But this last month, the effects of time have come into sharper relief for me. My mom used to sing me that Joni Mitchell song,
... and the painted ponies go up and down.
We're captive on this carousel of time.
We can't go back; we can only look
behind from where we came,
and go round and round and round,
in the circle game...
and it's be drifting in and out of my head as the events of last year start to repeat themselves in this one. As the Thais might say, "Same, same. But different."
The first event that was the same, but different happened on March 20. I don't know if the Muu-Baan (village) party was the same date last year, but the purpose of the party we attended last Wednesday was certainly the same. Every year, the village pools a fund of money, which they give to the village leader (puyaibaan). With that money, the puyaibaan purchases food (which is usually prepared by members of the village) to serve to the monks, a collective tamboon (merit-making) activity. Then, they use the rest of the money to throw a huge party, to which everyone in the village (and the bigwigs from neighboring villages, and the Nayoke) are all invited. People give to the puyaibaan what they can. They don't have to give, but no matter what, they're invited to partake in the feasting, drinking, dancing, and festivities (which of course include karaoke and coyotees - young women dancing in skimpy outfits). This year, we missed the tamboon, as it took place in the morning, but we made it to the party, which was held at the puyaibaan's house, right outside the house where we lived with our host family last year. This year, the food was delicious and familiar, and the people were friends, neighbors, and familiar faces. This year it rained. This year, we weren't afraid to pipe up when we were ready to go, and our Paw fetched our host-brother to drive us back to our house right away.
Last year, we didn't know who organized the party or why. We followed Mee out the door at about 5 pm and made it to the tamboon, sitting on the floor in the open-air village meeting area, embarrassed and self-conscious that people we barely knew were serving us cokes, sending us to the best seats in the house, and generally whispering about us instead of paying attention to the chanting of the monks. We didn't know how to react, but tried to sit up straight and pretend we didn't notice, when one of the monks pulled a cam-corder from his flowing orange robes and trained it on the crowd, spending a suspicious amount of time on us. Of course, this was made even more awkward (and hilarious) by the fact that the video camera was connected to a projector that was simulcasting the video recording onto a screen mounted behind the seven or so seated monks who were variously chanting and sitting throughout the ceremony in which our village donated uncooked rice and other non (immediately) perishables. Then we went to the party, which was held in an empty lot where the weekly market is also held, and close to a hundred tables were set up to accommodate the guests. We sat near the back with our family, in a bit of shock, and wishing we could hide, when of course we were called up to the stage to be introduced to the crowd by the Nayoke. A few minutes later Josh was belting out Hotel California and I was laughing and making my way back to my seat. (Karaoke isn't in my repertoire. Wasn't then. Isn't now.)
This week marks several more iterations that bring into sharp relief just how much really has changed here. It was the last week of school when I arrived last year. The students were already out, but the teachers were still coming in to work and grading and sending their final student reports, etc., to the central state government. I came a few days to one school and then to another, sitting around, mostly, eating mangoes with a few female teachers I didn't really know that well because my co-teacher wasn't around for one reason or another. We spoke broken Thai and English to each other, as necessary, alternately playing on Facebook and doing work. We sat downstairs, cooled by fans, and on a Wednesday night, four teachers kidnapped me for a ride to "Hot Pot" a restaurant about an hour and a half away for an overpriced, but silly and fun, meal. Last year I planned for about two days with my primary co-teacher before she promptly disappeared to deal with family matters and preparations for the Thai New Year (fast approaching on April 13). I only interacted with my secondary co-teacher for one day, when I came to the school to celebrate the graduation of the sixth grade. I sat with the teachers, eating hot-pot at our table while the kids reveled in their special meal at their own tables. I was appalled and confused by the consumption of alcohol at the teachers' table, right in front of the students, and especially put off by the level of intoxication some of them reached. I worried what it meant for the next year. I was asked to say a few words to the students, and I spoke in Thai, using my dictionary to prepare the speech and checking it with a teacher who has since moved on to another school in another province.
This year, when I spoke to the graduating sixth grade students, I spoke to a group that I had taught, a group that, as I told them, is truly wonderful. I spoke to students that I will truly miss, some of whom I will teach again next year at the other school, and some I will likely never see again. I didn't shed the tears they did, but I felt the sadness of the passing of time, time that can never be gotten back. This year, I expected the alcohol and was pleasantly surprised that few teachers partook of the opportunity to get drunk at school in the middle of the day. (As I will have to explain another time, my fears about the alcohol at school have turned out to be both overblown and completely founded.) This year, I end the school year, sitting among new friends, who are grading papers, eating mangoes, and cursing their computers - upstairs, in an air conditioned room that was installed several months ago. We are speaking Thai to one another as I write this. I brought the mangoes. I know what's going on.
This morning, I came to school after stopping by the preschool graduation that was hosted by the aubautau, yet another repetition of something that happened last year, and this time, like the Muu-baan party, it was smaller and less overwhelming. But there were still overly made up girls (and boys) dancing with wildly inappropriate (to our still unaccustomed eyes) moves to songs that we find barely listenable. There were still long speeches to preschoolers, the presentation of certificates and teddy bears by the highest ranking government officials in our town, and of course, a large, catered lunch (which I skipped to come to school and sit with the teachers). But this year, I knew some of the kids dancing their hearts out on the stage. I decided at the last minute to come so the teachers I know would know that I care, that I find their kids and these events worthwhile, and important in some way.
I have no idea what else this year will bring. Certainly it will be different. Certainly it will be over before we know it. Right now, we approach another holiday, Song Kran (Thai New Year), that will again be the same, but different. The differences are startling reminders of how many, many things have changed, how different we are, how little time we in fact have left. Each day is both a repeat and a new day. Who knows what each of these days will reveal, either about the present or the past?