It's been a crazy year, to say the least. Unfortunately, busy schedules and commitments did not allow for the same amount of writing time that our tiny Tongan island did, so I (Mark) haven't done much blogging. But better late than never, I guess. For the sake of posterity and in fear that these precious memories may one day slip away and be forgotten, here are 10 of my "most memorable moments" of the 2014-2015 school year, in no particular order:
1.) Christmas in Mae Law village, Burma. Getting to meet our dear friend Maung Way's family in Burma was an unexpected and profoundly meaningful time. And driving 3 hours to attend a Christmas "family reunion" in the small, rice farming village in which he was raised was certainly the highlight. A priceless memory that can not be captured in words.
2.) The first soccer practice with the "Somali Stars." This was my first exposure to some of the teenagers that Alissa serves, and it marked the beginning of a number of relationships that have profoundly impacted me this year. It was an initially awkward but joy-filled event, and it was incredible to join in with them as they enjoyed their favorite sport for the first time in Thailand without the fear of prejudice or immigration officers that constantly plagues the urban refugee communities.
3.) The last day of my World Literature class. It was a rare pleasure to teach a group of 24 young people who in just a couple months will be moving literately all over the world to enter university. We read some amazing books together and spent hours discussing meaningful topics, ranging from poverty, human rights, culture, religion, human suffering, personal identity, social justice, and so on. Their last day, when they surprised each teacher in our classrooms with an informal ceremony of speeches and bowing "wais", was a doozy - beautiful and extremely tough.
4.) Motorbiking to Kongsi Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos with Peace Corps buddies. Our quick trip to Laos to meet up with Katy, Joey, Michael, and Chiara was definitely a travel highlight of the year. Probably the coolest part of the trip was driving motorbikes through rural villages to go swimming in an amazing waterfall, then heading back during a stunning sunset.
5.) When a couple students told me they wanted to become teachers because of my class. To someone who is currently a teacher because of the influence of a couple great teachers of mine, these were some pretty big moments - as they would be for any other teacher in the world.
6.) The city of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I can't really pinpoint a single best moment from this Fall Break trip full of intense hiking, much needed relaxation, and bit of food poisoning. Really, the most memorable thing was the city itself. It's one of those rare places on earth where breathtaking mountains and beautiful beaches are only an hour drive from one another.
7.) The talent show at the 10th grade SALT Trip. The big field trip of the year was 4 days of "Service and Learning" in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. On the last night, the students put on an incredible talent show - incredible not necessarily because of the superb talents, but because of inclusive and joyful unity and camaraderie shown as each act was applauded uproariously, regardless of friend group, native language, nationality, or anything else that so often divides international school students.
8.) Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When other folks heard we were going to the veritable center of Thailand's biggest holiday - a week of everyone in the country going nuts and splashing/shooting/dousing/spraying each other with questionable water from any and all sources - they said we were insane. But being first timers, we ate it up - the whole indescribable whirlwind of it all.
9.) Our "Ethiopian Birthday Party." Being the thoughtful, motherly wife that Alissa is, she planned a birthday party at our house for one of her Ethiopian kiddos who was turning 16. It was memorable to say the least - full of good food, roaring laughter, and some unforgettable "Ethiopian dance lessons." (we hope those videos stay hidden for a long time...)
10.) That first trip from the airport to our new home at ICS, Bangkok. I can barely recall our overwhelmed feelings as we made that drive, jet lagged and unknowing of what lay ahead, taking in for the first time the bright lights, skyscrapers, and web of highways in this concrete jungle that we've come to call home. And while there have been countless answers to the question "Why did God lead us here?", a thousand more answers to that question are still lingering. I guess we'll have to see what the second year brings...