Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Eyes of a Foreigner

       Travel, among all things is truly something that excites the soul. Quite honestly, the natural discovery of both tangible and intangible ways of life has a keen ability to satiate otherwise famished visions and perceptions.

       Prior to setting out, normalcy and taboos of the Thai culture, villages, and clinics were explained to us. Information such as the death of King Bhumibol, shoe removal prior to entering rooms, and cultural cuisine expectations were each addressed. Despite this knowledge, nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced by actually being present in the country. 

       With respect to the death of King Bhumibol, never has a  more powerful sorrow been felt. The ENTIRE country was mourning the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej who reigned from June 1946 to October of 2016. Signs, posters, pictures, and banners of him were posted and acknowledged throughout the country. Every home we visited had a beautiful, grandiose shrine of this honorable man surrounded by other significant figures including other family members and because most people are Buddhist, Buddha. When we visited The Grand Palace, everyone was wearing black. Little black ribbons were provided for the attachment to our scrubs as we worked through the villages and clinics so we could also show our respect for the King. 

Something about living through such an entirely, highly regarded respect one has for another human being is simply beautiful. As this resonates, because it continues to, I will always be conscientious of the admirable qualities, achievements, or abilities one possesses, being sure to honor these characteristics with subduing respect. 

       In addition to respect, consideration for others was also consistent throughout the community without fail. A core part of our experience in Thailand involved partnering with our Thai sisters from SUT, and performing home visits throughout the village.  Before beginning this experience, this was the single most stressful idea to me!  Having had community health clinical experiences in the US as an undergraduate student, I expected that there would be resistance and lack of enthusiasm by the villagers to having a group of students enter their homes, and that they may perceive the discussion of their health as an invasion of privacy.  I was so wrong!  Starting from the first home we visited, I felt welcomed and appreciated, despite speaking a different language than everyone around me.  

(Making home visits by bicycle in the village)
       The villagers were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about seeing us; they welcomed us into their homes and stores, were engaged in conversation with our group, and would ensure our comfort, whether that meant offering us water and fruit, or offering us all a place to sit.  Many village residents were overwhelmingly excited to show us their yards and homes, and their friendliness and kindness permeated every interaction.  Many people even made an effort to talk with me in English when they could, and used their gestures to express hospitality and gratitude when we couldn't communicate with each other verbally.  While life in a Thai village is incredibly different from life in an American suburb, there were lessons I learned about being respectful toward others, providing comfort toward those who enter my home, and being fully present in every moment.

       Lets talk food! The Thai diet is much different from the familiar westernized cuisine consumed in America. It consists of broth based soups, various types deliciously prepared curry atop rice with fried eggs, grilled meats, seafood, fish sauce and spicy chilies. Dishes are served family style as opposed to in courses and mixes of spicy, mild, and sweet foods are served together as to neutralize the palate. Native herbs and spices such as the kaffir lime, Thai basil, lemongrass, and dried red chilies produce mouth-watering flavor combinations. Also, the Thai way consists of eating only when hungry and avoids placing emphasis on "3 meals a day" or "small meals every 2-3 hours." This contributes to fostering a being present in the moment type of dining experience. In addition, the cuisine lacks the added fats, oils, sugars, and caloric sweeteners that goes into the preparation of westernized foods-- and also, cheese! Remarkably, cardiovascular disease is much less prevalent in Thailand than it is here suggesting diet really does play a strong role in disease.

(Various vegetables and herbs we gathered at a market prior to learning how to prepare a 5 course meal at Silom Thai Cooking School!)
       Lastly, as mentioned in a previous blog post, the work ethic of the Thai people is quite impressive. We witnessed a sweating, diligent, hard-working gentleman turning a pottery bowl. Later, we learned the amount of money earned for completing such a cumbersome, repetitive task for a consecutive 8 hours! An amount that through foreign eyes could be viewed as potentially inhumane. This has made me appreciate things I may sometimes take for granted. 

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living" -Mary Ritter Beard

With Love, 
Julia and Lizzi

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