A 5th Grader and His Treehouse

Since the last time I posted a blog I finished 10 weeks of language, culture, and teaching training, officially swore in as a Peace Corp volunteer, moved from my first host family in Sing Buri to my second host family in Si Thep, Phetchabun, became a pork salesman and taught three weeks of English at my new school. I finally feel like I have a second to breathe and reflect so I’m going to post a series of throwback stories. The first story sums up my experience living with my host family in Sing Buri.

My host parents were a 60-year-old fisherman, Luung Yum, and a 59-year-old farmer, Bpaa Meow. They lived in a beautiful open treehouse that only had two rooms separated by walls, my bedroom and the bathroom, although the walls of my bedroom had large, visible gaps between each board. Both the front and backyards were gardens full of vegetables and fruits that I ate fresh daily and across the street was a river where Lunng Yum caught our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was exactly the kind of place I pictured living in during my service with Peace Corps.

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The 8 hours of training everyday were grueling but the hardest part of my day was finishing my plate of rice, hot bowl of fish soup, and glass of Ovaltine every morning. I used to gag at the site of a plain piece of toast at breakfast and now I was handed a full, hearty meal while 4 eyes stared at me listening to every chew and swallow. I had to revisit my old bag of tricks that I used as a small child, the last time I was forced to finish a plate of food. On Mondays I had diarrhea (every time my mom has ever served fish sticks), Tuesdays I was still recovering, Wednesdays I woke up late and would pack my food to “eat at school,” Thursdays and Fridays I would sneak fish out of the house in soggy napkins shoved in my pockets, and on the weekends I ate alone and would sneak food to our puppy. It was pathetic but effective, a phrase that sums up most aspects of my life.

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After school I would come home and Bpaa Meow would hand me a juice box, piece of fruit, and snack. Then, when Luung Yum finished fishing he would help me with my Thai homework. He liked making me say Thai phrases dramatically in front of his friends and I loved being ridiculous and putting on a show. I felt protected in a way that I hadn’t since high school when I lived at home with my family. Between Peace Corps and my host family almost all of my decisions were made for me and I found that I had to trade my independence for that feeling of protection. For 10 weeks the constant care and lack of autonomy was suffocating but also nostalgic in a sweet way.

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My favorite part of the day was 7:30pm when I would be told to shower and go to bed. My time in my bedroom at night and when I woke up in the morning was the only time that felt like my own. I would text my friends, read, write, or quietly watch Real Housewives. Something about the contrast of me lying under a mosquito net with ants crawling on my legs and Erika Jayne getting her hair and make up done and outfits carefully picked out and put together in a “Look Book” by an army of perfectly manicured gay men soothed my soul. My first 8 weeks at site I didn’t even have a mirror to look into, let alone any chance of anyone in the world being able to make me look remotely presentable.

Then one day a mirror magically showed up in my bedroom next to the door, as if the Evil Queen brought it herself to mess with me. It was strange to have a constant reminder of what I looked like. Most mornings I wished that it had never appeared but at night after my shower it was nice to see myself again. I hadn’t seen my body in two months so I would stand in front of it fully naked and check things out from various angles. I had gained weight from eating 3 full meals a day and I liked the way it looked, a little butt was actually starting to appear! Feeling like such an alien every day, it was nice to remind myself that I was, in fact, mostly human. I wish I could be a normal person and say it was a quick glance, but this preening easily lasted 10-15 minutes.

Five days after the arrival of my mirror, I came home to find that Bpaa Meow’s numerous posters of the King of Thailand had been moved and plastered all over the outside wall of my room. I thought it was strange until I walked into the kitchen and realized that standing there you could see directly into my room, right where I stand in front of the mirror. We were taught in training that there would be a lack of privacy living with our Thai host families but what I didn’t know was that this meant I would be putting on a nightly strip show for my 59-year-old host mother.

Living with Bpaa Meow and Luung Yum was an amazing experience and although I had a lack of freedom and privacy, I made up for it with a pocket full of tissue wrapped fish soup.

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