Well, I thought by now that I would know where to start in telling you all about the trip but I don’t.
It was so full of activity, poignant moments, life-changing moments, joy, homesickness, good food, bad food, laughter and tears that there seems nowhere to begin…but here goes anyway.
Overall, it was fantastic. And if I didn’t love every single minute, I at least tried to make the most of every experience. The balance of things I loved and things I didn’t, is heavily weighted to the love side but, just like in all of life, there certainly were things that challenged me.
My overall impression of Thailand is mixed. I loved the people, loved the culture but running right alongside that was the knowledge of what the culture and the people do to their children. That for a section of society, children are a commodity to be bought and sold. And that for another section of society, children are to be used, abused and treated as less than the animals that roam the streets.
It seemed a land of contradictions. One where elders are respected, for no other reason than they are older than you, and regardless of how they have treated you. Where on the everyday streets, no-one yells at their kids yet parents find themselves in such a state of poverty that selling their children to a brothel is their only option (can you imagine being faced with that sort of choice??). Where it is ‘good karma’ to feed the stray dogs and cats on the street, yet children go hungry. A nation that preaches ‘karma’ yet, in most cases, will not lift a finger for their poorer neighbour (how can they practice karma?? If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad. So, if someone is in a bad life situation, it’s their fault, so you don’t help them for fear of interfering with their karma. How then do you do good and get good back??? It simply made no sense to me.) A country where it is impolite and improper to agree if someone compliments your spouse or children, where, in fact, you are expected to vehemently disagree and say the opposite to the compliment. A country that tells their children they are stupid and dumb because it’s seen as proud to tell them they are smart.
I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it. It seemed so illogical to me, just as, I am sure, our ways seem illogical to them. I couldn’t reconcile the smiling, welcoming faces with it’s sinister night life of brothels where children as young as eight are forced to service an endless stream of ‘clients’ all night.
But the people were lovely and friendly, the countryside beautiful, the culture rich and diverse…and the work of Destiny Rescue simply outstanding.
I fell in love with the girls and boys we met. I fell in love with their infectious laughter and sheer joy for living, with their thankfulness for the lives they now are able to lead. I fell in love with the workers who care for these kids (our little three year old sponsor boy’s carer was an absolute treasure – limited English but her smile said all she needed to say!). I fell in love with the smells, the sights, the food, the markets. And the smile on their faces if they said an English word correctly and their giggles when you said a Thai word totally incorrectly! Priceless
I found the similarities interesting too. Parents who could barely afford food, made sure their kids had the latest phone, or that the biggest flat-screen TV graced the living area – just like people here. Kids at the school acting up, vying for attention and getting restless and cheeky by the end of the day. The fact that, sadly, they all knew who Justin Bieber was and knew all the words to Gangnam Style…bad taste is universal, my friends.
I would love to go back to Thailand, especially to Chiang Rai to see our sponsor kids but I’m not sure I could live there. And the culture shock of coming home to the Western world that everyone warned us about was a bit of a no-show. I think we went over there already having a healthy appreciation for what we have here and, in our family, trying to practice thankfulness as a way of life, meant that we were okay. Certainly though, I don’t sweat the small stuff like I did before, so there has certainly been a reinforcement of the right perspective. Before I left, our consumerism in the Western world turned my stomach, and it still does now but strangely, I have more compassion for those afflicted with the disease of materialism than I did before. I think it really hit home just how sad it is that we try to fill the voids in our lives with ‘stuff’.
So, has it changed me? Yes, most definitely. Some of the changes I expected, some are a surprise. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those with you all over the coming weeks, so stay tuned!