Monday, June 10, 2013

Thailand Adventure: Squid Fishing

If you wonder out at night on the shores of the Phu Noi beach in November you will find a calm quiet wake made visible by the lights of fisherman boats sending up an eerie green glow on the horizon under bright familiar constellations. Were you there in November 2012 you would have found 4 travelers come to this scene with excitement for a new experience and possible bragging rights of squid fishing in Thailand. 

I, for one, am not a fan of fishing. Maybe one day I'll fall in love with it but up to this point the zeal with which I signed my name to the list of the midnight venture was not for the love of the sport, but for the naive love of anything you've never tried in a land you've never been. Here, squid fishing at midnight was new for all of us and we heartily agreed to the bargained amount to pay a willing local to take us out.

 Night fell and we excitedly drew together and followed the directions to our boat and its guide (who's description matched the appearance of an elderly uncle). "It'll be a boat on the shore with a red light. Don't be late."
If there's one thing I learned in the east it's that we do not speak the same English. I'm suspicious that western culture depends on its general public to be idiots and supplies more than enough directions followed with listed repercussions should those instructions not be followed by said idiots. On eastern shores, however, we were entrusted with supposed common sense. If you ask, they are incredibly sweet to answer, but you won't get an answer unless you ask.
Well, I guess we should have asked.
But there we found not one boat but several, all lining the shore, all with red lights, all with uncles. Making our way to one with insecure confidence a fisherman emerged to its bow with a look of expectancy. Perhaps this man, who didn't speak English and looked to be the youngest elder I had ever seen, was nice enough that if he wasn't our contact he wouldn't just take our offered money, drive us out to the ocean and drop us into its depths.   
But in the name of risk taking and in the spirit of adventure we waded out into the water (I guess jeans were a bad idea), climbed aboard, gave the man our baht and feverishly hoped with excited giggles that we weren't being boated to a watery grave as the shore grew smaller and smaller in the distance and the nearing green horizon took specified form. 

We passed the islands we had kayaked around earlier that day and came to an unidentified spot where our Thai fisherman set to work on educating us without saying a word. For each he tied a hook onto a long fishing line, anchored the line to the boat railing at four corners, sat us down at our posts and after a smiling mute demonstration of a periodic pull and jerk of the line he left us to try our hand at snagging a squid from a pod swimming past.

My first time meeting squid in person and with quite a bit of dumb luck I managed to see a happy variety of shapes, sizes, ink squirts and flashing iridescent colors.
Mesmerized, in love, and blood thirsty for more, we fished on.

Our growing confidence waned a little when our Thai fisherman demonstrated real effective fishing with a net, but he indulged us, letting us play around for several hours with whatever method we created.
So near 4 hours later with our bucket full of squid and me very seasick...

... we concluded it a very merry adventure, owing our gratitude and safety to the "uncle" that gave us a gracious experience of local life and a gracious gift of our catch and safe return to shore.
He wasn't a murderer after all.

Squid... so cool.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Asia continued: Thailand '12

Dear Thailand... my, you are a strange memory aren't you... one that is hard to believe belongs to me and my passport. Looking at you I wonder if I'm learning another meaning of the word "compromise."

 'I'll give up the south of India to see Thailand with you if you will see the Taj Mahal with me.'
translated into
'I have gained Thailand as a mission trip reprieve, an unplanned adventure and a needed enrichment of India.'

 I'd like to make this feeling of disbelief at having been so unexpectedly in such a foreign place a regular phenomenon.

And I'd like to eat Thai food every week.

Dear adventure born of disappointment, be my timeline.
If you're going to experience culture shock it may be the smartest thing you ever do to plan on experiencing it in more than one place. 

And while you're at it, plan to meet up with some adventurous friends along the way.

The Unexpected

It really is a pessimist who finds comfort in moving on from a period in life that is full of new friends and travels with the resolution that never will such friends or places ever be found again (and finding more comfort in that than the hope that that depressing thought isn't true). But I am that pessimist. I put my bible school friends and our past adventures on a pedestal and sighed with romantic tragedy on exploring the rest of the waiting world alone and bored.
Thailand 2012
Life doesn't turn out the way you plan or deeply hope. Sometimes this is devastating, and sometimes, now most times I'm finding, it is so right. Because sometimes, most times, you need that unexpected journey and that unplanned friend to give you something and push you to a better that you did not have the goodness in your own heart to gift to yourself. Either because you would not credit yourself to be able to rise to the challenge or you would not grant yourself such a simple joy. But Asia and my new friend Charlotte were just two of these gracious catalysts to evidence a goodness in my God's heart.

I tend to live my life like one gross epic novel, similar to an encyclopedia, whilst Charlotte here was a fascinating collection of narrative short stories on a fantastic tapestry. The minute we entered into travel mode, out popped her average day's tales in a fashion that had me wondering if my average day was as entertaining as hers. I grew envious of the characters that made up her life till I realized, hey, I knew those people too. Pretty soon I looked forward to any meeting with her during the JVMI clinic's days as she was bound to have a humorous and intriguing tale about these short story characters that had come to life and were passing me in the halls of the hospital. And I don't mean gossip. I mean she has a way of seeing that which makes people fascinating and memorable. In her story book, no character is inconsequential.
Everywhere we met was a story time campfire, the people we were meeting were members of our indigenous tribe, and she was the tribe's historical and mythological orator.
 It was starting all over again; the feeling of being in a Mark Twain novel with an adventurous friend that made you eager to only ever make it your life's goal to put stamps in your passport with this kind of person in the seat next you on the plane.  

Pretty soon the idea of going home and being surrounded by self portrayed perfection and nothing but first world distractions was the most depressing of thoughts. True, adventure is obvious and addicting in the scenario of wanderlust with a wise tribal orator, but I suppose to face what you begrudge and find difficult, like going home to work and school, are also the chapters of awesome adventure that you rise to the challenge of a story teller and character. And that, my dear past pessimist, can be evidenced in both her climactic short stories and my epic novel. Don't despair and don't shut the door on God's goodness.  

 Asia is a really hot place so when posing for pictures this is about as much contact as you want to have with someone. Even if they're your new best friend.

Fall 2012 Manipur Clinic Week

Because it's been sitting in my "drafts" box for FOREVER.... I'll finish my travel tales.

Churachandpur:  A place that I could observe for months and barely have scratched the surface of being able to describe it as an entity (as with any foreign complexity). And no, I suppose you wouldn't be interested about that entity unless you, yourself, were walking down its dirt streets pondering all the history and reality that had happened there in only a couple generations' time before it became a reality to you.

Outside of the hospital complex for patients to line up.
Head hunters to civil wars to peaceful streets. Native American-esque? Asian? Indian? Jewish? The economy? Family dynamic? Culture? Languages? Good grief, it drove me crazy to not be able to learn for as long as I wanted to. 
Optometry waiting for a doctor

The hospital:
In the apparent lack of medicinal luxuries the stage was set to watch medical professionals systematically compute their unique station's resources and come alive as medical MacGyvers in their craft. This wasn't a situation that I'd feel pity for them, this was a situation I watched someone who was born for this kind of scenario come alive. I was so impressed. It was all I could do to simply offer myself as a MacGyver totee.  
 Every inch and space of the hospital was utilized to try and get as many people in as possible. Patients came and lined up before the sunrise and were moved and ushered through an ever changing flawed system with a look of confusion that could have matched mine. Every hour of those first couple days our system changed, effecting every station from triage to surgery each time. Yet, there were no complaints. No passive aggressive remarks. I never knew I could love a group of people so quickly than when I saw their humor, patience, and joy never run out. It was an accidental learning of the lesson that the more you give the more you receive, and it made all the difference in the world.

Electricity was run off of generators that often went out mid procedure/surgery (thank goodness for headlamps and flashlights). There are no lights in the small bathroom stalls so good luck aiming for the squatty-potty in the dark. Good luck finding any soap or hand sanitizer after you failed at the previous as well. Give up on escaping the smell of burning trash. And when feeling lost, take comfort in the fact that the patients are in the same boat as you. Maybe grow worried over this fact as well. Eat any chance you get even though this may mean you needing a bathroom shortly after. You will be laughed at. You will laugh at yourself. You'll be so happy you did.

The week's clinic we brought with us offered free cataract surgery, dental, medical, pediatric, OB, eye glasses, and optometry in hopes of attracting people to the prayer tent to receive healing, encouragement, and most importantly, Christ. 

Optometry team
I had the privilege of working in the optometrist station, basically trying to aid a system of function and care for the locals and volunteers that were putting in tireless hours of rapid adjustment to both chaos and efficiency. And ever the patients were accommodating in waiting for hours and being directed to wherever we ushered them, with most of the time, no explanation due to our lack of a translator or time in general. 
Optometry triage

Hours were filled with minutes of little favors for those I still barely knew the names of (which proved difficult when you needed to call them from across the room). But their faces, growing in familiarity, began to showcase their desire to do more than they already were. That look moved me to make up my mind to go to medical school, become a doctor, and not have to see that look without knowing I did everything I possibly could to alleviate it. Somehow you imagine you could actually do something about it, when in truth, the most desperate of pitifully attempted performances from us makes for such a heavy dependence on God.

However, the ethos questions still made a permanent residency in my culture shocked mind like a storm cloud, blocking my view of clear blue logical sky in the midst of my currently committed miniscule mistakes. Thank God for the rays of encouraging sun of His Truth, breaking through with blessings and beauty in a way I could never understand through imagination alone. That Truth was learned from the people that surrounded me who never paid any heed to their circumstances. It was a genius move to give up processing the reality of anything as there was only time to digest every case, conversation, meeting, mistake and smile as it came. Nothing more. Nothing less.

There is so much I regret, so much I'm proud of, so much I'm thankful for, and so much I wish I had more time to accomplish or correct in myself. Most of the time I was filtering and processing through guilt. Guilt for not being a doctor, for not speaking the language, for not staying long enough. In the end it was the nurses, doctors and volunteers that I worked with that I grew the most attached to. Their selflessness and tireless availability to the clinic taught me such a natural reactionary emotion; to be the most happy if I could do them any favor. So this is what fulfillment in servanthood felt like. Not what I already knew it was, but what I didn't know it felt like. After that first day I knew, I already knew, that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

It was hard not to hide when confused. It was complete anxiety forcing myself to relax and enjoy everyone around me to spite the over stimulation that was bombarding my introverted highly sensitive self.
I really grew to love the people the more I understood them though. They seemed extremely reserved and cautious (so unlike Delhi) and remained polite. In our guest room at the college was a motto to encourage the students to live to serve. This was probably the most backwards concept to my western culture and every morning and night it remained the most prevalent for me. If someone wanted to serve you, don't refuse them (which was just as much of a challenge to receive as to offer). They did our laundry even though we were there for only 5 days. Carried our suitcases, fed us, boiled water for our bucket showers, and at the end of the week, a cultural evening show with gifts for every single traveler. 

I wanted to go all over the world doing just this, just to meet more people that humbled and pushed me in becoming a servant for how humble a servant they were. I knew I'd need to keep this potent lesson for going home as well. The adjective of "easy" is so common when learning spiritual truths abroad, but is no excuse when it needs to be applied at home as well. If anyone needed this lesson it was me at home when my world was screaming ease and selfishness at me. But oh, how I wish I could refresh that calling more frequently on foreign shores than I'm able to do now.