Category Archives: travel

Workaholic

Hi, my name is Shannon and I’m a workaholic. Not even just a little bit but a lot. If I’m not working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and overall just a not fun person to be around. But guess what? When I am working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and still not a super fun person to be around. I know my love of work and consistent search for it comes from my family. You see, what had happened was my corporate work obsessed father met my physical work obsessed mother and came out with me, someone who not only has ten internet tabs open for various projects,  12 word documents opened almost all of them named Document#, two excel sheets being added to, and a printer that runs more than Usain Bolt but also someone who could likely win a speed-walking competition while balancing 5 margaritas on a tray and lift 3 boxes of beer over her head. (Disclaimer, the lifting ability is gone. I really messed up my back doing that. Lift with your legs people)

Now obviously this tendency to dive into work is not healthy. My wake up recently came in the form of a stroke and a fall. My father at 47 years old had a stroke and my mom (a trainer and wellness coach) fell on the treadmill and busted her back for a solid month. But for me the overworking manifests itself in depression, anxiety, and pain in whatever muscle I’m messing with. Or the alternative, completely burn myself out and have a mental breakdown.

Quick past on me, prior to Peace Corps I was happily/miserably working in the restaurant industry and if you’ve ever been in the service industry you understand that contradiction. When I left to the Peace Corps my boss lamented, “You can’t go. I have to hire 5 people to make up the work that you do.” He wasn’t lying and I’m not patting myself on the back. He owned three restaurants, I worked in two of them, I would wake up and go open the one at 9am, wait on tables until 1pm then drive and eat lunch (drive thru) to the other location and bartend there and close at 3am. I did that 5-6 days a week. Except on rare and exciting occasions when I got a day off. My record though for days without a free day was 24 days, and no, that’s not exactly legal but if you’ve got a couple of sketchy managers you too can make it happen. Eventually I had to stop because I started falling asleep standing next to the chip and salsa station. Even then it took one day off and I was back on it. But just like an addict I would still be going to coworkers and asking for their shifts, my managers were always so impressed with my work that they would even let me cover two shifts at once. But no lie I ran on two 24oz coffees (One Cuban Roast the other was called “Mocha Wakeup: Extra Caffeine, for all my Wawa fans), and various RedBulls throughout the day.

I was and still am a bit proud of that. That’s not healthy. No one should work themselves to the point where their physical, mental, and emotional health is compromised. In my mind at that point the healthy choice was the “Sugar-Free RedBull” and looking back I am appalled with myself for those decisions, even when people were gently warning me I never took it seriously “I’ll sleep/relax/go home when I’m dead,” was always the response, and it’s not like I cared about that job, but it filled the day and it kept me occupied and didn’t make me worry about the future, cause you don’t have time to worry about the future when it’s the dinner rush and you’re short-staffed. But the best part at the time was the compliments from customers. Even if I wasn’t their server people would give me tips because of how well they saw me work, mostly when I was bartending and would make 12 margs at the same time. (weird brag I know.) The compliments on my work ethic validated it, it made me feel good and worthwhile despite burning myself out.

Peace Corps is making me have to find ways to slow down and stop working. There’s no linear schedule for anything so my work and projects are constantly being put to the side, and I’m not going to sugar coat it, that’s a nightmare for me.  My work addiction is totally still there and I don’t intend on really letting it stop entirely. But I can take a step back every so often. My sleep schedule is improved, I’m vegetarian and that feels nice. Am I the picture of health? No way. If I lay down wrong, I’m out for the foreseeable future and I get Charlie horses more often than I’d like to admit. But my heart doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode, my feet aren’t covered in blisters, my hands aren’t as jittery, and I can sit for a minute and enjoy the day, and even better once in a blue moon I reject a project. My “addiction” manifests itself in better ways. I take on projects that I really care about rather than just learning how to make 50+ margaritas and other beverages (but I still know them so heads up midservice), I make genuine connections with people now because I say more than “Hi, welcome to Margaritas, my name is Shannon, would you like to try our Taco Gigante? It’s more than two pounds!” or “Didn’t I tell you five times to bus table 14?” or my favorite, “I swear to god if you seat me with that kid’s birthday party, I will end you.” The physical energy presents itself in random dance parties with my students, faking muay thai with my mattayom boys, and baton throwing with my mattayom girls. But all together I’m happier with my work, my work means something now and that’s a satisfaction I never had before.

Being Dolittle

I believe in looking at nature for a lot of answers. My grandpa and I would watch the birds flying and the lizards climbing in Puerto Rico and he’d be able to determine what kind of weather was coming; then taking the time to actually smell the air and look at the clouds, he could tell if the Sahara sand would be coming through. (It’s a real thing. Wind carries the sand from the Sahara to the Caribbean creating a haze).In my service and as an animal lover (I call a lot of the local animals Puan which probably concerns a lot of my community) I try learning from the animals around me, what do they do and why? What habits could I pick up from them and here’s what I have learned.

  • Suai (Monkey)

For background on Suai she is a monkey that my PST host mom has. The monkey was gifted to her and it lives in a cage which to Westerners is cruel. I think she was one of the first things that made me realize that Thailand would be hella different. Now of course because this is a wild animal, she has no interest in being in the cage, but what else can she do? Even when she resorts to anger Suai gains nothing from it.

Though at times I feel like I am in a cage, walking back and forth won’t help me. Tracing my steps will only do so much and resorting to anger won’t help.

  • Menao (Dog)

When I tell you this dog is messed up I mean it, she’s the first one you notice in the pack and that’s saying something because the lead dog is a scarred, battle-ready black lab. Her back legs are weak and she can’t carry herself long yet it doesn’t stop her from joining the other dogs on their terror missions until she can’t anymore.  When she walks its wobbly and never in a straight line, when she stands, she sways side to side. Once she’s tired, she sits down and rests in front of her (my) house. She was the easiest of the pack to win over considering how much time she spends resting.

Being a foreigner, you may always be the one to stick out, but don’t let that stop you from being a part of things. Although always remember when it is time for you to sit down and care for yourself. There’s no shame in limits and boundaries.

  • Khao (Dog)

Khao is one of the school dogs. Recently our janitor left and took a good chunk of the dog population with him. But Khao stayed or got left behind. Khao attends the morning assembly and sings loud and proud with the anthems and prayers bringing a smile to almost everyone’s face. This lesson was a simple one for me.

Sing loud and proud. You’re in Thailand and karaoke is inevitable.

But also use your voice, don’t be afraid to speak up especially when people forget you’re there.

  • Birds (various)


I honestly hate birds aside from Crows and Ravens. I think they are so dumb, and I struggle to read their emotions so that freaks me out, and when a pigeon gets trapped in my classroom my hatred for them just elevates more. They fly around not taking a minute to look at their surroundings. They keep trying to exit from the same closed window as before, and they shit everywhere in panic.

Look at the situation you’re in. Analyze what’s going on. Then make the decision that’s going to work for you, and if that decision doesn’t work, don’t do it over and over again.

But when all else fails, shitting yourself would probably get you out of a lot of situations.

  • Scorpions

Yeah, my site has scorpions, I’m never happy about that and have only encountered two, both being dead. Killed by a lizard just slightly bigger than them, in both cases the lizard was also dead. But their lessons were pretty strong.

No matter how tough you think you are, there’s something out there that can take you out.

Act in anger and you only end up hurting yourself and your causes.

Your thick skin can only save you for so long,

  • Navi (Cat)


Navi might be the most important one. She is my house cat. I fully intend on taking her home with me because she is my spirit animal. Many people say she looks like she’s on crack and I think sometimes she might be. But this f****** cat makes every day easier for me. She spends her day lounging around the house or taking small day trips with me to my school, and her night having what I and many others call “destruction zoomies” meaning just bursts of energy shown by running, climbing, scratching, clawing, biting and overall just being a weirdo. She sits bravely in front of my screen door taunting the dogs outside and when they lunge and growl at her she remains calm, often not even moving, just cocking her head slightly, then stretching out and moving to another location. But this coolness is not constant, this cat has serious separation anxiety, if she cannot see me she begins to freak out, clawing at doors and on occasion even trying to run through one to get to me (I was taking a shower and heard a series of thuds coming through the door, followed by a broken meow).           

The advice from Navi is always being added to but here’s what I got so far.

          Don’t let people see you sweat when they are trying to mess with you, but let those emotions out eventually.

          Freaking out over things you can’t control will result in some serious headaches.

          Be yourself even if people think it’s weird.

          If you act like you’re on crack, people will think you actually are and people on crack don’t have a lot of friends.

  • Elephants and Water Buffalo

Thailand is known for the elephants, but Water Buffalo are also super common and really cool to look at in my opinion. I think both of them carry themselves in a graceful manner despite being quite bulky. When you see them eye to eye and see past the grey, wrinkled skin they have the most beautiful gaze, one that seems to be full of emotion and insight, and truly if I had the powers of Dr.Dolittle I would try to talk to an elephant, (right after a convo with my cat about drugs). The message from an elephant and water buffalo would be;

Move slowly and enjoy the little things around you.

Even when you may not seem beautiful there is always someone who finds beauty and grace in you.


You may be strong, and you may be powerful, but you don’t always need to show it. Save the strength for when it is needed.

Growing up “The Wild Thornberrys was one of my favorite shows and I always pretended I could talk to animals. Today I do, and although they don’t really speak back, they are still saying something. Give nature a listen and she will speak.

(Also, can we really do something about climate change and conservationism? The world isn’t going to save itself.)

And I was running!

If there is one quote from a movie I love, it would have to be Forrest Gump’s Alabama clad accent saying proudly “And I was running!” as he’s being chased from bullies while his leg braces majestically fall to the ground. It is a quote that gets said often in my family just to either make fun of the accent or because we feel we did something good or otherwise impressive.

So this may seem beside the point but it’s where this story begins. If there’s anything in this world I love it’s British and Australian men, so it comes as no surprise that I spent a solid hour on my couch eating some chocolate and drinking my second box of Milo while thirsting over the Hemsworth brothers on Instagram. A common thought that runs through my head in these moments is “Damn, when I get my shit together the world better watch out cause I’m gonna get me one like that.” Then what follows is the thought “27 will be the year, it’ll be the year I get into shape.” Every two years I say a different age will be my best year, I know this because I have also said “24 will be the year.” And here I am at 24, it’s good, but I don’t think it’s my best. I lost some weight during service but I’ve still got a lot of grabbing room as wonderfully demonstrated by some other teachers and students. Which is fine cause I play it off and make jokes. But my problem is when I go up the stairs to my class and feel winded at the end, its only one flight of stairs. It shouldn’t be like this, my dad was an athlete in high school and raised me to love sports and my mom is a trainer who competes in Iron Man races. Internal conflict time.

“I’ll go running next semester. I’ll use the little gym they have and get into shape.”

“You say that all the time. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next semester”

“Fine, I’ll go tomorrow before class.”

I didn’t go. Then during all my classes I felt awful. I set a goal for myself and failed before I even started. Blaming anything I could. The tukay last night kept me up. My bed was uncomfortable. My mother forgot the time difference and called me at midnight again.

“Tomorrow for sure.”

“The day isn’t done. Just go after class.”

Fine.

I watch all my students leave school that day. Waiting patiently for them to go home with their parents because I don’t want them seeing their teacher struggling after one lap. I like to present myself as strong and able and me wheezing on the benches isn’t exactly the right look for strong and able. I go home, change clothes, lace up my hiking boots cause I don’t actually own sneakers but I’m feeling ready and energized. Then I majestically fall through my front door and scratch my knee. Looking around I pray no one has seen it. But there is my landlord restraining a smile, “Teacher Bpai Nai?”

“Bpai ti rong rien, bpai wing.”

Her face shows an expression of ‘Oh shit this girl is going to die.’ But her voice says “geng mak”

Yay encouragement!

I take my short walk to school, dogs on my heels, and then as I’m getting ready to run I see a group of my students playing takraw with the gym teacher. “Oh well, looks like they’re going to watch the farang struggle and wind up on the floor.”

I start running. It’s really not too bad. Thankfully my dogs have given up on following me and the school dogs are unbothered. The music in my ear keeps me going and it’s not unbearably hot. Halfway through my second lap I look down and I see two little shadows following close behind, taking out my earbuds I hear labored breaths and I turn to see two P4 students jogging behind me, skirts blowing behind. My turning surprises them because they yell and say “teacher run!” we have a small race but I slow down when I see a gap between the two of them. One student fell behind so we slow to a speed-walking pace. I point at different things and we practice our English for a couple of laps. They go back down to the playground to catch their breath eventually. So I am back to business, running again.

“I guess this isn’t too hard.” I promise myself to work out until 5:30pm. Looking at the clock it is around 4:45. Keep running I guess. I get a variety of looks from passerby’s and the gym teacher watches for a bit. When everyone else has retired I finish my workout and move until 5:30. Goal accomplished.

Next morning, my students have heard and many of them come up to me. “Teacher said you don’t like sports.” I don’t. I hate exercise. I hate sweat. I hate any form of discomfort. But honestly Peace Corps is about embracing discomfort. So why not start exercising beside 27 is supposed to be the best year, might as well work for it at 24.

Aside from that when lunch rolls around the gym teacher sits next to me, “You do good yesterday. You run again right?” I wasn’t planning on it cause its market day and I need food.

 “Yeah, I’m running today.”

“Good, I run too.”

Yay encouragement and running partner. This is also the first time the women teachers at my school don’t intervene and say that it’s inappropriate. First for everything. My students get into line for meditation. My two P4 running buddies come to me, “Teacher run?”

“Yeah, I’m running again.”

They look at each other with excitement. I know where to find them after school. When meditation ends some of the older students who stayed behind the day before come up to me. One student who was absent for my running points at my post-lunch stomach.

“Teacher get fat.”

First off, rude. Second, wrong. It’s just the style of pants I wear they do nothing to hide my stomach pooch and they make it look like I have no butt. I wear them intentionally, not because I want to accentuate my lunch belly but because stateside, I have been told that my backside really grabs attention and it’s vulgar. Again, rude.

“Teacher mai fat. Teacher wing mak. Teacher exercise.” One of my students quickly defends me. I look at the offending student and say “Teacher chop strong. Teacher bpai exercise. You bpai exercise later?”  They all look at each other and laugh a bit, they kindly decline and when they grow tired of me harassing them with English they say “bye.”

As I lace up my shoes to run again, I feel optimistic. Yeah, maybe I won’t get my shit together by the time I’m 27 but this is a start and I’m getting out of the house more and seeing my community. That’s what really matters in this. Even if the run begins with a fall at least it began because now I can go home, call up my family and really enjoy saying “I was running!”

A dip in the gene pool

Today’s post is brought to you by the Lion King and the wonderful sky Mufasa quote “Remember who you are.” My dad is still very much alive, but how cool/annoying would it be if your parents could contact you via clouds and sky. Beside the point. One thing that I have realized while living in Thailand is being in a homogeneous community is weird. I’m aware that there are people of different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds here. But I live in central Thailand, in a community that is all Thai. Except for one of my students who is mixed with French. Just him and I, we are the two that don’t match all the others. The unmatched socks. But whereas he is a black and white sock, I’m one of those crazy polka dot striped socks that people buy as a gag gift.

Explaining who I am in the states is fairly easy, if not just slightly frustrating.

“Hi, I’m Shannon Murphy. Born in Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican mom, but my dad is German and Irish hence the “Shannon Murphy””. That’s how it’s been for an odd 24 years. Ask me how I identify and I’ll likely just say Latina nowadays, especially in Thailand. But I realized I did that for simplicity purposes. What changed? My grandmother recently did a DNA test and turns out while she is 100% that B****, she is also more Portuguese and French than she is Spanish and way more European than she is anything else. Which is odd, cause the traditional Puerto Rican is Taino, African, and Spaniard. In my head I’m saying “okay so we are much more European than I thought, that’s cool whatever. Grandpa is clearly of African descent so we aren’t full colonizer yet.” But wait, any African that grandpa has is diluted by the time it gets to me and any of the German and Irish I have completely outweighed the Taino and the African. So that means my bloodline is full of…colonizer. (cue the dun dun duuuunnn music) Furthering this confusion, I recently emailed my father trying to figure out if he knew who the first Irish person in our family was to come to the states, he responded back saying, “Not sure, but we might not even be Irish, my great granddad who was supposed to be Irish might’ve actually been Italian and was just raised by an Irish family and adopted their last name.” What? My name is Shannon Murphy and you’re telling me I might not even be Irish. Whatever, I still love Guinness and Jameson.

Now the mostly European blood is not the worst thing to ever happen. But if you know me, I am a gung-ho anti-colonialist person. I hated Columbus before it was cool and was calling the Manifest Destiny and Pilgrims out on their shit early on. Hell, half the reason I chose Thailand for my Peace Corps service was because it wasn’t really colonized. But what this turns into is a slight identity crisis. I have become more aware that one part of my gene pool is responsible for enslaving and trying to eradicate another part of my gene pool. That’s why I always clung onto being Latina, being a Latina was an embracement of this internal struggle, and that community understands it. That Spanish isn’t really our native tongue it was the language that the Spaniards put down our throats. That our last names weren’t from our family but rather identifiers of who owned us.

At what point in my service did I remember that I was mixed? The family unit. I spent the day printing out photos of all my family members all the way back to my great-great grandmother, which is excessive yes, but I figured my class would be impressed by the fact that I could find a picture of her. But as I printed out the picture which was her immigrant identification card I sat for a bit and thought of her. I didn’t know her. But I thought “What would Agatha think, her descendant being a mutt of a human. Born in Puerto Rico, raised speaking German and English, only to forget the German and replace it with Spanish. Then this mutt of a child moving to Thailand.” The only German traits I have left is being able to say Scheisse and drink beer regularly, sometimes my German will show itself in my obsessive bouts of cleaning but those are far and few. Agatha left Germany with my great-grandmother and her other children when the Nazis were beginning to come into power, so I hope she’d be accepting of a severely interracial descendant. It’s time like these where I wish I could just time travel and get the answers myself cause looking at a picture of Agatha and going through our family tree doesn’t exactly give me a lot of personal answers. Although it gives me a connection to them, just by knowing their names I feel closer to them. I spoke to my mother while looking at the family tree and I said “I found my future child’s name, Wilhelmine, my 4x great grandmother.” Suddenly my family and roots seemed tangible. Something that as a mixed person is very rare.

This finding also created a moment of shame for me. I thought to myself about how I so desperately clinged onto being a Latina that I forgot half of who I was. I was raised with a German great grandmother who dedicated her time to teaching me about our heritage and telling me stories about her/our family, and a farm. She would show me pictures of her home in Dusseldorf and I was too young to fully appreciate them. Nowadays I want to find her home in Dusseldorf. I chose to ignore how my dad would joke about the “fighting Irish” and would take me to St. Patrick’s Day parades because that’s how he knew to share that piece of our culture and taking your five-year-old daughter into the Irish Pub is frowned upon although now I am a frequent patron into any pub I find.

Being an American is also tricky, the mixture of cultures makes it so difficult to find the pieces of our heritage that haven’t been altered. There’s more to being Irish than drinking and St. Patrick’s, but my dad and I didn’t know how to get in touch with that so we just accept any cliché concept that comes our way. But again, being Puerto Rican, my culture was accessible at all times. My mother is a full-blooded Puerto Rican and she could provide the music, the food, the norms and all of our other traditions with ease. And it was genuine.

I’m currently not in a place where I can do a lot of research on my genetic lineage outside of looking at family trees but when I get back to the United States or wherever the wind takes me next, I’d like to check it out and see what are the ingredients to Shannon Murphy. For now, I hope I am doing Agatha proud and trying to relearn my German. I’ve got bread and water down. Plus, in addition to my Puerto Rican flag hanging in my class Germany and Ireland have their own spaces. But we’ll have to see if Ireland is going to stay, it might get replaced by Italian apparently, which would explain my love for pasta and wine.

Orale Tailandia

Hispanic Heritage month. I have a love/hate relationship with this notion. First, let’s get on the same page. Hispanic and Latino are NOT the same. Latinos are from certain countries in Latin America and some parts of the Caribbean. Hispanic is any culture that has influence from Spain. So, Spaniards are NOT Latino. And Brazilians are NOT Hispanic. They have Portuguese influence but live in South America thus making them Latino. You can be one, you can be the other, and you can be both. But enough of that. Anyway, I love being Latina and Hispanic don’t get me wrong. But I hate heritage months because there’s always some nutter who comes out of the cracks and says well why don’t “well why don’t white people have a heritage month.” Here’s why. Because the white narrative whether it be American, European, Australian. etc., has always had the white people in charge. I vividly remember my world history classes beginning with the story of white warriors, white scholars, white doctors, and white kings and queens and ending with white men on the moon, and until recent years as Presidents. (Still no Latino or Hispanic identifying Presidents, but we’ll get there.)

The Hispanic narrative when told by a Hispanic is no different, it’s just been buried. Our history through the colonizers lens is shown as Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, and Taínos, all being savages. Slicing hearts out of a still living body and making sacrifices to appease serpent and jaguar gods, trying to figure out fire until the colonizers (Columbus) finds them in their mud huts and ultimately slaughters them. Leaving only the docile, subservient, or Eurocentric ones behind. But that story has it all wrong. Latinos built civilizations that modern technology still can’t explain. Latino culture was more advanced than the white-washed version history gives it credit for. If it wasn’t for Latinos, you’d have no chocolate, rubber, law and order would be far behind and the number zero wouldn’t exist. And that’s just the Mayans. Like women’s rights? That’s Taínos, villages ran with a matriarchal system and the women birthed rulers in pre-colonized Puerto Rico (Boriken), men could only become rulers (Caciques) through the maternal bloodline, and it wasn’t only men rulers there were many cases of female Cacicas, and you can thank them for the hammock and the word “Hurricane”. You can thank the Inca Empire for advances in stonework; did you know that Machu Picchu is earthquake proof? Even after 500 years? Moving on. Have a headache? Cramps? Muscle pain? Thank the Aztecs for your pain medication. They studied botany and understood how plants could influence the body. These advances were all done by “savages”. The strange thing about history is that it can be changed to suit the desired narrative. Hispanic Heritage month gives all Hispanic People a chance to share their story. Our successes. And here in Thailand it’s no different.

Group 131 is running with 10 percent being Latino/Hispanic identifying (Mexicans, Colombians, Puerto Rican, and Ecuadorian), and how great is that? Combined with the previous groups we have our own small, strong, familia, which as all Latinos know is everything. Almost hitting the 9-month mark of our time in Thailand we have been reflecting on the experiences. The joys of being bicultural, both American and Latino/Hispanic. We share the joys of showing our sites the electricity in our language, the sweet sounds of our music, the passion we bring to the table and to our work. But we also share our struggles of being not quite American. Falling into the gray zone of being from the colony, or first generation, or immigrant. Explaining why our families back home may not speak English. Why is there an accent when you speak English? Why does your hair or skin look like that? Why is your mother black and you are white? Why is your sister a different color? And I can never forget all the various, unwanted hip, thigh, and leg touches from people at my site. Often making me feel like I’m on the KFC menu. These issues being thrown at us make it hard to not break face. It’s so personal that to answer it in a politically correct way which doesn’t minimize our own culture y la raza is like walking in a minefield.  But somedays when you take a step back, Thai culture is so similar to Hispanic culture. Yai and Abuela are both pinching you saying within ten minutes you need to “Eat more you’re too skinny!” “Eat less you’re gaining too much weight!” but don’t you dare deny that second serving. Both Puans and Compañeros are giving sly gossip in the corner of the lunch room. Y la comunidad and your site will find a reason to party and dance. Pero just make sure you make it to la Iglesia on Sunday and give merits to the monks when you see them.

But introductions are so tricky when you are a (insert race here)-American. I typically find myself introducing myself as Puerto Rican, the sentence when translated from Thai goes like this “I am from the colony of Puerto Rico, the country of America.” To which Thai people give me a confused look because last they heard America didn’t have colonies. The next question runs like “So is she American or not?”  I still don’t know how to properly answer that question without going into a full-fledged history lesson. But so far, the answer has been “Both.” It works better on my students than adults.  The students are the easiest ones to explain my culture to. They enjoy having impromptu bomba beats lessons, they enjoy watching Teacher do her “wild” dances, between the bomba y plena and the salsa I keep them on their toes, they like that my Puerto Rican flag has the same colors as Thailand, and it’s just not a normal day to them if I don’t have on red lips and a palm tree head wrap. They like that Teacher is colorful, loud, and expressive. All things that stem from the roots of being Hispanic. All things that aren’t limited to a month. All things that I share every day. That and maybe an accidental Spanish curse cause somedays all you can say is “PUÑETA”

However, we continue to share these experiences and learn more about our own identities through the questions that our communities ask. The Peace Corps experience has helped us find more pride and strength in our culture, especially when we look back to the United States and see how it is under attack. We stand with our people, even from across oceans, and we continue to share and embrace our culture even when it’s not the designated month.

I’ll call it Post Traumatic Storm Disorder.

Hurricane Maria changed my life in so many ways. Plans A through probably G were effectively f***** when my work, my school, and my home got hit by Irma and Maria in a tropical combo move. A little less than two years later I followed Plan H and joined the Peace Corps. But during that time there was a trauma I didn’t realize I suffered until living alone in Thailand.

Picture it, its my first week in my new house in Thailand and I’m excited as hell. School is about to start; my classroom is ready and my home is coming together. I have a proper kitchen and am no longer subjected to eating whatever my host family gives me. I’m ending the day with my standard bucket shower and I can hear the rain beginning. No problem. In fact, I think “Great it’s hot season anyway, the rain will be good.” I’m probably midway through rinsing my hair when the lights went out.

Flashback. I’m in my home in Puerto Rico. Taking a bucket shower by candle light because my grandpa hasn’t removed the hurricane shutters yet and no light dares to peak in, there’s no light to be found anyways, I’m washing my underwear in the used bathwater because we don’t know when the water will come back and we have a limited supply. Grandpa hasn’t removed the shutters because there are bigger fish to fry. The day was spent trying to collect the pieces of our house that Maria threw and fix our home. A task suitable for Sisyphus. All of the trees are down, they’re blocking a road that serves as a one way in and one way out for some people in the community, we’ve spent all day chipping away at those trees. In my childhood those trees seemed unmovable, constant, but now they lay on the ground, stripped of all leaves, pines, and fronds resembling toothpicks, that’s how Maria treated them anyway. But now we cut at them with machetes, tirelessly. We get our own battle scars in the forms of blisters all over our hands but we can’t stop. No help is coming. Most Puerto Ricans accepted that pretty quickly. Myself and a couple of other younger people climb over them, we are trying to contact the families stuck down there. Their families go as far as they can trying to see if everyone is okay. There’s no communication on the island. All service has been wiped out. My dog slips off one of the fallen trees and breaks his leg. He gets put down later.

              But I am in Thailand now, on the floor of my bathroom. Trying to steady my breathing and my senses and cursing the security team for a fault that’s not theirs. I find my phone and fumble for the flashlight then the doorknob and exit. I accept the copious amount of conditioner in my hair. I wrap it up with another towel calling it deep conditioning. I turn off my flashlight to save battery, trusting my sense of touch to guide me through my new unfamiliar house. Just as I accept the fate of no electricity for the night and sit on my bed to panic alone, the fan resumes its normal hum. I sit and cry for a bit.

“You should spend the winter with your mother. It’ll be nice to see the snow again.” My grandpa sits on the marquesina with his homemade liquor and remaining coca cola. He says the words that have been nagging in the back of my head. I couldn’t abandon home, could I? I couldn’t abandon him. But his tone was not a suggesting one. We spent the rest of the evening gazing upon what used to be a forest. I mention “The trees were so big; I didn’t know there were houses over there.” He says “I forgot about them too. Those trees were from the 70’s” It’s empty now.

Forward to Reconnect, a time where everyone can vent about their experiences and commiserate. I put my moment of panic aside, it’s in the back of my mind now. But then there was a random storm. It lasted no more than twenty minutes but the way the wind howled, it brought me home, to when it was pitch black at three in the afternoon. The hurricane shutter on my window was one of the first to go, so I had a front row seat for Maria. But no, no. I am in Pathum Thani at Reconnect. Not on my Island. That door has shut for now. But it didn’t stop me from sitting in my hotel room that night crying while looking at photos of my family and home before Maria. Back when we were celebrating my graduation, I was sipping champagne and laughing about my fellow classmate who brought rum in a camelback to the ceremony. Back when I was working at my family business, calling the regulars, my friends because they were. Taking shots in the blind spots of the cameras, and “accidentally” opening an extra beer and trying to sneak it to the kitchen, they earned it. But I’m not there. I’m in Thailand. But when times are tough, I think of them, I know they are at home rallying for me.

And tonight, I write because Tropical Storm Dorian is coming, and for a moment I wanted to see its path. It’s only a Tropical Storm so that’s nothing. Maria was Cat. 5 and Irma was Cat. 4. But that path was so similar to the war path Maria was on. Going right over my home, Humacao; over my playground, Luquillo, and over my birthplace in Ceiba. Then I panicked. I was taken back two years to when I was in the same spot, more or less, in bed looking at what would become Ground Zero for Maria. Thinking what would become of my Island.

 No one in my group understands the trauma that was Maria, so I never really bring it up, plus we have all been through things. But there is a pain that comes with seeing your beloved island destroyed that I don’t believe mainlanders understand. We know a hurricane is coming, but we don’t get an evacuation route. We are sitting ducks and just have to prepare the best we can. However, seeing the things, you took for granted being wiped away, like they were never there in the first place. Normal actions and sights begin to feel hazy and you question if this is how it always looked, is this how it always felt? The absolute feeling of despair when you realize, the water isn’t coming today. The electricity isn’t coming tomorrow. Communication will be down for the foreseeable future. And every day the people you love are leaving the island in a mass exodus. Help didn’t come. Whatever help did come came too late and went to greedy hands outstretched, used for another vacation, beach house, or suit. For a moment Puerto Rico was sitting in a pot. Wall Street Vultures and Politicians hoped that when that pot was stirred Puerto Rico would finally sink, becoming the perfect spot for low-tax gentrification and fancy resorts. But that stirring awakened the island and her people. We took our machetes and pulled ourselves back up. In the past two years, we showed the world what strength is and what true democracy can be. We are Puerto Rico strong. We can make anything happen.

For me personally, whenever people mention “Peace Corps is tough isn’t it?” I proudly say “It’s no harder than Hurricane Maria.” Maria will always serve as my summit for difficulty. That’s the harshest thing I’ve weathered so far. In Thailand I finally got my Puerto Rican stamp of approval, a small tattoo of a coqui, on my shoulder so that even when I am far from home my coqui can whisper to me.

 “Soy de aqui.”

Restaurants and Peace Corps

Alternative title: “How my shitty job prepared me for my not so shitty job”

Hi, I’m Shannon. I’m in the Peace Corps. Before that I was in charge of maintaining health and safety standards, ensuring sales of quality products, I was a consumer to provider liaison, I was often in charge of organizing a team to open and shut down an establishment, and finally I was in charge of representing a company and it’s intercultural family focused image.

I was a waiter and a bartender in a Mexican franchise restaurant. Now I am in the Peace Corps and everyone in my cohort has spent their years doing impressive things and kudos to them. But I was in the restaurant industry and that gave me a set of skills that sets me apart from my group. Here they are:

  1. Pressure:

“My food still hasn’t come out and my family is eating before me” “Can we get more salsa?” “I ordered Grey Goose this is obviously Absolut, don’t try to trick me, go get your manager” “I know your section is full, but can you take a nine top with a baby?” and “I NEED RUNNERS AND TABLE 42 HAS A BIRTHDAY” This would all happen in mere seconds at my old job and it would last until whatever rush you had was over, and god help you if you’re short-staffed. I’ve seen that pressure make people drink until 2am and cry. I’ve seen that pressure make people cry on the spot. I’ve been that person crying on the spot. But you get over it. Suddenly you either adjust to the pressure or you just stop caring, either or. So now when I hear 15 first graders all wanting my undivided attention at the same time. No sweat, and no lie sometimes I do what I did with Mr. Extra Salsa, and pretend not to hear them.

2. Time management and multi-tasking:

Welcome to Thailand. The country where time management has been 86’ed and will be 86’ed until further notice. Everything is laid back and sabai sabai. Oh, but your director wants you to tutor the students going to an academic competition that’s happening in 3 days. Well time to manage that time. Restaurant Industry Shannon knows how we are going to play this game, consolidation is key. Carrying 2 plates on one arm, with a dessert in hand, and another plate in the other hand. Those kids are about to get tutored while Teacher Shannon makes materials, lesson plans, and grades papers. The Lord gave us two eyes, two ears, and two hands for a reason. (Not to be ableist)

3. Fake it till you make it:

I received and share lessons that I learned in restaurants surprisingly frequently. The first one is “Don’t let them see you struggle.” The next one is “Don’t let them affect you. In an hour they will be gone and you’ll likely never see them again.” Now both of these bits of info are based on when the customer is on a REAL power trip, and that’s an essay for another day. But for me there’s truth in it all. Don’t let them see you struggle, dude that’s classic fake it till you make it. If they don’t know that the walls are falling down on a project or a class then it’s okay. It gives you the time to rework it and play with whatever ideas you have until you can fix it, but if they see you losing faith in your own project then why would they cosign on it? And don’t let people affect you. This turns into a situational. Whatever situation you have won’t last forever, there’s always a new day. There’s always another perspective. There’re always other options.

Now never trust crocodiles’ tears and never trust a waiter’s smile.

“Oh, you’re telling me now half way your meal that you are lactose intolerant even though you got the queso, and extra sour cream? And now you want me to return it and take it off the bill? Right, of course, I am so sorry, it must not have been properly communicated and I’ll go get you my manager. Can I interest you in another Margarita while you wait?” Waiters can say all of this with a smile. And yeah this happens regularly. So now when I’m in school and these words happen “So all of the classes are cancelled today and tomorrow but the test still has to be next week, will the students be ready? Also, the students don’t have time for English club or extracurricular activities this week.” I smile. Because what else are you supposed to do. Cry? Probably, but do it in private so no one sees you struggling. (kidding that’s not great for the mental health. PSDN is there for that)

4. Unwanted touches and comments:

Hi, welcome to Mar******* Grille, my name is Shannon and I’ll be serving you tonight; can I get you started with some……why are you touching my arm sir?”

“Sa wa dii ka, di chan chuu Shannon……” And Yai (old lady/grandma) went in for the butt grab. Okay. “Ka”

Guess what, when you’re a foreigner with a crazy different body, expect some grabs. Expect some comments. It’s part of the game. Set some boundaries and you’ll be fine. But waitressing taught me how to call that out immediately. Why? Because it’s my body and last time I checked I wasn’t doing some all you can grab performance art. But as it goes, remember that smile. In all honesty what I have experienced here in terms of inappropriate grabs and comments is nothing compared to the states.

5. Health, safety and commiseration:

Know your allergies. Let people know your allergies. Know your emotions. Find people you can express your emotions with. Know your limits. Know your body. The more you have an understanding of your body and emotions the more it’ll help you in Peace Corps. How does this fall into the restaurant industry? Because I have seen people eat food off of dirty tables and blame the cooks for them getting sick. I have seen people with allergies order things they are allergic to without giving the server a warning then going into shock. Because I have seen people so down in a funk that they drink until they are not responsive anymore. Because I have seen people smoke away and snort away their pain until there is nothing left to feel. Know yourself. Find solace in your group and take care of one another.

There is no bond like that of a restaurant family. The dynamics are always the same.

There is no bond like that of a Peace Corps Group. The dynamics change. But the bond is there.

(Also remember to First in, First out your food. It’ll help save you money and time)

And finally, for all the couples out there. Tell your partner they are beautiful every day, or else the kitchen staff will.