~It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times~
For the last couple of years, I have been obsessed with the literary merit of the four elements. The easiest for me to comprehend was always water, a motif that represents not only sadness and gloom but also rebirth and purification, a symbol that truly portrays the beauty of the human condition, the inability of anything to be entirely good or evil, dark or light, etc. And since I really believe that art mimics life, which in turn mimics art, I thought that I would take a gander at attempting to look at the first third of my exchange through the various torrential downpours that graced life here in Yasothon and during my travels in this time.
I love rain, and I can recall how it lifted my spirits during my first bleak month here in Thailand. I was going through extreme culture shock and I closed myself off from the world, which led me to be as unhappy at school as I was at home. Nonetheless, as soon as water started to pour down from the heavens at school, I would immediately step outside into the covered corridor and observe as everything around me was given new life. For some, rain is a punishment, but for me, it is a gift and also a harbinger of what is to come.
Fittingly, the dark Sunday afternoon that sealed my fate to change families was also met by rain. I remember clearly having a tense conversation with my host mother in her white four-door car under the tall, pitched tin roof of a parking garage before we went to buy food for the night. When we exited the car, the rain had picked up its pace and was filling the streets more and more with every second we wasted trying to determine what route we were going to take in order to get to the supermarket. I can acutely recall the sound of the storm pounding down on the top of the parking—I had the peculiar sensation that the rain was screaming at me, its sound amplified thousands of times by the thin corrugated metal rooftop on which it was quickly hammering down upon. Later that night, we came to the mutual conclusion that I should change families.
When my advisor and coordinator picked me up to take me to my new hosts, I was once again greeted by the familiar windshield wipers and sound of water splashing under the tires of Ajaan Niwat’s car while nineties pop music played in the background. At that moment, even through the horrendous backstreet boys’ song that made its way to my brain through the reluctance of my eardrums, I felt like I was finally being cleansed. Cleansed of all of my mistakes for the previous month, and given a chance to start over completely new. I hugged my old host mother goodbye, and said hello to a new life.
Since then, there has been rain on several more occasions, each bringing with it a sense of purpose and a reason that I always try to uncover. One week, there were several truly prolific thunder and lightning storms during the middle of the night, and the first night, a loud clap of thunder forced me to sit upright in bed and look around at my dark surroundings. The flashes of lightning were diffused through the window shades, and I eagerly got up to look outside. Rain dove to the ground at a skewed angle because of the wind, and the boughs of trees blew every which way. Lightning was coming from not one, but several different clouds over Yasothon, and I thought back to our initial flight to Bangkok, in which we circled around about fifteen times in order to avoid an intense thunderstorm brewing just below and in front of the airplane. The thunder made the house tremble, and I wondered what it would be like to be out there right now, with what honestly seemed like the apocalypse taking its toll on the outside world. When I was younger, a scene like this would have utterly terrified me, but the strongest emotion that I felt this time was sheer fascination at the destruction and creation that the rain was catalyzing. Two nights later, I again bolted awake when a shock of thunder shook the entire house, but the storm itself was less interesting. I’ve never really been religious, but the storms those nights made me even question what I believe in.
The funny thing about storms like that is that they contain both water and fire. There is something so special about rain and lightning coexisting at the same time. It creates an odd mental image to think of fire in the midst of rain, but maybe it is just another one of the miraculous occurrences of this life.
In October, the rainy season died down in the Northeast of Thailand, but we had the luck to have a long school vacation during this time, and we, the Yasothon exchange students paired with several others from around the country, headed off to Chiang Mai in the North to a meditation for ten days. I don’t know if it was the meditation, or just the way that the rain glistened on the tin rooftops of the temple dormitories, but I have never felt so present during a rainstorm than the rainstorms of Wat Rampoeng. In the midst of walking meditation, it started to rain. Luckily, I was under a covered area, and I slowly approached the railing of the second story. Rained rushed off the roof and plummeted down to the ground below, and I could not prevent myself from breaking the repetitive lifting-putting pattern and letting my hand reach out to touch the sparkling drops. At that moment, I really felt alive.
Fast forward three weeks, and I was off to a YES Abroad community service project in the (very) South of Thailand. Now, at this point the Isaan had returned to cloudless skies, and for the past week at home, I was fairly depressed without my daily dose of the water cycle, and a trip to the South sounded perfect. When we finally arrived on the minuscule island off of the bordering province to Malaysia (Satun), all of us were struck with the idea that this may well be heaven on Earth. No amount of words will do the landscape of mountains, rocks, sand, and sun any justice, suffice it to say that it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In the South, there is no “winter” season, or so I have heard—the rainy season continues until the end of October and even into November. This proved to be very accurate, as our time on Koh Lipe was met with several torrential downpours.
Being on Island Lipe was like being born again in several ways. During the most reverent of the storms, in my opinion, I went fully clothed (maxi-dress and all) into the 90-degree ocean while the rain was still pounding down on the choppy waters. Above the mountain on the island next to us, several clouds had convened at the perfect angle to form a halo of lightning just over the summit. This metaphorical baptism in the bath waters of the tropics was a bit of an awakening for me, as was my entire month of semi-independence and freedom.
As of now, the rain has stopped. Occasionally I am awoken at night by the pitter patter of rain on the windowsill or a loud clap of thunder, the nightly visits verified as real in the morning when I find that my school shoes are soaked entirely through, and I have to wear flip-flops to my classes. But for the most part, life goes on. These four months (almost five) have been life changing, spectacular, morose, awe inducing, and transformational, and I think that most every person in Thailand with me would agree. Now it is December first, officially “winter,” and I will just have to wait and see how the rest of my time here in Thailand will continue to mold me into a new person.