Time to backtrack a little bit…Over the past few weeks I have hit several of what I consider to be “Peace Corps Milestones.” Granted, there are a lot of them because Peace Corps lends itself to almost everything being a brand new experience. I didn’t blog about it at the time (due to lack of time), but I think that it is important to note my first experience traveling alone in Thailand. I know, not that big of a deal when you consider that all of the other volunteers who are not serving with a partner have had to do it for months, but it marked an important date for me nonetheless.
Since arriving in Thailand, I have had the amazing fortune of being able to travel (and do almost everything) with Zack. Granted, we were in separate training programs during PST (pre-service training), but we still got to bike to and from training together (usually), eat every meal together, face the whole “host family” situation together, etc. We really hadn’t had any reason since arriving here to not be together. Several weeks ago though, I broke a piece of my tooth while eating rice. (I think that there must have been a rock in it or something.) My wisdom teeth had also been bothering me a little bit, so I took it as a sign to just go to the dentist. I called Peace Corps and they promptly set up an appointment for me in Khon Kaen, which is about a two-hour-bus-ride away.
My host family and counterparts panicked when I told them I’d be traveling alone. They couldn’t believe that Zack wasn’t going with me. One of my co-teachers even offered to drive me all the way there and back for the appointment. I reassured them that most Peace Corps volunteers are serving alone and travel by themselves all the time. They were still really nervous though. Really, it was a great opportunity for me to prove to them that I could do it myself and to show them that I value my independence even though I am married. Reluctantly, after many, many conversations involving me insisting I wasn’t afraid, I knew where to go, I had a plan if I couldn’t find a bus back, etc., they “agreed” that I could go. I say “agreed,” because oftentimes I feel like choices have been made for us before conversations even begin. In this case though, I was insistent about needing to go myself and they ultimately seemed to respect that.
Honestly, it was probably the best “first time traveling alone” experience I could have had. We had been to Khon Kaen a couple of weeks before for a volunteer “meet-and-greet,” so I had a good idea of where I was going before even leaving site. (I don’t know if I would have been so confident otherwise!) When I arrived to Khon Kaen, I was still really early for my appointment, so I decided that I could walk to the hospital. It was about a twenty minute walk, and I actually had some really good interactions with random people as I walked by. I was able to answer all of the standard “Thai” questions: “Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Have you eaten yet? Is it hot?” Everyone wanted to make sure that I was okay. As I posted previously, it is really difficult to “blend” here, so I definitely stood out.
When I finally arrived to the hospital, it was still early so I just sat on the benches outside the door and relished in the air conditioning each time somebody when into or out of the building. At one point, I turned to the woman next to me and commented (in Thai) how hot it was. Her eyes got wide and she excitedly started asking me questions about what I was doing in Thailand. It boosted my self-esteem when she told me that I spoke Thai “very good.” I really don’t speak Thai that well, but it was still a really good exchange. She asked if I needed a ride anywhere and I declined, but was still grateful for her generosity.
When I finally got in to see the dentist, the appointment itself lasted for only a couple of minutes. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. The dentist was short with me and brushed off my comments and concerns. Luckily, Peace Corps is willing to send me to Bangkok in the future if any problems with my teeth continue. After the whole ordeal, it was a little funny that the actual appointment was as short as it was. Feeling a little bit slighted, I embarked on my journey back to the bus station. I was home by around 7:00 that evening feeling disappointed at the ridiculousness of the trip, but also satisfied that I was able to do it by myself. I think (and hope) that it also helped my host family and counterparts have a little more confidence in my ability to be independent.