Feeling Detached

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The huge Buddha was under construction. Bamboo scaffolding covered the crumbling concrete torso. The head, at least 20 feet tall, had been removed and was sitting off to the side. It looked like it needed some work too. I knew how he felt. I had been standing off to the side all morning and only reluctantly included myself in some of the group activities. I really didn’t want to be here. I was detached.

This was Sports Day, a day when this group of Peace Corps trainees join their Thai teachers to take part in some traditional Thai sports—not Thai boxing—and to act foolishly muddling their way through a silly relay race. The day was intended to be fun. Teams were established early this Saturday morning and we were instructed to begin the day’s activities by coming up with a team cheer, that all important shout and chant to show team spirit, pride and solidarity. Most of the volunteers were stoked and eager to exhibit their enthusiasm and their prowess. I was not.

Just reading the term Sports Day on the schedule set my teeth on edge. I wasn’t good at sports as a child and was often the outcast, sitting on the sidelines watching instead. Things did not improve over the years. Oh I participated in a few sports, minor games that didn’t involve much physical contact or exertion, I never had the aptitude or the will to learn or participate in those activities that involved choosing sides. I surely never had that competitive edge needed to win, and that’s probably one of the reasons I was usually the last kid picked for a team. Well, that and the fact that I was awkward and unskilled. Team sports left me cold.

In some early classroom discussions during our training sessions here in Thailand we touched upon cultural differences, those things that make Thais and Thailand so different from Americans and America. After learning how to properly use our forks and spoons at mealtime and after learning the proper way to use a squat toilet, we talked about how Thais don’t place as much emphasis on competition as we Westerners do. Great, I thought, finally a place where people aren’t struggling to beat the next person at any cost, to climb to the top of the heap on the backs of everyone else vying for the same thing. Thais embrace a more collective society, not an individualistic one like ours. It’s a way of life that puts less emphasis on personal gain and more emphasis on those things that will benefit the community and the society at large. From what I was learning about Thai culture, I was going to like being here. But I immediately found myself in a volunteer training group of 70 Americans, most of them young and aggressive. And by aggressive, I don’t mean in the sense of being hostile, belligerent, or combative, but more from the standpoint of being energetic, driven and plucky. These people have spunk and can be fearless at times. I have learned to admire and respect them for that, each and every one of them, and I wonder where that part of me wandered off to so long ago and if he’ll ever find his way back.

A few of these younger volunteers are competitive and see competition as necessary for their well-being and survival. They get their energy and their solace from it. That has never been me and I am uncomfortable being around it for long, particularly when I can’t completely remove myself from it. We are in training now, in a controlled environment and at the whim of our Peace Corps handlers. We are volunteers 24/7. So on this Sports Day I removed myself mentally. I stood apart and distant, on the sidelines. I participated sparingly and with reluctance. And I was awkward at that as well, walking a fine line between being sullen and aloof.

I was not alone in my reticence. There were a few others, mostly older volunteers like myself, who would have preferred to have been somewhere else. From the sidelines I watched and observed as I am wont to do. I was not alone in that either. I need to remember that I am amongst my fellows, those people who left their lives and their comforts stateside to serve their country overseas for two years in conditions they’re not accustomed to, giving of themselves. These fellow trainees were watching me as well and several asked if I was alright. It reminded me I am part of the team after all.

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About rich1019

A new adventure is just around the corner. While not an adventure seeker by nature, I'm open to new experiences. Peace Corps. Life is calling.
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3 Responses to Feeling Detached

  1. James Borgia-Forster says:

    If you don’t get up to bat, you can’t get a hit. However, I think you are doing great getting out of your comfort zone! You don’t have to play every game. Cheerleaders are always needed! Remember, there are a heck of a lot more people in the stands than ther ever are on the playing field!

  2. Susan says:

    Great ending to your post. Yes, you are part of the team, no matter what. Youngsters are all about energy. When I was in PST the 20-somethings not only showed up on Sports Day, they endlessly played soccer or did exercise routines together at ungodly hours in the morning. Now we’re at our permanent sites and many of them go to the big city every weekend to get drunk and get stupid together. That’s fine. I haven’t joined them for any of this. And many of them have not yet been to concerts at the Opera House or gone to the museums as I have. We’re all individuals and we all do our thing – but we don’t all do everything. There’s nothing compulsory about Sports Day – unless Thailand is way different. However – we are all part of one Peace Corps team and I’d do anything for any individual in our group and I know they’d do the same for me. We all have three goals in service – count ’em – 3. And there are 10 expectations. That’s it. You’re about four weeks in now. At this point people will start to differentiate a bit from the “We are the World” feeling. It’s good to be different. It’s good to be yourself. Go meditate and let them run around the field. It’s good for them. Works off all that excessive energy. They need that. You don’t. It’s okay to stay in or near your comfort zone. You’ll need that or you’ll get whacked out. You’re in Thailand. That’s enough outside your comfort zone. Take it day by day. And have fun.

  3. Ed Denehy says:

    Rich, I have been waiting for a new post since Home, but when I kept refreshing the page, that’s all there was. Then I figured out what I was doing wrong and read 3 more posts last night. Diane and I really enjoy reading them and keeping up with you. Sorry that I messed that up. We both totally get the feeling like we don’t belong when group leaders think that a group needs to bond by doing some random activity together. It all seems so forced: if members of a group are going to bond, they will. They don’t need some activity to do so. It just may take a little longer. Long ago, I (not Diane) would have joined the sports activity, but the older I get the more meaningless sports seem to be – except I still do like watching the occasional Super Bowl game. I get into the game and root for the team that I have chosen, but then I realize that whatever happens in the game, the sun will still come up, I will still be the same person, and the world will still be in the same state tomorrow.
    Anyway, try to enjoy your experience and please keep posting. I realize that you may be doing it more for yourself, but we get to live vicariously through them. I will get Diane to show me your Facebook page very soon as I know that you are more active there.
    P.S. I’m sure that you realize this, but this winter has been brutally cold. Water Departments are warning people about freezing water service lines and advising them to run water constantly to avoid that issue. That means that the frost line is almost 5 feet deep. That’s really unusual! Maybe the heat in Thailand will seem a little more tolerable when you think of us freezing our butts off.

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