The Things I Miss

Lately I've been fantasizing about the CVS near my parents' house.  

I picture the exact corner where it sits only a 4 minute drive from my childhood home in the suburbs of Atlanta.

I imagine driving my car- actually driving... on the right side of the road- and turning into the parking lot.  How I would park in between those neat white lined spaces and how the automatic doors would sweep apart as I approached.  How someone would greet me in English (or ignore me in English), how I'd walk up and down the aisles, seeing all those American brands.  

I imagine buying things like blush or earrings or some other thing I haven't used in months.  I think about paying for something with a credit card.

I think about how it would feel to zip up my black winter boots.  

I imagine opening a drawer overflowing with underwear and that I haven't hand washed in a sink or bucket.

I think about walking around a house with wood floors and not brushing sand off my feet.  

I imagine turning the heat on.

I don't have an apartment right now, and it feels masochistic to imagine all of this in my old Chicago apartment, so mostly I picture my childhood home where we'll return for a week when this trip ends.  

I think about my dad's coffee maker there and how it's usually preset to start brewing at a certain time in the morning.  I remember the little white mugs with the green holly around the rims that my mom brings out every Christmas.

Right now my life is so incredibly different from the way it was back home.

Now I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and do some stretches or light yoga at the foot of our bed.  It's the only place in Thailand where I have access to air conditioning, and although it's only a couple of feet where blissfully cool air blows, that's where I cram in my work outs. 

Our bathroom in Thailand.

Our bathroom in Thailand.

I shower under the dribbling spigot that is our faucet and wonder each time I enter the bathroom if there will be hot water today.  Usually I move a bucket with soaking laundry out of the bathroom to take a shower.  

Yesterday there was no hot water, and the constant rain in the afternoon meant the water tank held pretty cold water. After delaying a shower most of the day, I used our electric kettle- you know like one of those hot water dispensers at hotel buffets?- to warm rounds of water, which I then poured into our bucket ($.50 at the plastic store across the road).  I crouched down and splashed the warm water on myself while huddling over the bucket, following Nate's instructions.  When he lived in Africa for the peace corp, he often took "bucket baths" so he walked me through the process, frequently sticking his head in to ask how it was going and to give me tips ("if you throw your head forward, the water you pour over it will go back into the bucket and you can keep using it").  

It made me think of being young and my parents washing my head in a bath- tilting all the way to the sky while my mom used a big cup or tupperware to pour the water.  I didn't use a big cup- I used the bowl we stole from the Thai staff kitchen and are still hoping no one knows has gone missing.

No make up at the beach.

No make up at the beach.

I don't even think about make up anymore.  I just put on my sort-of-clean volunteer t-shirt that is several sizes too big  and one of my two pairs of shorts (whichever is not wet hanging on the line on our front porch).  

My feet are always wet or muddy or covered in sand, so I don't bother with any cute sandals, I just slip into the pair of blue flip flops I bought for $2 at a stand down the road.  

It's usually raining here, so I grab our motorbike keys and fish my purple poncho out from under the seat.  I've learned how to put my poncho hood up before putting on my motorbike helmet which makes me look extra cool and sort of keeps me dry.  Then I climb onto the wet seat and get drenched as I drive the 3 km squinting against the rain to the center.  

I drive all the way on the left shoulder to be out of the way of cars and try to avoid the enormous mud potholes which could send me flying at any given moment.  If Nate's driving me, we stop at the Living Room, a western restaurant, where I buy an iced coffee for "take away" ("to go" is not a phrase used here).  It's 70 baht (or $2) with my volunteer discount, and it's basically espresso with condensed milk and sugar.  Thais do condensed milk really well.  They serve all take away cups in a little sleeve holder that you hang on the little hook at the front of your motorbike by your feet so you can have both hands free to drive.

We don't have a kitchen, so we eat every meal out, and while the food here is delicious and cheap, I fantasize about the aisles of Trader Joe's.  

When I'm bored, I make lists in my iPhone of all of the meals I'll cook when I'm home- risotto with butternut squash, fresh ravioli with spinach and ricotta, pizzas topped with caramelized onions.

I miss shopping for food.  I miss cooking for myself and for Nate.  I really miss good red wine.  Here I shop at the 7 Eleven for most of my food and all of my wine.  It's the largest established store on the island and doubles as the primary point of reference for anyone giving directions- "So you go down to the 7 Eleven and turn left..."

I miss my dog.  Even though I'm surrounded by animals at the animal welfare center, I think about the little patch of super-soft black fur in between her eyes that I used to kiss before I left the house.

I miss Mexican food.  Or even Tex Mex.  Anything served with a good tortilla.

I miss checking my phone and seeing a text message from someone I know.  I miss talking on the phone.  We don't have international phone plans, so we only use our phones for e-mail when on wifi networks.

I don't miss obsessing over the checking of my phone.  I'm glad that that part of life has gone away.  I still read emails and check Facebook when I get up, but I no longer have that panicky feeling if I leave my phone at home and am unreachable.  I have grown accustomed to being unreachable.

Eating at a local shop in Malaysia.

Eating at a local shop in Malaysia.

I both miss English and don't.  I am used to looking odd.  

The other day at the night market, Nate and I waded through mud puddles to see the local stalls- women in hijabs wacking at whole chickens that sit out in the heat, causing the aisle of stalls to fill with that raw meat smell.  I was wearing my flip flops (because that's what I'm always wearing), and the mud was so thick that I was getting stuck and sliding all over the place, so I decided to wait on the road, watching to avoid motorbikes and tuk tuks whizzing by.  

A small Thai boy in pajamas and croc sandals stared at me while I ate passion fruits I'd just bought.  I smiled at him and waved.  He continued to stare at the weird uncovered white lady.  I said, "Sawadee ka!" ("hello" in Thai), and his mom looked at him and said something in Thai, clearly encouraging him to greet me back.  He continued to stare, but then at the last second before he scrambled up onto the back of his mom's motorbike, he clasped his hands together in front of his body and tipped his chin down slightly, as if in prayer- the local, nonverbal greeting.  Embarrassed, they jetted off.  I laughed at how sweet the interaction was and thought again how normal it is for me now to be gawked at, to be the strange person in the midst of a very different culture.

I both fantasize about being surrounded by things I know and dread the feeling of completely fitting in again.  I like being the weird white lady at the market.  I like trying to understand the local customs and no longer feel embarrassed trying to speak a local language or fit in.  

It's a strange mix.

I both cherish and resist my strange transient life.  

For now, I'm just trying to feel grateful for where I am knowing that, once we return and reintegrate to a more stable, more western lifestyle, that I'll miss the sand tracked inside because it's meant I spent the afternoon on the beach.  

I'll miss this God forsaken bungalow and the bucket baths and the line of laundry because the convenience that my life will provide for me back home will also come with a cost- the cost of trading my time again.  The cost of the freedom I have now to decide whether I want to read in my hammock or out on the sand.  The time I get to enjoy with Nate, walking at night, sitting at little beach bars with our feet in the sand drinking Singha beers with koozies and dreaming about the future.