Last October Mark and I went to Borneo. It was our first long weekend vacation in SE Asia and we were very excited. We travelled with two friends and one of them, an avid climber, convinced us that hiking Mt. Kinabalu (one of the highest peaks in the region) would be a great (and doable) plan.
We travelled from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu and spent one night at “Jungle Jack’s” (a quick facebook search is how we stumbled upon this gem…but when he picked us up on the side of the mountain in the middle of the night blaring country music…we knew we’d picked a winner). We got in late, spent the night, and started on the trek early the next morning.
To say that we were a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started our vacation a bit sick with… stomach problems. When we surveyed our trekking group Mark and I noticed that most people wore high end gear and threw around phrases like, “when I hiked to Base Camp last year”. As we set off on our hike I had a moment of trepidation, but brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL to make it to the top. I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.
About 15 minutes in and I knew it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. It was just so… steep. I was unaccustomed to this type of “hiking” (CLIMBING!) and my legs were shaky after about one hour. And I couldn’t breathe, not at all. I have practically lived in the ocean the last few years, so starting a hike at 6,000 ft with a 4,000 ft elevation gain in four hours… Oh boy.
After the first half meter or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I’m not very athletic and I felt proud to be doing this thing that was difficult for me. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. Mark and our friend were quickly leading the pack, but us girls hung back, slow and steady. When I could breathe, we chatted. Mostly I enjoyed the scenery and marveled at the human body- so amazing how it works together, how I can neglect it in some ways, and then demand it to perform and it will.
About halfway to the resthouse things took a turn for the worse. I quietly plodded on, one foot in front of the other, but I was dizzy and nauseous, the whole world was spinning. What I knew was that I needed to stop, but I convinced myself that rest would come once I made it to the Resthouse. I continued on. Once I reached the Resthouse I knew I was in trouble. I hate being the weak one, the party pooper-so I tried to sip tea and pretend all was well, but I had to get up every 5 minutes to run to the restroom. I could barely walk the room was spinning so much. I waited for an hour. I felt certain that I was just tired and needed a break, and once I was rested all would be well. Eventually Mark decided to tell our guide, a lovely Malaysian man, about my ailments. He took one look at me and declared I must get off the mountain.
At that point it was about 6:30 in the evening. Night was falling, fast. (Oh, and it was FREEZING, and I mean FREEZING). I cried when they told me I would go back down that night. And of course, the only way down was the same way we had come up… You guys, I pretty much had to be carried off that mountain. Suffice it to say… it was a very long night, my poor husband did not get to summit Mt. Kinabalu, I couldn’t move my legs properly for two weeks, and altitude sickness is a B.
Now, why am I regaling you all with this story from almost a year ago?
Glad you asked….
A year and a week ago from today, I shuddered and cried and bemoaned the fact that I was moving to Thailand without a job. I sulked that I was following my husband (whom I adore and would follow anywhere) and felt certain I would literally go insane sitting alone in BKK day after day. I cried and yelled and threw things (well not really, but in my mind I had these tantrums), because I just have SO MUCH passion and I needed to direct it. I had so much desire but no opportunities.
And then, miraculously, I got offered this job.
To say that I was a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started this job with the kind of naivety you read about, the kind of naivety you love to scoff at. (and don’t even get me started on all the other “sicknesses” I carried into this job with me- bias, savior complex, etc, etc). When I surveyed my co-workers I noticed that most were far more educated and experienced than I was. They threw around phrases like, “According to the CRC, all SC and UAM’s need BIAs”. (okay not really, but holy acronyms people- the first 10 pages of my orientation notebook were just acronyms defined. Does anything make you feel more idiotic than frantically googling acronyms whilst sitting in a meeting?!). My first week at my new job I had a moment of trepidation, but I brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL, had the passion, to accomplish this work, to make a difference, to change the world! I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.
After the first few months or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I had so much to learn and I was proud of myself for digging in, despite all the difficulties. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. I created good boundaries and slowly and steadily built relationships with my clients, learned the ways of urban refugees in Bangkok, and tried my hardest to love and dignify the wonderful people I have the honor to serve. I enjoyed the many discoveries I made while learning more about new people and places. I marveled at the human spirit- so amazed at other’s strength, beauty, and goodness.
About eight months into my job things took a turn for the worse. Just one week of a string of bad events and I was (literally) dizzy and nauseous, my whole world was spinning. And then the next week there was more bad news. And the week after that there was more. And for a short time I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even breathe when my phone rang, so certain it would be another tragedy. All my well laid boundaries got wrecked to shit. I took calls at 11 pm, worked weekends, I did what I felt I needed to do so I could look in the mirror the next morning and know I had done what I could.
What I knew was that I needed to stop, to take a step back, but I convinced myself that rest would come once “such and such” problem was solved, or once insert random crazy thing here was taken care of. And I guess the whole point of this whole thing is, I don’t want to have to get carried down this mountain.
I just got back from a one month holiday home. I tried to stay away from work-including emails and other contact with clients/coworkers, but our team had recently made a chat group and I was notified every time someone wrote in it (1000 times a day-give or take). You guys, the crazy stuff just keeps on coming. First it was responding to a suicide attempt, then it was a serious medical issue, then it was a trafficker found one of our clients and tried to abduct them, then it was the arrest of our girls with young babies, and then the next day of our handicapped client. And I guess, from my cozy bed, in the room I grew up in, I (finally) realized that if I wait until all is fixed to re-establish good boundaries and leave my work at work, this job is going to kill me.
One of the things I have voiced often to Mark in the last year is, “I can’t unknow what I know now”. Usually this sentiment is accompanied by some amount of tears. I had known the world was a broken place, and I had sat in my cozy bed at home and tried to understand conflicts in places far away from California, USA, but I had never had to look into someone’s eyes as they recount the horrific things done to them. I had never had to answer the question of “Why?”.
This year has been a paradigm shifting year for me. Why does God allow Suffering? How do I bear the enormity of my privilege as a white American? Why do I do this work- Guilt? Love? How can it be that I see Jesus more in my Muslim friends day by day than so many who say they are Christians? How much should we (mark and I) sacrifice for these- and when? How?
The days leading up to my return to the big city I could feel my anxiety mounting- I knew what would be waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong-I love these kids, I love this job ( I would hand pick this job of all the jobs in the world, even now-especially now). But I knew what awaited me.
I landed very early morning earlier this week. And I was instantaneously filled with joy. I exited the plane with the biggest smile on my face- I couldn’t wipe my silly grin off my face as I went through customs and got into a taxi. I got home and unpacked my bag and it was time for work. I (honestly, this really happened) laughed for the pure joy of my life right now as I walked down my neighborhood street to catch a motorsai. As we drove down the busy Market street and passed the vendors, monks, etc, I marveled at how incredibly clear it is that this is meant to be my home for this time. I was all chatty in the bus-pretty sure I was the only eager and excited person at 6:30 on Wednesday morning-but my bus! I’m back! How exciting! I put on Taylor Swift’s 1984 (for old times sake).
Some people say, “your job sounds so hard- don’t you think you will quit?”. Or, “your facebook statuses are sad- this doesn’t seem like you”. Yes, my job is hard. And yes, I have had so much to learn and still have so much to learn about how to manage it and still be a normal, functioning person outside the craziness of this job. But- do you know me? If you know me you know that I would rather this, I was meant for this. And for all those who met me this year- I’m sorry you’ve had to watch me walk through this crazy year as a crazy person. No promises for this coming year, but know that I am learning, I am growing, and I am right where I’m supposed to be.