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Pamela MacNaughtan

When the plane touched down in Bangkok this afternoon, I was hit by complete and utter exhaustion. Three days of staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. and waking up at 7 a.m had finally caught up with me. As I walked off the plane and into the terminal, all I wanted to do was get to my hostel, check in and fall into a deep coma for 90 minutes. But, as it turns out, fate had a different plan for me. Instead of a 90-minute power nap before my dinner plans, I would ‘forget’ to take the connecting train at Siam BTS. In my confusion, I would walk in the complete opposite direction of the hostel for 6 minutes, before realizing that a.) I was going in the wrong direction and b.) the reason why I couldn’t find my hostel was because I got off at the wrong station.

As I walked through the Bangkok heat with a 20-kilo backpack on my back, my exhaustion intensified and my mood plummeted. I was tired, I was hot and sweat was dripping into my eyes. All I wanted was to find the hostel so I could put my bag down and pass out. When I finally found the hostel (I had to walk to the next BTS station) and checked in, I noticed that my time was quickly running out. I told the refugee family I would be at their place around 4:30 p.m. It was almost 3:00 p.m. There was no time for a nap. All I had time for was a quick wardrobe change.

When I knocked on the family’s door, they were surprised. I had actually remembered where they lived. I hadn’t called ahead needing help -which I had done last time. In hindsight, I should have called and let him know I was on my way up. With all the recent arrests in Bangkok, I imagine a knock at the door can be a bit of a freaky experience.

I was immediately invited into their apartment and offered a seat on the bed. The room is small -about 10′ x 10′. On the left is a double bed. To my right is a television with a small Christmas tree decorated on top, and a wardrobe. At the foot of the bed, they have created a little kitchen where they cook all of their meals using a hotplate. S’s Mother-in-law and 18-month old daughter get up from the bed and sit on the floor, which makes me feel a wee bit guilty. But, I also understand that refusing would be like my telling them their offer wasn’t good enough. I sat on the bed.

In many ways, it’s as if I never left Bangkok. I feel 100% comfortable with S and his family. We talk about their soon to be new home country and the plight of refugees in Bangkok. S tells me about a new family that has been calling him every day, asking for help. It’s hard for him. He wants to help everyone, but sometimes he struggles with keeping his own family alive. There are so many refugees in Bangkok that need help. At times I wish I could drum up 100 other people, and use Warren Buffet’s fortune to help these families. Now, wouldn’t that be a fun day!

As his wife and Mother-in-law place food on a mat on the floor, my mouth begins to water. I haven’t eaten yet today and after my last trip to Bangkok, I have come to love Sri Lankan food -even though it is spicier than Thai food.

“Don’t worry, it’s not spicy,” S said with a chuckle. This has become our own little joke -ever since my first experience with Sri Lankan food when my mouth filed for divorce from the rest of my body. I slid off the bed and onto the floor and politely waited for my hosts. Except my hosts were not eating. Apparently, I was the only one. I felt both honored and awkward as I filled my plate with rice, chicken legs, and potato curry. They watched, as I began eating and smiled when they saw how much I was enjoying the food. It was delicious, and a wee bit spicy.

As I ate, we spoke about some of the refugee families that In Search of Sanuk is trying to help, and about my visit to IDC tomorrow. S mentions that one of the windows has food for a family inside IDC and asks if I can bring it with me tomorrow. I then explain that we are unable to visit Sri Lankan refugees and that I would try my best to convince a guard to pass the food along.  There is still no guarantee that the family will actually receive the food. I also mention to S that I am bringing some volunteers to the Bangkok Refugee Center in the afternoon, as there were a couple of families I want to see.

“Ah, yes. The other families will be there also. I told them you would be coming in the afternoon.” I had forgotten that I had already told him about my plans to visit the BRC. The sneaky little bugger started making phones calls to the other families when he found out I would be there.

As we talk, S tells me about the 240 Pakistani refugees who are being deported and sent back to Pakistan this month. It’s a sad situation. Many of the refugees who flee their home country do so because their lives are in danger. They come to Thailand because it’s easy to obtain a visa and the flights are usually cheap -although, I sometimes wonder if they ever consider how hard their life will be once they arrive and their visa runs out. In between eating and talking about some of the other refugee families, I make several attempts to entertain his daughter, who is utterly adorable.

On my last visit, she was pretty quiet and shy. She would cling to her Grandmother and just stare at me. This time, she was happier and a little braver. She would make faces and play a little bit, but she would only do so if she was on the opposite side of the room. Even when I broke out my secret weapon (my iPhone4 with the front facing video turned on), she wouldn’t come to my side of the room. She did start laughing and marvel at seeing herself, which was hilarious. Someday soon, I’ll sit down and pull a small clip out and post it -but not tonight.

All thoughts of exhaustion and sleep soon left me. I was mellow, happy and content. I love spending time with S and his family. They are amazing people, with extraordinarily big hearts. They help those who needed it (when they can afford to do so) and they make me want to be a better person. After all, if a refugee can find ways to help keep 6+ other families alive, then I can figure out how to keep even more of them alive.

Leaving the homes of refugees is one of the hardest things for me to do. I always feel so guilty -don’t ask me why I have no clue. As I walk out the door, everyone follows me into the hallway. There, they stand, watching me and waving goodbye. It is always a heart-wrenching experience for me. As I walk to the elevator, we agree to see each other tomorrow afternoon at the BRC, as well as Sunday afternoon during my rounds to some of the refugee homes.

At first, I thought 3.5 days would be enough time in Bangkok. However, as 1:30 a.m. approaches (and I am writing this post), I am beginning to think that I should have come sooner. I should have made myself available to do more.

Over the next few days, I’ll be fairly busy. Tomorrow I will take 3 volunteers to IDC to visit some detainees. Then, I will meet up with 3 more volunteers and take them to the BRC and possibly some home visits (It may not be necessary if all the families are at BRC tomorrow) to see refugees. On Saturday I’ll be helping out Dwight with his Saturday Project during the day and attending the Bangkok Podcast Christmas Party at night (A much-needed decompression). Sunday will be more home visits, as well as farewells -I anticipate a lot of crying and hugging on this day. My days are packed, and sleep may not happen until Monday when I step onto the plane and settle into my seat. My time in Bangkok is short, but I want to use every minute to the best of my ability.

At the end of each day, I will sit down and attempt to gather my thoughts into a post. It may be difficult and I may be totally tired, but I’m committed to doing it.

 

Comments:

  • December 17, 2010

    That little girl is adorable! I’m glad you were able to make a connection with her 🙂

    You are doing some truly amazing things–working with refugees as you are will change your life forever.

    reply...
  • December 17, 2010

    I love posts like these. They inspire me to want to continue to do good. I love the feeling that I was left with at the end.

    Keep it up! <3

    reply...
  • December 17, 2010

    There is always the feeling to want to do more, but the connection that you’ve made with S and his family will last beyond when you leave Bangkok. Your ability to help hands on will change when you leave Bangkok, but perhaps it will take another role (e.g., advocacy, awareness, fundraising, etc.) that will be equally important.

    We were fortunate to spend an evening with this family as well and I was also humbled by their spirit and energy to help others even though they had very little themselves.

    reply...
  • December 17, 2010

    Pam,

    Just wanted to again say thanks and tell you how much I appreciate your help. I think you know how frazzled I have been trying to carry all the weight of these families on my own. I love that they call you ‘Auntie’ and it’s really a testament to your spunky character that touches these families after you come in contact with even for such a short amount of time. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts and experiences from this weekend.

    reply...
  • December 22, 2010

    There is always the feeling to want to do more, but the connection that you’ve made with S and his family will last beyond when you leave Bangkok. Your ability to help hands on will change when you leave Bangkok, but perhaps it will take another role (e.g., advocacy, awareness, fundraising, etc.) that will be equally important. We were fortunate to spend an evening with this family as well and I was also humbled by their spirit and energy to help others even though they had very little themselves.

    reply...
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