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3 posts categorized "Gaby Perez-Dietz "

Free Thoughts on the Proceeding of the Upcoming Election

As we brace and prepare, and prepare to embrace, as we must, for the inauguration of our new president I have some thoughts, or really a story from across the sea and land and oceans that divide me from my home right now. 

To begin with, I want to go back to the spring of 2013, when I landed on the tarmac of the Denpasar International airport in Bali, just as Obama was being inaugurated for his second election.Traveling abroad is an interesting thing, as many people know, and as this blog shows. But it is most startling when, without warning or consent, you become a symbol of every American in America. As Zadie Smith so aptly describes in her novel White Teeth, “ …hold your judgment. If you are told ‘they are this’ or ‘they are that’ or ‘their opinions are this’ or ‘they do that,’ withhold your judgment until all facts have been upon you because that land…goes by a thousand names and is populated by millions and if you think you have found two men the same among that multitude then you are mistaken. It is merely a trick of the moonlight” I wish I could translate this to the Thai people who see me on the street, or my co-workers, or my students or the farmers who watch me drive by their rice paddies. Sometimes I think people don’t understand that I’ve never met the president; that I actually don’t know of that small obscure town in the mid-west where your sister’s, friend’s son lived for 5 months; I am not all of America, and this could not be more true then right now.

When I landed in Bali when people saw me they would always bring up Obama’s name – literally – that is all they would say, “Obama.” The same holds true in Thailand, except now they say “Trump.” Now it's all well meaning, in both Bali and Thailand, their intentions are good; they just want to connect to you, to say something that you will understand. But that's the problem, that's the only America they know, the only English word they cling to. As many have taken some English classes in school, they know a few words, most likely not enough to make coherent sense (i.e. good morning, hello, tomato, book, Sunday, etc.) they choose to call out the one thing that defies a need for sentence structure, a name that carries meaning and thus a potential conversation and connection.

If we step back from 2017, from my teaching position, from my day-to-day life, and look at the larger picture or teaching abroad, the question becomes what am I doing here? Or what is the purpose of teachers abroad? What is my impact? Am I a cultural ambassador? Am I a babysitter? Am I inspiring young people to come to America? To speak English? The answer is foggy and maybe a little bit of all that, maybe none.

I would say my hope is to inspire interest in the English language and bring America into a three-dimensional, real place but what If what they see is no good, nothing to emulate. If all they do is connect me to the one word they know, “Trump.” When Obama’s name was whispered and shouted in Bali it was in reverence, in respect to the power one man can have to create change. The same feelings hold true in Thailand for Trump but they don’t speak with respect, they don't wish that upon themselves and their country. So what is my role now? They don’t want to come to America; therefore there is no need for English, so there is no need for me. I have become obsolete in a matter of seconds by my own hand. Great.

Except I have learned one of my most powerful lessons in fear this trip, and it takes us once more back to Bali. One day while I was walking in Bali a dog put its mouth on my leg. I phrase it like this because while its teeth never broke skin, its saliva hung on my leg and I cried out. Not in pain but in shock, one minute ago I was walking thinking about work and the next a loud, mean dog had put its mouth on my leg! Whoa! I called my friend shaking, who insisted I come back to school but I shook him off. I needed to hear a re-assuring voice and then I was fine, no biggie, literally no skin off my leg, no harm, no foul – all good. Time travel with me again to 2017 and me taking a walk after school along the river. Wild dogs are everywhere in Thailand and Bali, most are harmless, flea ridden and dirty, but harmless. And yet, as I was walking a dog came out of the bush and began walking towards me, and my palms started to sweat. My heart raced a little faster. I began to think what I was going to do if this dog started attacking me. And I was scared because 1. I had never had an issue with dogs since Bali and 2. The answer was nothing; turn around and run maybe, push the dog off, sure. But really, if this dog was going to attack me there was nothing I could do to stop it short of turning around that instant. And I had no idea what the outcome would be unless I kept walking. Dogs can become vicious, they are malnourished, tired, scared, trained, broken, and you are in their way, you are something to punish for all of that and there is no owner to inflict any sort of punishment. It’s terrifying walking around thinking something could hurt you at any minute. But it was also a strange feeling to be afraid of something so many people were not, of something so many people loved, of something so many people didn’t understand.

And I thought of Trump, and I thought of Trump supporters and I thought of the people I have met in Thailand and I thought of my students and I thought of my friends and family back home. And the way fear guides us, and defines us, makes us make choices that reverberate around the world to 7-eleven’s in gas station towns, to clubs, to classrooms, to the rooms where it all happens, to parks, to homes and into our hearts and minds.

I don’t know if I can go as far to say that my role has become to teach these children my fear, but it’s changed my perspective on what they need to know moving forward about America. On what we all need to know, that not every American preaches hate, or encourages bullying, or voted for a celebrity, or voted for a celebrity and encourages bullying (the two are not mutually exclusive), that there are no two American’s in the world that are the same or feel the same right now. That English is a language that can come in handy whether you live in America, Europe, and The Outback or just in your backyard. And most importantly living in fear is not the same as living with fear. I don’t live in fear of dogs anymore I live with it. In that moment I breathed through it, I looked that dog in the eye and screamed at the top of my lungs, “I am afraid of you but there is not enough space in this world for it. I will win. Grrr” And he shrugged and we both walked past each other, each going our own separate ways.

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore

 

I chose that quote to title my blog because man does it feel applicable. My favorite part about the whole thing is Dorothy saying she has a "feeling," as if being blown in a tornado and dropped in a colorful world with flowers and strange houses wasn't a clue enough that she was definitely not in Kansas. But I know what she means, sometimes we're blown around and we land and look around and think, well my world has flowers and houses, and this world has flowers and houses, maybe I am still in Kansas. It takes a minute to realize you're not at all where you started and you're not sure if you are happy or sad about that.

It’s been making me think a lot about landscapes, vistas, viewpoints, and how the way we see them shapes our perspective and ultimately our experience. Driving back from school everyday I pass a large rice field. I drive at the point where the sun is just beginning to set and the early evening rose light sets in. I am reminded of the American Romantic landscapes of the late 1850's. Large landscapes bathed in golden light, with detailed depictions of jungles and mountains. One of my favorites is Fredrick Edwin Church’s The Heart of the Andes, 1859 (pictured below). An American painter trained at the Hudson River School, he found his way to South America during one of the less amazing moments in the history of white American men. During the 1800s America was a period of expansion, of growth. With the industrial revolution and the advent of train’s, spaces that could not be traversed before were now readily available for Western expansion. But that expansion did not stop there, it moved North, South and West and conquered, killed and over took anyone in its path to create their new world.

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Church's work is no exception; it is a perfect epitome of this new world. Both haunting - and daunting, the scale itself (5 feet high by 10 feet long) feels ominous and overwhelming. Apparently when Church displayed this at the salon it was flanked by curtains and viewers were given opera spectacles to give the appearance of looking out. But it's also the eeriness I feel when looking off into the distance. The stillness of the trees, and the water, nothing is moving, everything is holding its breath. Off in the distance the mountains loom and you see the giant shadows of clouds reflected on the trees and you feel the sense of the unknown upon you. If you peer close enough you see two men paying their respects to a white cross, no doubt a sign of death – of this wild, unpredictable jungle taking a man's life - but also the death of a people, of a culture, of the beginnings of Christianity moving into this landscape. As the sun begins to set in this painting I look at it and imagine Melisandre staring into the abyss whispering, "For the night is dark and full of terrors." The reality is that the "heart of the Andes" has no place for humans.

Just a few decades earlier humans were also confronting nature, only this time it was across the world in Japan in the 1830’s. One of the most iconic works is Under The Wave Off Kanagawa, AKA the Great Wave. There is endless scholarly discussion on what Katsushika Hokusai was attempting to depict about life in this series (the Great Wave is only one of thirty-six prints about Mount Fuji). But what draws most viewers eyes to the work is not the mountain being dwarfed in the background, but the giant wave sweeping across the sky. For me I find myself attracted to the fishermen at the bottom of the page, rocking in their boats. They are not rowing frantically or dramatically trying to change fate, they lie in wait, ready to let the tsunami take them. I find it is a comforting reminder that no matter how hard we try nature is always stronger, the ocean is always stronger, possibly even more so than a mountain. Like an angered god, tsunami’s strike, earthquakes rumble, snow falls and even mosquitos bite and we as humans can do nothing but lie in our boats and wait for the great wave to take us.

The Great Wave

After this week, and really this month, these people dwarfed by nature, so utterly helpless to its goings-on, solely placed to show just how large the world looms, felt like an accurate description of my mood. I just needed a new perspective. You get to Thailand and you feel like you have to swallow the happy pill everyday. Mostly because it seems that everyone around you is on it and hallucinating magical rainbow unicorns that make eating sweetened rice and chicken three times a day an amazing experience that they just looooovvve. And you think,

is it only me?

Am I the only one who never wants to hear the word pork fat again? and then all of a sudden you’re sitting quietly at lunch and someone whispers, so Thailand is hard right?

And you just breathe out.

Because yes of course Thailand is hard, and hard not only in the emotional sense but the physical too. The hard that comes from sleeping on a hard mattress, from students who don’t care, from education systems that are flawed, from buses that don’t run, from food that makes you vomit and shit and burn all the way down, and all the way out, from carrying a rock on your chest and pretending you’re not struggling. From the simple miracle that even speaking about how hard it is makes it seem less hard. From looking at paintings and realizing that since the dawn of time expansion has been hard, nature is hard and living life within those two is incredibly, and undeniably difficult.

As Charles Baudelaire said " Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling." And as I looked at myself, on the map of the world. Precisely situated not where I used to be, not exactly where I thought I would be, but rather just a pulsing blue dot, radiating out

and I thought I am here.

I am feeling.

my dot has changed,

and maybe, just maybe, that's enough for now.  

 

p.s. Tried my hand at making a podcast-audio clip of this blog. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Download Toto, I Have A Feeling Were Not In Kansas Anymore


 

Happiness

Happiness is driving home from work on the back of a motorbike, the warm wind brushing your face as you look out across the sea of rice paddies and jungle you now call home as the sun dips into the magical hour of evening, painting the world bright, and you smile. 

Happiness is walking from the canteen with crispy mango, dipping it into the spicy sugar mix, while your students shout "Teacher, Teacher" and wave and wai (bowing with hands together as if in prayer - pronounced way) as you pass by.

Happiness is coming home and doing laundry in your sink, in your home, humming the tune to your favorite song as you hang the laundry to dry outside and wave to your neighbors. 

Happiness is coming home and immediately changing from your work clothes into your "house outfit"

Happiness is looking at your roommate in shock and awe as your kitchen floods - crying and laughing, tears and shouts bubbling uncontrollably out of you because basically your entire house is flooding and everything is going to be alright.

Happiness is your neighbor dropping a motorbike off at your house, and in the communal language of hand gestures and small words you realize she wants you to borrow it because she saw you walking home and thought you could use it. 

Happiness is living minimally, eating heartily, and breathing in Thai life.

Not every moment in Thailand has been happy, not every second or minute or hour or day but when it does hit you it feels like rain, like a drought you never knew existed, filling you up and replenishing your soul. You can't stop smiling and you can't not take a moment to be thankful and of course blog about it . 

Hello All!!

Greetings far and wide from Tha bo, Thailand. For those of you unfamiliar with the province it is all the way at the very top of the Northeast section of Thailand, kissing the boarder of Laos and it's capital Vientiane. Tha Bo is in the middle of nowhere, with no one around and nothing to do but teach. Luckily I have three awesome co-CIEE participants and friends who will be sharing this journey with me. 

But before we jump into life in Tha bo and my general experience abroad, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Gaby Perez-Dietz and I am from Newton, Massachusetts. I graduated from Skidmore College about a year and half ago and am now living and teaching abroad in Thailand! I am pretty excited to be blogging for CIEE and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you all over the next five months. Blogging is not exactly my strong suit but like many before me and many like me, doing this program was a lot about stepping out of our normal routines and experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity, or as I like to put it, embracing the fear. So here I am, embracing my fear of writing, of blogging, of teaching without any knowledge of Thai, of living in the middle of nowhere, of riding a motorbike and dying, of getting lost, of making mistakes, of being lonely, of never being left alone and of course, all the bugs. Here we go.....

 

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Me eating a scorpion in Bangkok

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The Crew, from left to right: Relish, Bam-Bam, Me and General Lee Thomas (Aka Lee) 

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