Recently, I logged onto Facebook to see a post that a friend’s boat had won roughly $310,000 in a tuna tournament. As selfish as I feel admitting this, my heart initially sank upon seeing this post. I consider myself blessed to call this person a friend and have been lucky enough to witness his work ethic firsthand. It’s admirable and pretty damn inspiring; and its often been a reminder that working in an unconventional field is by no means the wrong move, so long as you work hard and you’re content. But while I was happy that my friend’s hard work and manual labor had finally paid off, I was reminded of the seemingly overwhelming lack of victories I have celebrated throughout my eight months here in Thailand.
While Peace Corps is unconventional in about every sense of the way, one of those ways is that I don’t earn a salary. Per month, I am given enough money to get by on necessities, i.e. food and water. The money that my friend won over the span of one weekend, would take me well over 100 years to earn as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Joining Peace Corps, automatically monetary rewards are taken off the table. I’m not often phased by this because it was part of the appeal of Peace Corps and I have come to appreciate living simply and well below the American standard of living. I can think of a lot I would do with $310,000, though…
It’s the other victories that I am not seeing that are harder to cope with. Since arriving at my site, I have learned just how vastly different the Thai school system is from the one I grew accustomed to in America. This means that classes are more often than not cancelled and student and teacher no-shows are a regular occurrence, among other obstacles. Needless to say, all of the pushback leaves little room for progress. I struggle to understand my purpose in Thailand. What difference am I making? Where am I making an impact? Am I making an impact?
After a lot of nail biting and an afternoon of uncertainty regarding my place as a PCV, I was reminded of just one victory. Immediately upon arriving in my village, I noticed that I never saw women exercising. Unlike America, streets aren’t littered with joggers due to the countless stray, rabid dogs. There are occasional groups of bikers, but they are made up primarily of men. Soccer fields are also male dominated. But fitness has been a priority in my life since my dad first introduced me to tee-ball in the backyard of my childhood home and it was one thing I was not willing to sacrifice for the sake of integrating. My Thai peers think I am crazy, but I purposely work out during the hottest time of day because I know it is when the most people will see me. I want to normalize the idea that girls can be strong, too. One afternoon, I was jumping rope in front of my house. One of the neighborhood girls was on her way home from school as she passed me, glaring with a look that screamed, “what in the world is she doing and why is she doing it?” I offered my most awkward smile and continued my work-out. When I finished, I pulled the headphones out of my ear and turned to walk into my house to cool down with an ice-cold bucket shower as something caught my eye. Just down the street, that same girl was jumping rope in front of her house. I watched as she tripped over the red rope again and again, but persevered until she fell into a rhythm.
So while my efforts often seem futile, I’ll hold onto these little memories that remind me of my purpose. The image of my neighborhood friend jumping rope serves as the reminder I often need that if my actions can influence even one young mind then that is purpose enough.