy checks the food given to him by a passing monk
A young boy checks the food given to him by a passing monk

Here are some other great moments we spotted with kids at the monastery:
A young monk talks and jokes around with two younger children
A young monk talks and jokes around with two younger children

A young boy and girl wait while the woman they are with finishes working
A young boy and girl wait while the woman they are with finishes working

A young boy at Mahagandhayon Monastery
A young boy at Mahagandhayon Monastery

A young girl and (possibly) her mother
A young girl and (possibly) her mother

A little girl becomes quite shy when she sees my camera
A little girl becomes quite shy when she sees my camera

While visiting Mahamuni Buddha Temple in Mandalay, we spotted a procession of young children dressed in traditional Burmese outfits circling the temple with their parents. As in Thailand, it is not uncommon for young boys to wear makeup and be called “beautiful” during these events.
A young Burmese boy participates in a religious process at Mahamuni Buddha Temple
A young Burmese boy participates in a religious process at Mahamuni Buddha Temple

Peek-a-boo! I wondered what the little boy in front was thinking...
Peek-a-boo! I wondered what the little boy in front was thinking…

This mother was quite proud of her beautiful son and pulled him ahead of her so I could be sure and get a picture :)
This mother was quite proud of her beautiful son and pulled him ahead of her so I could be sure and get a picture🙂

Young girls are elaborately dressed too, of course
Young girls are elaborately dressed too, of course

Baby hats are so much better in Myanmar!
Baby hats are so much better in Myanmar!

More photos from around Mandalay:
A young boy walking around the ruins of a monastery in Mandalay
A young boy walking around the ruins of a monastery in Mandalay

A young boy cares for his (possibly) younger brother
A young boy cares for his (possibly) younger brother

Two young boys from Mandalay
Two young boys from Mandalay

A young girl near U-bein bridge in Mandalay
A young girl near U-bein bridge in Mandalay

Two young girls playing near U-Pein Bridge in Mandalay
Two young girls playing near U-Pein Bridge in Mandalay

Inle Lake in one of the richest cultural areas in Myanmar, and it was by far my favorite place! Mayumi and I visited a school, and both the teachers and students appeared excited to have us stop by to talk for a while. I was able to teach some of the kids the art of the fist bump, which they then passed on to their friends🙂

Students playing outside their school in Inle. I love how surrounded by nature they are!
Students playing outside their school in Inle. I love how surrounded by nature they are!

Students at a primary school in Inle
Students at a primary school in Inle

The first brave students to interact with us during our visit :)
The first brave students to interact with us during our visit🙂

A young primary student in Inle
A young primary student in Inle

A group of older primary girls chatting outside. Their English was very good! They were excited to talk with us for a little bit :)
A group of older primary girls chatting outside. Their English was very good! They were excited to talk with us for a little bit🙂

Just look at that face! :) Interestingly, short hair is quite common for young girls in areas of Myanmar.
Just look at that face!🙂 Interestingly, short hair is quite common for young girls in areas of Myanmar.

Adorable :)
Adorable🙂

After we left the school, Mayumi and I walked along a long bridge connecting the mainland to the homes and businesses located on the lake. We happened to be there when school finished, so we were able to watch all the students crossing the bridge on their way home.
Students making their way home from school in Inle. The skirt the boys wear is the traditional Burmese longyi (sarong).
Students making their way home from school in Inle. The skirt the boys wear is the traditional Burmese longyi (sarong).

This little fella was full of business!
This little fella was full of business!

And finally, there was this cute baby I hung out with at the infamous jumping cat monastery on Inle Lake:
He wasn't quite sure what to make of me :)
He wasn’t quite sure what to make of me🙂

I wish we had had more time to play with the children we met, but I’m thankful for the moments I was able to capture!

Because I love black and white photography so much, here is a gallery of some of the images in alternate b/w versions:

Foiled Again!

There are moments, many moments, in every Volunteer’s life in which the words “Oh, Thailand…” are uttered. It happens when we are told to be ready at 8 am for an important event, and at 9:15 we are still waiting, wondering if our ride is coming and if there is indeed an event. It happens when we’re walking about the village and suddenly find ourselves in a stranger’s car, not totally sure where we’re going. Now that I’m in my last 2 months of service, I pride myself in being able to head off a certain amount of the uncertainty that defined my first year here. But last week I had a rude awakening, and I realized that even 2 years in, I still find myself in inexplicable situations, perplexed, and mumbling, “Oh, Thailand…”

It was Teachers Day, and in the week leading up to it I was told that I would play volleyball on the team of teachers from my school. Every conversation about Teachers Day revolved around playing volleyball. I practiced after school, received my pink polo that every teacher in my cluster was going to wear, and was pumped to have the opportunity to play some sports with my colleagues. The day before the event I asked my co-teacher, P’Ple, if my running pants would be okay, and she responded with the equivalent of “Well, duh.” She let me know that she and another teacher, P’Lamduan, would pick me up at 8 am, and we would head over to the high school. “We will play volleyball?” I asked, confused by the early pickup time. P’Ple paused like she was thinking of something to say and finally just said, “Yes!”

I should’ve known then.

A pause followed by a one-word answer usually means there’s a lot more to the story, but she isn’t quite sure how to phrase it, so she just offers me the simplest answer. I know this. And yet…

The morning of Teachers Day I slept in a little knowing I wouldn’t have to do much to get ready, ate a rare breakfast (I usually don’t) and drank some coffee so I’d be pumped for all the volleyball I was gonna play. I threw on my running pants and polo, slathered myself in sunscreen, threw my dirty hair back in a clip and slapped my running headband on. I thought about just going with flip-flops but decided to put on my tennis shoes instead. I was ready for Teachers Day.

At 8:15 P’Ple showed up at my door dressed in a black jacket and black skirt and was wearing a pretty scarf and some jewelry. “You’re not playing volleyball?” I asked. “No, I will go to the high school and come later and change clothes.” “Oh…” I responded. It probably should’ve clicked then, but nah. I just figured P’Ple was doing her own thing. (To my defense, she did tell me she had a meeting at 9:30.)

So then we walked out to P’Lamduan’s car, and P’Lamduan was also dressed nicely. I still didn’t think anything of it until we pulled into the high school, and I saw swarms of teachers from all over the district heading to the meeting hall. And they were all dressed to the nines. Men in suits, women in skirts, heels, and jackets, other women in traditional Thai outfits. Definitely no one in volleyball playing gear, though. “Wait a minute…ummm…I feel awkward,” I told P’Ple. “Why didn’t you tell me there was a big ceremony??” “Oh, it is okay! You look beautiful! Don’t worry!” I laughed, exasperated. “P’Ple, I didn’t wash my hair and I’m wearing grubby tennis shoes! I’m gonna worry! I’m worried, right now!” Yeah, that whole “don’t worry!” thing? That’s been the source of many a “Oh, Thailand…” by the way.

I got out of the car, and while I’m beyond used to stepping into awkward social situations by now, I was actually embarrassed. I spotted other foreign teachers from the high school decked out in suits and attempted to camouflage myself in the crowd. Needless to say, that’s difficult. By the time I had been introduced to multiple principals from other schools and ran into my brother-in-law and sister, I couldn’t help but laugh. I sat down in front of P’Ple and smiled at the teachers sitting next to me.

Now, about this time, I looked around and noticed that there were people at the front getting certificates prepared, some framed, some not, and it hit me. I did this last year. The whole shebang. And I got dressed up for it. “How the hell did I forget this?!” I wondered. “Its Teachers Day! In Thailand! Of -course- there’s a big to-do ceremony!” I just had to shake my head. “You can’t blame this one on Thailand, girl!”

Some days are actually just “Oh, Carly…” days instead.🙂

Also, we ended up not playing volleyball together after all. Not enough teachers showed back up after lunch to form a team.

Oh, Thailand…

P'Ple and me--I make Teachers Day look good!
P’Ple and me–I make Teachers Day look good!

Meet Angbao

Angbao is the youngest son of my host sister, P’Nokyung. He takes “energetic” to a new level, even for a 7 year-old 1st grader. I would describe him as vivacious and stubborn to anyone who asked now, but when I first moved to site almost 2 years ago, that’s not how I described him at all. Back then, I mostly went with…”little shit”.

Angbao was 5 then, and he was just getting ready to start kindergarten. I moved in with my family on a Saturday, and that night I went with him and P’Nokyung to the market where we bought fried grasshoppers to snack on while P’Nokyung worked at one of the local clinics. I found Angbao to be absolutely adorable, and since he and my cousin’s daughter back home are the same age, I jokingly told my cousin that Cass would have a Thai boyfriend some day. That night at the clinic, we munched on the grasshoppers in the waiting area, although Angbao was far more interested in the video game he was playing than he was in talking to me. I was determined to win over this adorable little fella!.

The very first pic I took of the little cutie pie!
The very first pic I took of the little cutie pie!

Waiting at the clinic, totally ignoring me...
Waiting at the clinic, totally ignoring me…

Soon, however, the adorable factor began wearing off, and I found him to be…bless his heart…a spoiled rotten mess. As the youngest of 3 boys and the youngest grandchild in a large family, he seemed to embody those stereotypes to a t. Screamed if he couldn’t play on the tablet. Threw fits if he couldn’t watch cartoons. Had epic tantrums if games didn’t go his way. He was so very different than his two older, easy-going brothers. Also unlike his brothers, he didn’t seem to have the slightest interest in me being around. Except to laugh and make fun of me for not knowing the Thai alphabet. But not in a cute way. In that way that makes you, even as a grown ass woman, want to say, “Oh, you think you’re soooo smart, don’t you? Don’t you?! Can you say the English alphabet? Huh? No? NO?? HAHAHA! In your FACE, kid!” And then I would stop myself and think, “Carly, you’re 31. Get a grip.”

I mean, look at that attitude. Can you blame me??
I mean, look at that attitude. Can you blame me??

One time in particular, I remember the family was taking a trip to visit my oldest host sister and her family in a different province, but I wasn’t going to be able to go due to work conflicts. Although I enjoyed the kids, I was very much looking forward to a break. As the family loaded up, I noticed P’Nokyung holding Angbao, but she wasn’t putting him in the car. “Why isn’t she putting him in the car?” I thought. “Why is she just holding him? What’s happening? No, no, this can’t be right. They’re shutting the doors. Why are they acting like he isn’t in the car? What are they…no, no don’t drive away! You forgot one! You forgot one!! For the love of God, you forgot one!!!!!” I was dumbfounded. I eventually asked P’Nokyung why Angbao hadn’t gone with everyone else, and she told me he got upset because she wasn’t going to let him take the tablet, so she let him stay. “You have GOT to be shitting me” crossed my mind a few times.
The boy likes video games for sure!
The boy likes video games for sure!

I called one of my friends one day to talk about how conflicted I felt. “I love kids. I LOVE them! Even when they’re acting like little devils, I find them funny. But this kid…I mean, I’ve never -not- liked a kid before, but now I don’t know! Is this normal? I feel terrible. And crazy. Am I crazy? Crazy terrible?” My friend assured me I was neither, but for the first time in my life, there was just something about a kid rubbing me the wrong way. But even though he found ways to work my nerves, I also couldn’t help getting at least a little swept up in his devilish charms. I mean, the kid’s cute, I couldn’t deny that.🙂
Songkran festival. He had his moments :)
Songkran festival. He had his moments🙂

Songkran at home. I was still a sucker for his quirky cuteness!
Songkran at home. I was still a sucker for his quirky cuteness!

And then one day, voila! Something changed.

I went over to visit my family and was sitting on my sister P’Noi’s couch while Angbao played a video game on the floor. Then, for no particular reason, he came over and sat on the arm of the couch right beside me. Never said a word, never even really acknowledged my presence, but sat super close to me focused intently on his game. It was a moment. I knew it was a moment, and I knew that for whatever reason, the era of indifference was over.🙂

My birthday last year. By this time Angbao had taken to sitting close to me :)
My birthday last year. By this time Angbao had taken to sitting close to me🙂
Over time, he started asking me to play with him more, and he began to talk to me more and more. He would still get frustrated and mumble an “Oy!” if I couldn’t understand, but I found it endearing now instead of unbearably annoying. Soon he was challenging me to bike rides and foot races and ninja fights. Those mostly involve him getting into ninja stance, flailing around in my general direction with a few chops here and there, and then collapsing onto the ground as I subdue him with tickles. You know, typical kid stuff🙂

Getting ready for the Ride of Horrors
Getting ready for the Ride of Horrors
One of my favorite bonding moments came a few months ago when a random carnival came to our town. Well, I’m sure it wasn’t random, but it seemed to pop up out of nowhere to me. P’Nokyung invited me to go with the boys, and after playing their favorite pellet gun game, they decided they wanted to ride the kiddie coaster. Aomsin and Satang rode together, and P’Nokyung asked me to ride with Angbao. I was actually surprised he was okay with it, but he took my hand and walked up the stairs with me and laughed as I tried to contort my body into the child-sized seats. We got going, and to my shock, the ride actually had some gusto! We went around once and then twice and then during the third time I noticed Angbao getting upset. I asked him if he was okay, and he told me he was scared. I wrapped my arm around him tighter and told him it would be okay, as we rolled through our 4th pass into our 5th. Even I had hit the point where I felt like we were tempting fate on that rickety ride built with who knows what, and finally we stopped. He had been clinging to me during the final lap, and as soon as the bar in our laps was lifted, he rushed to his mother. She laughed, and I couldn’t help but chuckle, but it felt good to think he knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to him, and that he had trusted me.

Some time after that I asked P’Nokyung if I could tutor the boys a couple of days a week after school because I had noticed they weren’t as confident as the other grandkids with speaking English. I had also noticed that the older boys often left Angbao out of games and activities because they thought he was too little, and I could see it upset Angbao a lot. I thought tutoring all three of them would give them an opportunity to learn and play together.

Alphabet hopskotch at my house
Alphabet hopskotch at my house

Getting his alphabet wall on
Getting his alphabet wall on
Angbao quickly surprised me! He was eager to do phonics games and worksheets, and even though it was challenging to keep him focused, he retained the vocabulary the fastest and enjoyed challenging his brothers during games. I started the tutoring just wanting to help them with English. Some days I stressed over whether or not the activities I had planned were going to be fun and worthwhile or not. I still think about those things, but now I just mostly look forward to getting to spend time with the boys. What started out as self-imposed extra work has become one of the highlights of my week🙂

More than a little excited at his bingo win
More than a little excited at his bingo win
This past Christmas and New Year’s we seemed to get even closer! My girlfriend Meghan spent the holidays at my site and helped me put together some Christmas activities for the kids, including BINGO. Meghan and I were both impressed at how quickly he picked up the vocabulary and that he decided to incorporate a charades game whenever he was the caller. He also started busting out little English phrases here and there. “He’s a really smart kid!” she commented after they left. After thinking he had zero interest in learning English for so long, it turned out the little stinker was quite the sponge!

When Meghan and I arrived to my family’s house for New Year’s Eve, Angbao quickly informed me that he had already read the book I gave him for Christmas. I was SO delighted! The kids do a lot more video game playing at home than book reading, so it made me feel good that not only had he read the book, he was excited enough to tell me about it!

NYE fun!
NYE fun!

Megs wrangling the wildness :)
Megs wrangling the wildness🙂

One of my favorite parts of the night came when Megs, my meh and I were sitting outside, and he asked me to exercise with him. Thinking he meant a race or something, I was reticent at first but eventually agreed to exercise with him. He went into the house and emerged with two 2-pound weights and promptly began his weight lifting demonstration. Then he told me to do it and watched my form. We eventually did a contest where he told me to do 50 reps, so I assumed he meant stop at 50. Oh no! He proceeded to kick my butt and then tell everyone about it after he pumped out 200 reps! We also did some jumping jacks and pushups in there🙂 Afterwards, he sat down between Megs and me, and after my brother-in-law brought the two of us glasses of beer, Angbao raised his cup of Coke and proposed a cheers. It was a pretty adorable way to close out 2014🙂
Cranking 'em out!
Cranking ’em out!

Team tough!
Team tough!

Whenever he sees me, he yells out “Carleeeeeeeene!!” excitedly, which tickles me every time (my family’s pronunciation of my name sounds like Carlene). It’s so strange to me to think back when I first got here, and he drove me up the wall! I have a unique bond with each of the boys, and I’m so thankful for the one I have with Angbao. He’s a hell of a handful, but he’s gone from ‘little shit’ to one of my favorite little turds ever🙂

With a face like this :)
With a face like this🙂

(Special shout out to Meghan for the awesome moments she captured!)

NFL Playoffs and Breakfast with Meh

Chilling
Chilling

Throughout this past NFL season, I spent a few Sunday nights with my host family so I could wake up in the wee hours of Monday mornings and watch games (go Cowboys! Stupid Packers…). This past week, I woke up at 3 am to watch the Seattle Seahawks pull out an unbelievable win against the Green Bay Packers (sweet vengeance!), and my brother-in-law was up watching it with me. Around 7:30, my meh (mom) came over and started making a fuss as Thai moms do over whether or not I had eaten yet, and why I didn’t have coffee. And by coffee, that actually means 3-in-1 instant powder mix. She handed me a plate of white rice and a scrambled egg omelet, and when I set it down in front of me, she let me know that it wasn’t going to be delicious if it got cold, so I needed to eat it fast. I laughed and promptly started eating, thankful that we’re close enough now to have a mother-daughter relationship like that. Then she brought me toast with strawberry jam, a tin of cookies, and a cup of “coffee”. I usually don’t like people making a fuss over me, but it was just so comforting being taken care of in such a loving way. Then Meh sat down with her coffee and toast and watched the Patriots and Colts with me. As you can tell, it was an unusually cold morning in Thailand, and a pretty perfect one as well🙂

Sharing Culture

I think he digs it!
I think he digs it!

I recently sent my friends a traditional Northern Thailand hill tribe outfit I got at a Hmong market for their son, Jack.  Although I don’t live in Northern Thailand (I live in the Northeast) and haven’t had the opportunity to work with the Hmong people, I love being able to share different aspects of the various cultures here with my family and friends back home! And I have to say Jack looks quite dashing🙂

 

My Thai Mom and Dad

Just look at those smiles!
Just look at those smiles!

My meh (แม่, mom) and paw (พ่อ, dad) are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met! They immediately welcomed me into the family, and whenever I have brought over a friend to visit, they have welcomed them as family members, too. They are both so jovial and fun-loving and are always cracking everybody up. Although I don’t always understand her, I can tell my meh has a quick wit loaded with sarcasm. And my paw loves to talk to me for long stretches of time and then ask, “Kao jai mai?” (Do you understand?) at the end. Then he’ll put his hand on my shoulder or my head, and we’ll both laugh because we know I had no idea what he was saying🙂. This picture is one of my favorites (my girlfriend Meghan took it) because I had asked Paw to take a photo for Father’s Day, and at the last second Meh jumped in because she wanted to be in it, too. It’s rare to get a photo of them both in full on laughter, so I’m thankful Meghan caught this awesome moment!

Insights and peculiarities of Peace Corps life in Thailand