The days are getting shorter, daylight hours and the time left here in the States. We’re down to single digit weeks, about a month and a half before Thailand Group 127 departs for its Peace Corps service. It’s November and gray and like a locker room prank, a solid cold snap has stung our backsides here in the Northeast US. My friends wish they were going to Thailand with me to escape the long, dreaded winter ahead. Instead of worrying about the need to bundle up, my thoughts are turned toward packing.
Eight months ago I packed. I was packing for my intended Peace Corps service in Ukraine and selling my home. I packed down a four-bedroom house to a 10’ by 10’ storage unit. When the Ukraine gig fell through I kept a few boxes aside and moved them to the room I needed to rent and the house I am thankful I was asked to share. My new assignment and departure was stalled nine and a half months. Now the time has come to pack down that rented room to one suitcase and a couple of small carry-ons, around 80 pounds worth. Eighty pounds for two years. I’ve been known to pack three bags for a long weekend.
On my recent two-month trip around the country this past summer, I had filled the entire back end of my car, back seats folded down, with stuff. There was a camp stove, tent, air mattress, blankets and sleeping bag; a walking stick; maps and books and a first aid kit; laptop, e-reader, phone and all sorts of cords, plugs and adapters in addition to the suitcase of clothes, the three pairs of shoes and the little cooler for ice. I needed to be prepared for the mountains and the deserts and the extremes this country has to offer, not really knowing what to expect.
Even though there are still several weeks left to fill, time to continue obsessing about this next chapter in my life, I know I should start in on packing up the summer clothes, the shorts and T-shirts that I would normally store in the attic at the end of the season. I have begun to wash them and fold them neatly, preparing them to be rolled and crammed into the new luggage I bought specifically for this journey.
The Peace Corps sends future volunteers suggested packing lists, those things essential for two years in our chosen country, gleaned from over 50 years of volunteer experience. Our seven-page list is geared toward the hot weather and toward the Thai concept of Riap Roi (acceptable and complete), our expected way to dress and carry ourselves while guests in this country. Tank tops and short shorts should be left home, not that I wear either. Everyone agrees that the American staple of denim jeans are too heavy to wear in the heat and humidity and during the monsoon seasons they’ll take forever to dry, if they dry. We’re advised not to pack good leather shoes; they will likely mold and rot in the dampness and humidity. Men are supposed to bring a sport coat and a couple of ties for special occasions, such as our official swearing-in ceremony after those three grueling months of training. But now Thailand’s King is in poor health and we might consider bringing a black shirt or two, in case there’s a state funeral. Current volunteers tell us that we will be taking bucket showers several times a day. As the weather outside now, nearing the end of November, hovers around the freezing mark, this doesn’t sound too bad. Although it was hot in the Southwestern US when I visited, it was a dry heat. Most of Thailand will not be that dry. From what I’ve read the country has three seasons; two of them are monsoons. This is Southeast Asia after all. Then I remember that I hate the stifling humidity. The older I get, the harder it gets. I hope my body and I can adapt: adapt to the constant sweating and brow-mopping, adapt to having fewer clothes to change into, adapt to warm water bucket showers, adapt to being uncomfortable most of the time.
I begin to consider other adaptations that will lie ahead: adapting to the food, the curries, the fruits, the wildlife, the flora, the people, the 7-11s, the wearing of pink on Tuesdays, the Thai way of life, the monks in orange robes and Buddhas all around. And I smile and am filled with a comforting peace for a few minutes. Next I think of all I’ve already adapted to throughout my life. And I remember my old mantra: It’ll all work out.