Featured writer: Jamie Shannon
I’m Jamie, the latest on-site intern with ATMA SEVA! I’ll be in Thailand for four months helping primarily with social media, and also some program development.
My first few weeks in Thailand have been quite the whirlwind! I arrived to a balmy Chiang Mai night in late January and was greeted at the airport by several familiar ATMA SEVA faces- David (programs director), Nid (Lawa village director), Katherine (on-site intern), Alexis (on-site intern), and Natch (English teacher at Wat Doi Saket). From then on, it’s been non-stop action, with a few curve-balls thrown in (despite Alexis’s repeated refrain, the title of this entry!) Some of these include an unfortunate, but relatively minor, motorbike accident involving Alexis and Stu, getting stranded in Chiang Mai after finding out that the songthaews (a kind of a shared taxi) stopped early that day, a freak rainstorm that took out power across Chiang Mai, and a flat tire on the road to Doi Saket.
Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression here, Thailand has been great! These minor crises have actually been some of the highlights of the trip thus far. In moments like these, we may panic just a little, but in the end, we look back and laugh (maybe not the motorbike accident, but the more than helpful Thai bystanders we met that day are a fond memory. One woman even gave Alexis some tamarind root for her injuries!) So, for example, the case of the flat tire. This happened the morning after I was stuck in Chiang Mai, where I eventually was delivered to Katherine’s apartment and spent the night, when she and I headed back to Doi Saket. Now Doi Saket is about a half hour outside of the city. We had navigated most of the tricky parts, most notably getting OUT of the city on the busy roads, and had less than ten minutes on a straight away section to go when suddenly the bike started swerving. Katherine pulled over and our investigation turned up a flat back tire. Bummer. Luckily, not five minutes later, a police officer on a motorbike pulled over to help us. This is one of the great things about Thailand- whatever happens, help is not far away. And not the kind of help that says “hey, how about a twenty for my trouble?” but the kind of help that is simply there to get you out of a rough spot. This has been one of the most welcome surprises about Thailand for me so far. Anyways, between Katherine’s Thai and my gesturing at the tire, the cop understood what we were trying to say. He picked up his radio, clearly “phoning a friend”, and another five minutes later, backup arrived. We hauled the motorbike up into the back of the truck, noticing that it didn’t quite fit.
The response? We were instructed (via charades) to climb in back and hold on to the bike so it didn’t fall out. Ooookay! Luckily we weren’t far from town where the tire was repaired for the equivalent of about $6. What a deal.
The point of this story is that when you’re traveling, or living abroad, things will go wrong. You will not be aware that toilet paper cannot be flushed and you’ll end up clogging your toilet (this definitely didn’t happen to me….) You will get stuck somewhere, or end up somewhere you didn’t intend, and have to find your way home. You will most certainly be misunderstood, or sometimes just not understood at all. These are all stressful situations, but in the end, there’s no feeling quite as good as when you find your way out. The feeling of venturing out into the unknown, putting yourself out there, encountering foreign problems and surviving is one of the most powerful feelings that exists. This is what drives me to travel and to explore the world as broadly and deeply as possible, not to mention the great stories that I’ll come home with after four months over here! Every minute isn’t sunshine and rainbows, any traveler who says otherwise is kidding themselves, but the richness of my experience over here with the ATMA SEVA team is unparalleled.
Right now, I’m living in Pa Pae, a rural hill tribe village south west of Chiang Mai. This is an experience that I could never in a million years have conjured on my own. It’s a unique challenge to be the only fluent English speaker for miles, but despite the rough moments, I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything.