It was 6 AM. I unfolded myself from beneath the mosquito net and fumbled to find the light switch across the room. Thais do not locate switches as we do in the States. The fog was thick over the rice fields and there was little light coming through the window. A jing-jok, a small gecko, skittered across the concrete wall as I began to fold up the netting from around the bed. The whir of the fan muffled the roosters who can start their calling as early as 3:30.
This is a modest home just off the main road in a small village in Central Thailand, a few hours from Bangkok. Heavy trucks and tiny scooters dominate the traffic noise. Rice season is over and this time of year the trucks are hauling loads of sugar cane. My host dad is a rice farmer but it’s not something he has done his whole life. He used to teach and only switched to this agrarian lifestyle about 10 years ago. My host mom is a teacher at the school just up the road.
This house sits by itself on one side of the road as the village begins. Kitty-corner sits the local government office building. Next door to that is the medical clinic. The school and the wat (Buddhist temple) are a two-minute bike ride further up the road. One-minute normally, but in this heat one takes one’s time. The wat marks the end of this village. A couple of little markets and food stalls are scattered in between and a few side streets branch off where other homes are clustered closer to the river.
We 70 Peace Corps volunteers are scattered around a central municipal building in a neighboring town where we attend training most days. It’s a 7 kilometer bike ride from my home. Other volunteers have shorter or longer rides and come from different directions. After our first weekend with our new families these 70 volunteers quickly compared notes to see who has it better and who has it worse. Some folks have constant internet; some have western flush toilets; some have only cold bucket showers to start their days. Some live with young children; some, like me, with older couples, and others live in multi-generational homes. Some have dogs. Some have cats. I have chickens.
The Peace Corps supplies our host families with a stipend for feeding and housing us and gives the families a small mattress and pillow, sheets and a mosquito net for our use. I have a separate bedroom with adequate space for my luggage, clothes, shoes, and an electrical plug for my gadgets. The bathroom is only a few steps away. The first night I didn’t sleep well, the mattress was too thin and my back and hips ached from the unforgiving wooden bed beneath. Another volunteer who lives in the same village, just up the street a bit, was provided a queen-sized mattress by her host family, so I confiscated her Peace Corps issued mattress to add additional cushion for my spine.
Our toilet is burgundy. It is a western style toilet, meaning it has a bowl that sits up off of the floor and toilet seat. A large plastic bucket of water sits next to it with a plastic bowl inside. This is a bucket flush toilet and you dip and pour as many times as needed to get things down the drain. I bring my own toilet paper as there is none in the bathroom. There is a spray hose and nozzle, the kind most Americans have at their kitchen sinks. This is a Thai bidet. Although it makes perfect sense I haven’t mastered this cleaning method yet. The shower occupies another corner of the small bathroom. There is no delineation for the shower, no tub or stall as we’re used to. We are fortunate enough to have a shower head and hose and an electric heater for the water. Others don’t.
The kitchen consists of two rooms, one with a sink and several free standing cabinets for food storage, the other room, separate and more exposed to the elements contains a large oven in one corner and a scattering of gas cooking elements in another, one holding the ubiquitous wok. The room also has a small box that for the first week and a half here I thought was just another cupboard for pots and pans and such, but turned out to be an ancient refrigerator.
This is my home for the next 2 months. I share my life with my host mom and dad and their 20 year old son who speaks a little English. We share meals and misunderstanding, and we laugh. I observe their habits as they observe me. I am under their constant eye and evaluation as we try to communicate and make sense of each other, finding common ground and understanding. They are comfortable and I am comfortable here with them. We are not that dissimilar, really.