“I wrote my way out of hell. I wrote my way to revolution I was louder than the crack in the bell. I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell, I wrote about the Constitution and defended it well. And in the face of ignorance and resistance, I wrote financial systems into existence. And when my prayers to God were met with indifference I picked up a pen. I wrote my own deliverance.”
In the new musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton (yes, the American Founding Father) sang this in Hurricane. This quote recognizes the power of words and writing. And that’s what I have realized on my time abroad. Words are powerful; I have been able to communicate my struggles and triumphs and seek guidance through this blog and e-mails to people over 7,500 miles away. Writing is more than just a tool to communicate my needs; it is a powerful agent and a medium for expression and exploring different thoughts and ideas. Writing helps me think and understand my world, and reading helps me understand other people. I grew up with a wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelf and many other book cases sprinkled like Easter eggs throughout the house, and I learned so much about other people and ways of life from books. But many the majority of villagers I have lived with have very few, if any, books; I know two of my many host moms were illiterate. Words and reading are such a central part of my childhood and current identity that it was incredibly eye opening to see a complete lack of that which I love.
“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me. ” Hamilton upon being shot by Aaron Burr in the song The World Was Wide Enough.
I am but a small, minute speck who has nestled out a place in the hearts of a few people in America and Thailand. I have no idea what my legacy in Thailand is; do my host families still remember the time I took a shower in the chili field, or how I didn’t know how to eat sticky rice properly? And they will never know what I took away from them, just as I do not know what they got from me. But I do know that the memories I now have scattered throughout Thailand will become part of something else, something much grander and more beautiful than anything I alone could ever achieve.
“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory; you have no control who lives who dies who tells your story” – George Washington in History Has It’s Eyes on You
The villages I went to have minimal to no control over how their needs, and their story is handled by the central Thai government. Newspapers, media, and discussions are censored, and the Isaan region is looked down on by central Thailand. Isaan is historically seen as poor and dry, with minimal resources. And this is largely because, historically, the Isaan region was once a part of Laos, so Isaan has its own dialect and separate culture from central Thailand. Some travel to Bangkok to work, but most live their lives as indebted farmers who struggle to have health care, education, and control over who, if anyone, tells their story while they live or after.
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now…. Look at where you are, look at where you started.” Eliza Hamilton in That Would Be Enough.
This semester, I have seen amazing and beautiful things, from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the mountains to the beaches of Thailand. I’ve traveled and explored and had my heart opened and filled many times over. When I think I’ve had my fill of the experience, something new happens and I step into a new state of mind and look around again. Sometimes, I am completely overwhelmed by the new foods and people I have met and places I have seen. Sometimes I miss home and just want to eat an avocado grilled cheese sandwich. And that’s normal and acceptable for a study abroad experience, but really, the best way to appreciate my time is to take a step back and look around at how lucky I am to be here, in Thailand, alive right now.
“Teach me how to say goodbye.” – Alexander Hamilton in The World Was Wide Enough
With most of my host families, I had no idea how to say goodbye. And for all but one mom with a Facebook account, I have no way contact them. So at the end of the week, my host families and I parted ways, occasionally shedding tears. Last week, I went back to a village for my final project. As I was leaving, I stopped into the house of one of my families to see my first grandma. I held her hand for a bit, and we talked about the colors of the scarf she was weaving. And as I got up to leave, I said in English (lacking the ability to say it in Thai) “I will never see you again”. That much I knew. She smiled deeply, like she understood me. She just let me go, both our hearts full of thoughts. I will think of her often. So maybe she helped me say goodbye in the moment, but it’s not really goodbye. She, and the rest of my host families, have taught me how to think intentionally about other people, even and especially when you will never see them again. They taught me to not say just goodbye, just to say farewell.
Thanks for reading this new style of blog! Here are the links, in order of the blog post, to the amazing songs I quoted. But I would really recommend just starting at the beginning and listening to the musical all the way through, it’s on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube for sure.
The World Was Wide Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tq845oRLGI
History Has It’s Eyes on You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC6Q1EtxRzs
That Would Be Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwuJxI6X2Ig