Pero ma, estoy bien.

So I’m on a call with my biological mother, (I say biological because now I also have a Thai mother) and the lights go out and the call ends. Third time this week, and every single time I get Hurricane Maria flashbacks, I prepare myself for the potential days without electricity, starting oddly enough with first checking my water, and then checking my flashlight, then backup batteries, I even begin to dig my solar panel out of my luggage. But then before I get to far into my bags, the lights are back on. I wait about five minutes for the wi-fi to kick in and get back on the call with my bio mom.

Bio Mom for Show cause she’s adorable

“But are you okay? You can’t hang up on me like that!”

“Ma, I’m good, the electricity just went out for a minute. It’s normal”, I say exasperated.

“But why is that normal? I thought you said you were in a good area!”

“I am mom, but come on, it’s still the Peace Corps I’m not in the lap of luxury.”

“Okay, just next time let me know when you aren’t going to have electricity.”

“Yeah, cause I totally know when that will happen.”

The Latina mother is one to always worry, and mine is no exception. She pretends she doesn’t with her motto of I raised you to be strong. But deep down she always worries, and I can tell because she’ll tell me to control things that I clear as day cannot.

I’ve noted that Thai women and Latina women are cut from the same sheet. Both want you to eat, and honestly when push comes to shove, will make you eat. Both want to just take care of you, especially if you’re a boy, cause girls should already know these things. Both are super nervous about you getting hurt, my Thai counterparts have already matched my mother on holding my hand while we cross the street, they even scream if I go without them.

And worst/best of all. I can always hear my mother saying “Pero nina, tu eres gorda” or “Pero nina, tu eres bien flaca, ponte a comer.” as my Thai Mother would tell me, “Very skinny, eat much” or “Very big, eat little”

I miss my bio mom, and I miss my Thai mom. But it’s amazing to see how motherhood transcends cultures. But Moms, I’m fine. I’m eating. I’m not hurt I swear. And yes, I tell you the next time the electricity is about to go out.

So how’s Goal Two going?

“Soy primeramente Boricua, Americana Segunda.”

Those words are pretty important to me when people ask about my background, since many still struggle to understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It translates to “I am Puerto Rican first, American second.” and while that sounds more harsh in English it’s just our explanation that we love our island, and align with our culture more than the American culture.

So when I explain to people at my site that I am Puerto Rican most don’t even know where that is. So I pull out my trusty little phone map and show them that it is off the coast of Florida, then I explain further and say that the USVI is also part of America, just further out. This helps many understand the concept much more, and even when they don’t fully understand it most just say “Okay.” and move on from the subject. They know that I am still the volunteer that they signed up for, and I feel happy because I got to share my culture for a bit.

What else has been done to share my Puerto Rican side, well some methods are very low-key. As simple as making my classroom playlist consist of albums like “Marc Anthony for Babies”, some students enjoy it, while others don’t know what to make of it. Even when I’m getting ready and hanging out in my classroom most of the visitors are welcomed by some form of salsa, bomba y plena, or reggaeton. Then for the adults when we are out on the town and they want to cheers we take the second to learn how to cheers in English, and in Spanish, saying loudly and for the first couple of tries messing it up. But at the end of the night everyone is saying “Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Pa Dentro!”

Then there’s other times where my Puerto Rican influence goes all out. It’s going to take a killer experience to overshadow the night that my host family and I gathered in the kitchen to make Mofongo and Coquito. With my aunt and I managing the Pilon, my Yai handling the fryer, and my mom peeling all the plantains, it was a wonderful time where I got to explain to my family how Puerto Rican culture is. Why we use plantains in most of our food, what else do Puerto Ricans eat? Why is mofongo called mofongo? and one question that had nothing to do with food but I could tell was driving them crazy since day one I told them I was Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rico? No matter how odd the question was I answered it, and shared my culture and stories with them. Did they enjoy the mofongo you may ask? No they didn’t really care for it, they wanted spicier food and that got answered with “Most Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy”

I am a Puerto Rican first, an American second, in Thailand. The joy of travel is the sharing of cultures and I’m happy to be in a country so intrigued by mine, I can’t wait to share more and see the connections that it can make. Who knows maybe my school will have the first Bomba Club in Thailand.

You can do Hard Things.

Well here I sit. On my bed, somewhere in Uthai Thani enjoying some weird spicy bread stick snack. I have maybe finally caught up with the lost sleep from PST and I feel good. I am so proud to say that I am finally a Peace Corps Volunteer, a solid seven years ago I did a project in my business class about Peace Corps and that sparked something. Then one night two years ago, I looked up from my dinner towards my grandmother who was being a slight pain in my rear (love you grandma) and said “I don’t know, maybe I’ll join Peace Corps” She said something along the lines of good idea. Then one year and four months ago I moved from my home in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. My mother told me “I love you but you have one year to get out of my house.” Then I did it. About an hour before my closing night shift at my dead end job, (Mexican franchise restaurant) I applied for Peace Corps. I looked at my mom who was also my manager and just said “I did it”. Then we waited, and waited, and waited more. Finally a solid three months later I got the email saying to get ready for an interview. When that day came I sat in my living room with a notebook full of answers to questions I was sure were coming and they did, for an hour. When I got off the phone, I went to my mom’s room to tell her but she was still sleeping. So from then I waited, and waited, and waited way more. I was convinced they didn’t want me. Why would they? I was a bartender, I didn’t go to a great University, and my only experience teaching English was to my Venezuelan stepdad and in my mind really that shouldn’t even count because teaching is what families do for each other. In my mind at that time was Peace Corps is something rich, white people do. So I did what I do best, travel. My best friend and I spent the summer traveling the states. We went to Puerto Rico, Boston, Miami, Canada and I tried to get her to NYC but that ended up being a sister trip to see Wicked in December. It was amazing. But somewhere between Miami and Boston, I got the email. I was accepted to be a Peace Corps Trainee, and to get ready because paperwork was coming and it was coming fast. Medical, legal, you name it and I dealt with it. There were multiple times during medical that I was sure I wasn’t going be accepted, but I was. Finally I got my shit slightly together and ate a whole lot of garbage American food, then said my goodbyes.

Then came PST and “You can do hard things” became both my supportive mantra and my sarcastic reply to pretty much all of life’s problem. The support in Peace Corps Thailand is amazing because as they said before “You now have over 50 friends you don’t have to explain your decision to” and they were right. 50+ new friends and I’ve got to say I’m pretty close to the happiest I’ve ever been. Despite my 7 mile bike ride into town and 7 mile ride back home, despite the dogs chasing me, and despite that one really bad bike fall that managed to break two of my tires. PST flew by, I cried saying goodbye to everyone especially my host family. My host family in Suphan Buri were easily the kindest people I’ve met. From day one, I felt nothing but pure appreciation because how grand do you have to be to allow someone into your home and treat them as you would your own child. I felt at home with my host family and no matter what they will now be part of my family and I will be a part of theirs.

Now is Peace Corps all doves and rainbows. No. It gets tough. I’m in the first week of site, and I’ve never experienced a loneliness like I do on my days off because honestly try as I might I’m pretty much situated in the middle of nowhere, and despite the language training I’m not good enough at Thai to have a proper conversation. But that’s part of it. The Americans fade and suddenly you’re the only Farang in your town. But the joy I feel when I walk into my school and say “Hello” to my students and hearing them respond is unimaginable. You find yourself appreciating the small successes rather than the big ones. Today my success was finally having students feel comfortable enough to walk in and hang out in my (Work in Progress) classroom. Did we speak much? No. But they did enjoy the time there dancing to Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder, they did enjoy my cactus named Groot, and they did enjoy hearing me say “Rohn Mak” (very hot) and that’s what matters to me. i

When I was still in PST I said “everything will be better once we get to site” and here I am. Is it better? Not necessarily. It’s just a new challenge that I am eager to tackle.

Meeting the world my way