Not Taking It On

There are a lot of things you don’t have to take on. – June Diane

Before I joined the Peace Corps I assumed that I would be cut off from all technological communication, sending letters through the mail that would end up in the jaws of stray dogs before ever reaching my fellow volunteers. 14 Facebook groups and 27 group chats later I realize how foolish, and maybe hopeful, that was. One common thread throughout all of these forms of medium has been advice on which podcasts to listen to. Remembering taping Days of Our Lives on VHS tapes everyday in the 4th grade, I’m not exactly up on all of the coolest podcasts, but I do faithfully give one recommendation, B***h Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown (not censored). It’s hosted by two of the funniest comedians and gives my favorite topic the time and thoughtfulness it truly deserves.

Other volunteers don’t take me seriously when I suggest this but it is at their own loss. Just recently on an episode titled “Mystic Mistake”, before taking on the huge and important task of dissecting a dinner party hosted by “Mystic McKayla,” a guest host expanded my worldview more than any podcast delving into the human psyche ever could. I stood up from the dirty bucket used to collect vegetables, dropped the clothes I was hand washing back into the muddy water, and took a moment to be present as my whole life philosophy was upended.

Comedian June Diane told a story of her car being stolen right out of the driveway in front of her house. Instead of feeling shame or fear she decided that she just simply wasn’t going to mentally or emotionally take it on. “I’m not going to take on the identity of someone who’s had their car stolen from their driveway. I’m not going to take on the experience of that, what that means. I’m not going to take on the worldview of the victim of auto theft. All that is attached to it is not for me. I viewed it as; I see that that happened… over there. But that’s not anything for me right now,” she testifies at the 15:45 minute mark on “Mystic Mistake” hosted by Danielle Schneider and Casey Wilson.

When my little host nephew asks me to play fetch with him and the dog and I go outside and he hands me the skeleton jaw of a pig who I watched grow up, heard butchered, sold at the market, and then ate… not taking it on.

When I watch the dog eat a frog that I’ve just released outside after running around my room with a giant cup to capture it as it not only jumps but flies and then glides through the air onto my bed leaving small, damp marks of filth… not taking it on.

When I’m lying on my mattress, graciously not murdering the ants and beetles that also call it home, and a scorpion has the audacity to sting my ankle in this comfortable refuge that I’ve welcomed all creatures into… not taking it on.

When I use the squat toilet in an unfamiliar place because of an emergency and get done to see that there is no “bum gun” and definitely no toilet paper and that I’ll be using a tiny bucket and my hand to clean myself… that experience is not for me and I will not be taking it on.

This advice has come in most helpful with the spiders that make their home in my bathroom. I initially used the same cup that would assist me in my “rescue” of the frog to catch them and set them free outside. However, running around my bathroom squealing like a stereotypical gay sitcom character quickly got old and with the gaping hole in my bathroom wall called a “fan” allowing them to come back inside whenever they wanted I decided that it would be better to just coexist.

Not taking them on became easy with three different rationalizations. First, I assumed they would start to eat the other unwanted bugs in my life and they actually proved this theory correct by capturing my biggest foe, a baby scorpion, in one of their webs. Second, I began to fantasize about a Charlotte’s Web type scenario where the spiders would start leaving me messages to save the pigs in the backyard. Suddenly, the dingy cobwebs in every corner transformed into magical silk Ouija boards connecting our two worlds together and the sets of eight hairy legs that seconds ago carried my enemies were now carrying wise confidants with the voice of Julia Roberts. Finally, sometimes being at site is lonely and taking on spiders as pets was easier than a stray cat.

One day I noticed that an especially resourceful spider had caught fifty little bugs in their web. Not only was I proud of myself for this genius idea, imagine all fifty of them creeping into my bed one by one slowly starting to suck and fuel their lives off of my blood, but I was also proud of my spider’s work ethic during this massacre. As time passed though, it appeared that the bugs were morphing into miniature spiders. I knew nothing about spiders or insects but it seemed unusual for spider prey to start to look like spiders themselves. However, the alternative was that all of these bugs were actually baby spiders and that was something I also wouldn’t be taking on.

NotTakingItOn2

Then one especially dark night, around 2am, I was drawn into the bathroom by an ominous energy and also the need to pee. In my sleepy state, a bravery that I can only credit to the remnants of the strong heroine I am in my dreams tricked me into conquering my fears. I boldly kind of looked with a quick glance in the general direction of the spider web.  I could no longer deny that the bugs were in fact spiders and that they were growing. The thought of fifty baby spiders crawling into the orifices on my face sprung me into action. I scanned the bathroom for a weapon and saw the bum gun. Someone within me, a stranger waiting in the shadows of my soul, emerged and put their finger on the trigger and sprayed. Lying in bed after this bloodbath, my thoughts teetered perilously close to a guilt spiral until I heard the soft voice of my real Charlotte, June Diane, whisper, “Because I know the depth of feeling that I’m capable of… that’s why I have a strong rigorous reflex that kicks in, which is like, that is not for me. “ I rolled over and fell into a deep, peaceful sleep murmuring over and over again, “that is not for me.”


 

An Island Curse

In moments of intense excitement, I tend to feel invincible. Thus was the case as I stood in front of my mirror with a beard trimmer and a pair of dulled scissors and decided to give myself a haircut. I wanted to look good for my upcoming trip to Koh Mak and thought that cutting my own hair would be easier than finding a barber. After a few minutes, I looked in the mirror and was in disbelief. I had given myself the best haircut of all time. I walked outside brimming with pride as my host mother and brother burst into laughter. Through unrestrained giggles, they asked me what I had done to myself. I looked in the mirror bewildered, only seeing the perfect haircut. My little brother grabbed my phone and took a picture of the back of my head as my host mother’s laughter turned silent, looked painful, and produced tears. The words gross, wiry, and patchy come to mind. 5 minutes later I was following my brother to the nearest barber who also laughed directly into the back of my head.

A few hours later my family prepared to drive me an hour to the closest volunteer’s house so that we could travel together. They could have taken me 15 minutes to the bus station but they don’t trust me to do anything on my own. They are completely justified in this mistrust as I stumble around their village like Ariel with brand new legs, unable to communicate and combing my hair with kitchen utensils. I’ve washed dishes with dog shampoo and my own clothes with fabric softener instead of detergent for 3 months. I’m like a giant toddler and my only form of survival is my mom’s Netflix password. If someone’s willing to hold it, this hand will always accept, and so my journey began.

We made it to the island after a relatively uneventful trip and were reunited with all of the other volunteers for the first time in 5 weeks. We initially planned to frolic through the water and take Instagram pictures but were met with sharp rocks, broken shells, and sea urchin stingers. Even though the bright red cuts on all of my toes oddly complimented the fresh paint of glitter polish on my nails, we decided to flee. Our bloody, little baby feet bravely carried us to safety: a kayak rental hut. I decided to take my phone because it was waterproof and I didn’t have my host mom to tell me it was a bad idea.

Kayak (1)

As I floated on my kayak from island to island, with all of my closest friends, life was a daydream. There was laughing, dancing, kissing, snorkeling. We were carefree. If the brown water we had showered with for the past month hadn’t settled into mountains of teenage acne on our foreheads, we could have been a Neutrogena commercial. Then, all of a sudden, in slow motion our kayak flipped. I grabbed my backpack with Spider Man like reflexes and was full of false pride for the second time in 4 days. Everyone cheered as I hoisted it over my head. This was the most athletic thing I’d done since getting to first base after taking a ball to the hand from the pitching machine in tee ball.

I unzipped the pocket I thought my phone was in just to double check that it was there and it wasn’t. I peered over the side of the kayak and very calmly stated, in a tone reserved for serial killers on Dateline, “My phone is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.” My friends jumped into action and yelled for the goggles, which we soon discovered were also on their way down to join my phone in polluting the ocean with more unwanted plastic from idiot humans. As we floated back to shore I sang a little India Arie in my head and mellowed out enough to stop caring about my phone and enjoy the rest of the trip.

On the boat leaving the island I realized that I had left my water bottle in our room. It’s more traumatic than it sounds. This water bottle has been my best friend at site. It’s been my pacifier in uncomfortable situations, heaved in to stop the tears. My safety blanket keeping me comfort on lonely nights. A sympathetic face through the crowd as I’m being forced to dance like a wind-up doll while belting out generic love songs that until the moment a microphone was shoved into my hands had laid forgotten in the 90’s. The thought of returning to site without it gave me instant acid reflux.

Unknowingly, I would have more time than I thought to get used to the idea of being alone at site without my cellphone or water bottle. After what seemed like 100 hours on boats, buses, and vans, we discovered that our final bus was sold out and that we would have to backtrack 4 more hours to Bangkok and stay the night. By the time we reached our hostel all of our spirits were bruised. We would have to use another vacation day because we “didn’t plan ahead,” and wouldn’t even be able to enjoy it.

The next morning we called and booked our tickets as soon as we woke up and headed to the bus station. We exited the Skytrain in a monsoon and stepped into ankle deep water. We hadn’t done any research on where the bus station was in relation to our Skytrain stop until we were hanging onto a railing in the middle of the street as flood waters filled the cuts on our toes with bacteria from the depths of Bangkok. We watched as the time ticked past the departure of our scheduled bus, proving ourselves to be useless two days in a row.

Flood

When I finally made it home, much later that night, and got through the retelling of my adventure to my host family, they could barely breathe from laughter. I’m their real life Buddy the Elf, turning what are mundane tasks for them into impossible undertakings for me. The only person not laughing was my grandmother. She eyed me suspiciously and took two steps back before declaring that I was cursed on the island. Finally, I had something to be proud of: a real-life island curse, just like the Brady Bunch.

The following day my entire family accompanied me to a temple in the mountains. We rang a bell on each step as we ascended the stairs, being watched closely by monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Once we reached the temple I was blessed by the eldest monk to rid me of my island curse. It was truly one of the most special moments I have ever had. Perspective set in and I realized that every mishap, from the bad haircut to the flood, was a worthy step towards this incredible experience.

Temple with Yai