There and back again

By April 20, 20102010, Asia

Katie Ironside has just pointed out that my departure from Thailand was exactly a year after I left the first time, with our class at SSU. I suppose this must have some hidden meaning, yet eludes me at the moment and so will leave it as an interesting anecdote.

I’m currently in transit on my way back to Canada from Thailand. I’m in dreary yet lovely London at the moment, as ‘on the way back’ is a lovely concept when you’re on the other side of the world, and nearly everything except for Vancouver and Hawaii is ‘on the way’. I’m currently visiting with family and friends.

I’m up early this morning, hungry and thinking of all the Thai food I would love to eat… having an imaginary conversation in Thai with a food vendor in my head as I lie in bed, trying to come to terms with invariably losing this language that I’ve worked hard to learn. Such is jetlag. Yet, I did tend to wake up at 6am in Thailand as well.

‘A People on the Move’ by Joel, sits in front of me on the desk. I feel like a nomad. I’m reminded that there is a whole community of nomad-like people whom I love dearly, all living in a large yellow house… all also building an understanding of what it looks like to live healthily, live justly, live wholly.

Last year March I left Thailand with my class after the study term; we had also been to the Northern Philippines, and East Malaysia. I had been putting an emphasis on human trafficking throughout my studies, and trafficking for sexual services specifically. I knew the reputation Thailand had when I arrived, and struggled with how I could simply be a tourist and a student in a country I so ached for. I felt God speak to me then, as we landed in Chiang Mai; ‘Nicola. This is for something else. But I will bring you back.’ Sure enough, my efforts to connect with the humanitarian world were constantly thwarted while I was there, and when I flew out again, a year ago, I was confident, as I knew I would be back again soon.

I had written a blog here, about a year ago. About Asian dialects poking about in my head long after they were useful to me, about a place called Mae Sai, on the border of Myanmar. I didn’t like Mae Sai when I visited. It was a dirty border town, the most porous border with Myanmar, known for the amount of female flesh and young labourers it allows to pass through its gates. The only entertaining factor here are the US army uniforms the Burmese border guards tend to wear.

Six months later I was on a plane again, this time without my school peers and fellow nomads. I had taken a year out from SSU to go back to Thailand, back to Mae Sai, back to the North. I had applied for a volunteer position with an NGO working to prevent human trafficking on the border of Myanmar. I spent October in Chiang Mai with my host family from 6 months previous, taking a TEFL course.

The five proceeding months found me immersed in a world I had researched and imagined.

From writing or editing grant proposals, to sneaking on to the roof to stargaze with a little Thai sister living at the centre, to singing hymns and camp songs for children, most of whose fates will inevitably be exploited. From educating novice monks on human rights, to worshipping at a dump, to adventuring in Laos to meet up with repatriated girls in their home village after years in Thailand. Eating dog, water buffalo, and chicken feet. From avoiding spies in Myanmar to sitting on a friend’s porch singing worship songs on the same side of the border. From making friends with beggars and celebrities.

Finding meaning in washing dishes at the tiny Bible College near my house. A great pair of sandals someone made for me that I wore for five months until my heel poked through the other side. Breathe. Being.

And now. And now? I don’t know. I sit in the guestroom of a London townhouse. I don’t know where to place myself. I still have bruises from the bed bugs in Laos. I have Thai dialogue running around in my head, more than the simple words I had learned last time. I reminisce on my time in Thailand, both with SSU around me and then with SSU in my heart.

I will return to my community in St Stephen in September to finish my BA in International Studies. to I look forward to being surrounded by nomads in ‘selah’, in a resting point, in peace; a time risk belonging, providing foundation for future transience.

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