Bangkok. It could have been the bloated sewer rat bobbing in the recently dug open drainage ditch running along the inside of the back wall (the kitchen area) of my friends’ apartment (where I stayed for my first 2ish weeks). It could have been the sewage covering the bathroom floor from a clogged squatty potty. It could have been the prayers that God would give us our daily food as we were living on about $1.70 a day for an “immersion” time with little contact with anyone who spoke English. It could have been the feeling that an iced coffee or a street-cooked meal costing $1.10 was beyond what I could afford. It could have been any of those things or more that made it feel very real here from the start. No mountains with snow frosting the rugged peaks, no aqua alpine lakes begging the hiker to dive in, no old-growth forests with their ripe huckleberries drawing you into the surreal fairy-tale feeling. Not anymore. This is Bangkok. This is a concrete (literal and figurative) land of daily struggle and joys, where many of my neighbors rise hours before the sun starts thinking about getting up to start preparing their food vending carts and stands for the day. Many continue to work hours after the sun goes back to bed, trying to make enough to continue living. I am privileged to catch a glimpse of my neighbors’ realities, to get to experience some of what they experience, to get to hear parts of their stories.
I live in a market neighborhood. To be precise, I live in a rented room (10x12ish ft) on the 4th floor of a building right on the market street. None of my 5 or 6 neighbors on the floor speak any English, an excellent opportunity for me to practice my Thai (I study Thai in a classroom 15 hours a week). We all share a squatty potty in a small room with a shower hose and water spout for filling up the bucket with which you flush and wash yourself (who needs toilet paper anyways?!). This bathroom is almost always completely wet, either from showering or from flushing any traces of business away from the squatty. I have come to appreciate the wetness of the room, however. It feels cleaner to me somehow, though it must be the catch all, given the lack of a sink in our building. In addition to a bathroom, we share a little 1.5 x 2.5 meter area for hand-washing our clothes. This area opens up to the back of the market area, overlooking the rusted tin rooftops of the neighboring houses and giving an excellent look at the south-western cityscape. I love the view from this part of our floor, especially at sunset. What a blessing to have a view!
I have begun my work at the Foundation. The long-term staff started a school that their kids attend alongside children who used to work in areas related to the nightlife. Part of my role is to free up the long-term staff by assisting in the lunch preparation for the school— an unexpected joy since from the beginning it was my ambition to learn to cook Thai cuisine. We are working with the children to teach them how to make a menu and cook; who knew I would be kitchen supervisor one day! I help our business as well, both in the creation of the products we sell (peanut butter, pesto, fresh salads, etc.) and in the market days themselves. Markets remind me of when I sold sap and roots at a roadside stand in Senegal over a year ago-- my product line is a bit different this time. Still quite organic though!
There is too much to explain, so I will write more soon. God has been humbling me, challenging me, and encouraging me every day. I know that He is up to some pretty amazing works in this time, something He keeps confirming through Scripture. Some people have expressed concern for my safety. I appreciate the care communicated, but I need you to know that I am safe in my Father’s hands. Please pray that I will be faithful in trusting without borders and in going to the scary places. As believers, we are not called to live behind padlocks, afraid of interacting with those God has called us to love. The greater risk is nothing physical that could happen to me—it is in failing to communicate God’s love to my neighbors, both for their sakes' and for mine. I appreciate prayers for protection, especially from the evil one, but know that God holds me. I am filled with His peace that I am right where I need to be in this time, and He has been flooding my life with blessing upon blessing: from the bike to ride to work each day to the generosity of my neighbors.