Each morning, somewhere between 6:45 and 6:53, two to four monks walk past by house. They wear the traditional Thai Buddhist robes in the orange to brown spectrum. They are barefoot and carry silver bowls for collecting communal offerings. These last couple of days there have just been two of them and each carries an umbrella. It’s monsoon season now, the rains come heavily and unexpectedly. I glimpse the fuscous robes and the glistening umbrellas only for a few short seconds as the monks pass. The opening to the street from my front patio is narrow and they pass out of view quickly, silently, and I wonder if they even know I’m there. They walk with their heads down, focused on their steps and the rain. I’m not always sure they look at peace, but they maintain their ritual and do what they are expected to do. I admire their fortitude and endurance.
With their heads down and their mindfulness up I think of the many times I got caught in the rain on my motorcycle back home before my Peace Corps service. Short of getting off the road there’s not a lot you can do. You put on rain gear if you have it. You grip the handlebars a bit tighter. You focus on the pavement, the traffic, the road ahead and you concentrate on what needs to be done. You find a level of acceptance and a certain amount of peace in that awareness.
Before coming to Thailand I was a coffee snob of sorts. I would buy 5 pound bags of bulk espresso beans from an importer in New Jersey. I’d grind the dark, oily beans fresh each day. Even though Thailand grows coffee, fresh roasted beans and brews are limited to the larger cities, those areas frequented by foreign tourists. It is much more difficult to come by fresh roasted coffee in the little villages we Peace Corps volunteers find ourselves. In preparing myself for life in Thailand, reading that instant coffee and the prepackaged mixes laden with sugars and powdered creamers were the norm, I mentally shifted my thoughts toward a life without. A few fellow volunteers brought over small French presses so they could continue their habits much as they did at home. I did not. I figured Thailand had a more thriving tea culture and I would switch my caffeine source, but I never did. From what I’ve seen, Thais prefer their little packets of super sweetened instant coffee to tea. I went without coffee and caffeine the first few months here. Once I started getting to a point of being somewhat settled–after the first three months of training and home stays–I started drinking instant coffee, a poor substitute for someone used to drinking a pot of the darkest, strongest brew around.
Now that I’m getting comfortable in a home of my own, trying to find calm in the storm, I have begun to reclaim a few little habits and rituals that gave me moments of serenity in my old life. Starting each morning with hot, fresh brewed coffee tops the list. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten myself back into the habit of brewing coffee each morning. I get up around 6, plod barefoot and groggy to the kitchen, and pour bottled water into my electric tea kettle. While the water heats to a boil I unpack a paper filter, place it into the brown plastic, single-cup drip cone that I bought last time I was in Bangkok and scoop ground coffee into it. I slowly dribble the hot water into the cone, onto the Arabica blend, to release the flavors, the aromas and the emotional triggers and I wait, my appreciation building.
Sitting on my tiled patio with this first cup of coffee and my laptop in hand (replacing the morning newsprint) I am recreating an early day ritual I maintained through a huge chunk of my adult life, before and after retiring from my job. I’m not going to say it’s nirvana or heaven or any of the other cliches I could easily conjure up; it’s simply something familiar and extremely pleasurable. All I know is that it puts me into the present and I don’t need to dwell on my poor language skills for at least another hour. I email friends back home as they wind down their days. I check a few on-line newspapers to see what horrors my fellow man has wrought on the world overnight. I listen to the rain and wait for the monks to walk past.