…and you can tell me which one you think is true.
There is a woman in my village who will not leave me alone. She finds me at all hours of the day, no matter where I go, and demands that I teach her English. In fact, she doesn’t even ask me. She just brings along this notebook with her scribblings in it and starts talking to me. She won’t look me in the eyes, ever. She will talk about me to anyone who will listen– how I’m chubby but beautiful, how I am silly because I don’t understand that street dogs are dangerous, that I will not stay for the full 2 years here because I will miss my family too much– all while I am sitting right next to her. She talks over me. She talks at me. I don’t know that we have ever had a conversation together. After insulting me, she will push the notebook towards me and tell me to correct her sentences. Sometimes, I can kinda understand what she meant to write. I bite my tongue and re-write her sentences. No, the spider did not “be happy and then smiling sunshine”. I resent that I have to help her because a) it doesn’t feel good to be near her, b) I’m not getting paid to be her tutor and c) I have no idea how to set healthy boundaries with this individual. She will come to my house while I am stepping in to the shower. Before I can even say anything, she will inform me that she will wait for me to finish and then we can begin our lesson. Our lesson? Begin? Wait wait wait I did not sign up for this, okay? My heart sinks when I see her at the breakfast table the next day, smiling but not looking at me. I wish she would just leave me alone.
There is a woman in my village who will not leave me alone. She is married but her husband is always busy and her only daughter lives far away. I suspect she is very lonely. I see her often– especially at the school. She is a very dedicated teacher and even on bpit term (school break), she shows up to the school to work on lesson planning. I see her by herself in her classroom, quietly working away the days. She often comes over to my host family’s home to eat meals with us– again, I suspect it’s because she has no one else to eat with. She has a quiet nature and I think that she refuses to make eye contact not just with me, but with everyone– maybe it’s a cultural thing? Not sure. She is a bit older and likely grew up in a very different world than the one of today. When I ask her about her childhood, she tells me that she grew up with no running water or electricity– things were different back then. Harder in so many ways. In fact, many people in my village have told me similar things. She is very determined to improve her English for the sake of her students. Headstrong, even. She tells me one day that she spends roughly two hours each night practicing her writing and spelling– on top of her work load. These are the sentences she periodically gives to me to review. She insists that if something doesn’t make sense, I should erase it– make it perfect, she says. One day, she writes me a letter in Thai that expresses deep gratitude for me being here. She thanks me for giving up two years of my life for the sake of Thai students– she asks if I miss my family and I say that I do. I think she knows what it’s like to miss family, too.
If you haven’t guessed it already, both stories are true. All of these emotions and observations– this is my journey of getting to know someone. And as much as I would like to proudly say that story one was my initial reaction and, after growing up a little, now story two is my truth, I really cannot claim that. That would be a profound lie. In reality, it’s more like every day, I wake up and feel the dread of having this person bother me all day– I wake up in story one mode. I think this is because of my cultural programming and my deep attachment to my autonomy and self worth– whatever the reasons, this is where I start each day. And gradually throughout the day, I find myself working towards story two. Working towards a better narrative. And it is hard work, friends. Some days, as unhappy as it makes me, I never get past story one. I am frustrated. I resent my lack of independence. A lot. But most days, I am able to be quiet enough to listen for the finer details that inform story two. This is a person, after all, and she is as complex, interesting and contradictory as I am.
So here’s to the stories we tell– let them be better informed than our first drafts.