I looked down at the ground for a moment to collect my tired thoughts. I noticed the woman who was standing next to me had similar feet to me. It may sound like a strange observation, but it stirred once again my emotions. She was infected with HIV/AIDS from her husband. All the women at the center have battled HIV/AIDS for over thirty years now. They were infected by their husbands who would go out and sleep with prostitutes. It is accepted in the community for men to buy sex, but many suffer the consequences. The women are initially angry when they find out, but then keep moving forward in life. Their husbands died nearly twenty years ago because they accepted their fate of dying. Men with HIV/AIDS commonly do not live long, because they give up. It is a cultural understanding. For the women, they fight to stay alive. They fight to live so they can take care of their children. The women at the center receive medicine paid for by the government and are now accepted by the community. But ten years ago, people would not even eat the food that someone made if they were infected. There was a stigma around HIV/AIDS, which is now just changing as knowledge is spread about the illness. Communities in Thailand suffer greatly because of HIV/AIDS. People are afraid to speak out because they may be shamed and outcasted. Individuals are starting to change the stigma and provide support for those who also are infected. It was amazing to see this group of women before me who have suffered, but fought the great fight. A monk came to their village and provided the place for them. They now sew and make clothes that are sent to Japan. Although that even does not provide much income. As I noticed one of the woman’s feet, I saw a common piece of humanity. Although we come from vastly different parts of the world, we still have a commonality. We are both human. We have different circumstances, but meeting women who have been through so much is incredibly inspiring. They are not hopeless, they are hopeful. They are full of life and find support in one another. The director asked as we went to not forget about the women at the center. It can be easy to forget the people we only meet once, but I hope I never forget these women. It may have been a simple visit, but their stories, their resilience, and their joy is something I will carry with me forever.
After the center we walked down to the temple to speak with a monk. The monk goes against monk doctrine and has welcomed women into the temple, which is not a normal Buddhist practice. He works alongside those infected with HIV/AIDS and visits the sick in the hospital. He is a depiction of the positives of Buddhism. There is an understanding to help those in the community and to provide a place for those who seek refuge. Community is an incredibly important aspect in Thailand, and the monk seeks to help the community become a stronger unit. He works alongside other religious leaders to create a stronger world. I think often religions are divided by beliefs and different opinions, but I saw a living example of different religions coming together to help the people of Thailand. It gave me a feeling of hope and the idea that multiple religions can get along for one common cause.
The afternoon progressed into academic mode. My group did a forty minute presentation on a twenty-eight page paper. I did better than I thought I did considering I did not have much sleep in my system. As I watched the sunrise while trying to finish footnotes for a paper, I recognized the side of academics I extremely dislike. Health has been a battle for me, and I have often killed myself over trying to finish papers and projects for school. Needless to say, I do not plan to stay up late for school the rest of this term for sure. It is not worth it in the long run. At the end of class I thanked the teacher for the things she taught us and the confidence it gave me to possibly to groundwork in the future. After class we rode to our next class and took a test which consisted of writing our thoughts about different profound quotes. It killed my left wrist and I returned back to the Go ED house for ice and a nap.
Saturday morning I slept in and got up to visit the Lanna Architecture and Celadon place, as well as the Umbrella Factory. The Celadon was amazing to watch be crafted. Each piece is handcrafted and people just sit and calmly make it all day. It takes such patience and skill. I thought about getting a piece made, but quickly realized that it probably would not make it back in once piece. Also I could not pick it up and hold it very long (it is rather heavy). We had a discussion about practicum and how we can approach the trip with the mindset of being with. Meaning, what does it look like to be in a community and work mutually. An example was a western church was working with a Peru church to build a building. After the project in Peru was done, the Peru church asked what they could do for the western church. It is an idea of mutuality that takes some cultures, such as the US, by surprise. We want to do all these things for other people, and almost forget that people do things for us as well. Whether we are changed on the inside or someone is helping us, it is an idea of mutuality and a love for community.
We are all now headed off for practicum. Jonas and Kam are sent off to Laos, so I am no longer able to report random adventures with them, but hopefully their trip goes well! Miranda and Lyndsay are headed to work in Mae Ai, and Leah and I are headed to Chiang Rai to work with Mekong Minority Foundation. According to the schedule, Leah and I will be moving around quite a bit. I thrive off being in new places, so I am incredibly excited for the opportunities to come. We stay two weeks at MMF, one week in a migrant worker dormitory, and a week in a Karen village. I have heard from many alum that practicum is the time you get sick and lonely. But as Dr. Chulee pointed out, I seem happier since I have come here. The material is harsh, but I am not without hope. I am finally in my dream country and I still wake up in joy. Even if I am exhausted, or my stomach hurts, I still smile and laugh. It would be a shame to waste my time here in sadness or wallowing about not feeling good. I choose to fight through the pain, even if my wrists are wrapped up and my stomach is in pain, I want to be resilient and to exude joy. The same joy I see in the eyes of those who have been through hell and back in life circumstance, but still laugh and smile with hope.
As I head off to practicum I would love prayers that I do not get sick and I am able to give my best beyond the challenge of limitations. Thank you for your prayers and continued support!