February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Karen Downey, Group 112, Friend named Nang

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Karen Downey, Group 112, Friend named Nang

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 6:33 pm: Edit Post

Karen Downey, Group 112, Friend named Nang

Karen Downey, Group 112, Friend named Nang

Karen Downey, Group 112, Friend named Nang

I live in the village of Sai Mun, Yasothon Province. That is in Northeastern Thailand. I am in group 112. I am involved with Integrated Education and Community Outreach (student-centered learning). I have been here 1 year now. My path definitely beats to a different drummer. I am very involved in community outreach. I help a Thai teacher of English at the Wat schoolhouse. I live next door to the Wat. The monks and novices are my friends. I have taught them to say hello and wave. I also facilitate an English conversation class at the hospital. I also am working on getting Alcoholics Anonymous started in the area. I taught exercise to children in the school for a little while (I was an old Jazzercize instructor in the 80s). I taught a Reiki I class to a group of nurses at the hospital and there is a waiting list for the next class. In America, my last career was an RN massage therapist, reflexologist, Reiki Master, crystal healing and aromatherapist. Never in a million years did I ever dream of teaching here. Next week, I will be teaching the Reiki I class to the Monks and novices at the wat. What an honor. As you can see, I have a different niche.

When I arrived at my site, I developed a friendship with Nang. She lived behind my home. The first day when all the neighbors were here to say hi, talk and see what was in my suitcase, Nang and I connected. She could speak very little English, but it was enough. I asked if she would do my laundry and mop my floor once a week. She was delighted. She came to see me every day that first week. She took me on my first songthaew to Yasothon to go to the market and also to the telephone company. She arranged for screens on my doors. Every time she came in my house, she went to the refrigerator and poured a glass of water for me. Soon, I beat her to the refrigerator and got her one first.

Nang took me to the Thursday market here in Sai Mun and we bought material to make curtains for my bedroom. When she brought my clothes back that first week, missing buttons had been replaced. She put elastic in 2 paasins so I had 2 new skirts. She took me to the wat the first time and to a wat out in the jungle. I gave her nail polish and even polished her nails once. I gave her some lotion, too.

Nang let the men in to hook up my telephone and on another occasion put a wooden table I had made in my front room. I had given her a key to my house, but never asked her to do these things. I would just come home and they would be done.

After I started at the schools, I would see her at least 3 times a week. I would run back and drop off my clothes and give her a hug and bring some cookies. About the 3rd week, I noticed she didn't look good and she said she had a headache. I worked on her for a while. The next week, she gave her sister-in-law my clothes to wash.

I went to a Teacher Training for a week and when I got back she was worse. I would check every day. I knew she went to Ubon to see a doctor a couple of times and the next thing I knew, she was in the hospital. I took the songthaew to see her and worked on her feet. I knew it was very serious but she wouldn't tell me what the matter was. She always had family around. They got used to me coming to work on her feet or hold her hand. She was so weak when she got home from the hospital and became weaker as every day passed.

I was gone from site another week to the south with the local education office. When I got back, Nang was resting was on the floor and not ambulating at all. She was almost a skeleton. What could I do??? I wanted to know what was really going on and not just have my suspicions.

I co-teach the monks with a Thai lady named Fon 3 nights a week. I asked her to come translate with Nang's family for me. I had been telling her about my sick friend. I wanted Fon to offer my table to Nang so she would not have to lie the ground. At first, Nang's family said they didn't want the table. But Nang must have said something because shortly after that the family told Fon that Nang wanted the table. The men went to get it.

Fon gave Nang's family information and numbers to call at the Sai Mun hospital. I had broached the subject and wanted to know what the matter was. It was AIDS, which was what I had been afraid it was. Her husband had brought it home. I was afraid something was up with him all along just from observing his drinking.

I took him aside with Nang's mom. I asked him if he had told her he was sorry. He said he had already done that. I asked him if he loved her and he looked at me surprised. He told me he loved her and was really sorry for what he had done. I said I just wanted to help my friend, though I was sorry to interfere. I told him to tell Nang how much he loved her so she would die knowing that he was sorry for what he had done. While we were talking, Nang's mom hugged me. She had wanted to say those things to him and felt so much pain for what he had done to her daughter.

When I went back in the room, Nang was up and on the table. I went under the mosquito net, gave her a kiss and said I hoped she was comfortable. I told her I loved her. They had also put the flowers I had brought her under the net for her to see. The crystal egg I given to her was in her hand and the seashells from the beach at her head.

The next day when I returned from work, Nang was in the hospital. I don't think the family had known how to get the help they needed before Fon gave them the information.

I had to go to the hospital for some PT for 2 weeks and I was able to see Nang every day. The next day when I went to see her I could feel a difference and I whispered in her ear. Did your husband talk to you? She nodded looking deep into my eyes. I said does your heart feel better? She nodded. I could see a difference with him to. Thank you god.

I got to help feed her, work on her, hold her hand, stroke her head give her water, help lift her up in the bed, bring her flowers, read a story book about the planets and show her the pictures. If I read real slowly she understood. I could make her smile and before she couldn't talk any more, the last thing Nang said to me after I said I love you, was - SAME.

One day I was sitting very close to Nang's bed talking to her with my eyes and to my surprise she reached up and touched my glasses and then stroked my face. I was so deeply touched I can't tell you. I thought about that during the night. I was planning to go to the Wat at 7 before going to the hospital when my neighbor came. I had just sent an email to America. I looked up and she said Nang was dead. We both cried and at 7 she came back and we both went to the Wat for Nang. Before I went to the hospital, Nang's body arrived and I was able to kneel next to one of her brothers, give her a last kiss good bye and touch her shoulder while one of the members of the family dressed her. That was the last time I saw NANG. When I returned she was in the casket.

Nang died July 19th. Many people came to pray, look at Nang's old pictures, visit, cry, drink, cook, eat, hold vigil and send her off. I went and lit incense and sat with her a few minutes. I knew she was in a better place. I went with the family Sunday in the funeral procession to the Wat. I sat with the family while the monks chanted. Then we opened the casket and several of us poured coconut juice on her body. The casket was placed on coals, lit and rolled into the oven and the doors closed. The family had me stand with Doom holding Nang's picture. They made sure I was with them. I felt very privileged.

On my first day back at the schools teaching Fit and Fun, I was lying down when someone hollered "Kalen" (the way my name is pronounced here). "Come - Nang - now go - Wat." I knew something was up. I went out back and 2 pickups loaded about 30 of us in and off we went to the Wat. The ashes were taken out of the oven on a piece of green metal. Oh my, that was the first time I saw the remains of the physical body. I was placed with the mom, dad, brothers and sisters-in-law to go through the ashes and pick out the bones and teeth. I just followed along with what was being done. The bones were then placed in a cloth and rinsed with special water that came from home. The men (dad, brothers, uncles) went and dug a hole by a huge tree in the jungle and the ashes and bones were placed in the hole and the hole filled up and a tree planted right on top.

WOW, what a beautiful custom I was allowed to be a part of. How beautiful the respect and caring of the family unit. To ashes we shall return. All we have is a physical body that decays. We spend most of our lives trying to make it look good, the EGO, when it is our spirit that sours. I am speechless about so much of what I have been a part of. It is all inside my being. It's not about words, but being in the now. I will never have the words for the rich experience I have had. I have since learned that the day that Nang touched my face, she touched the face of her husband and family and placed her arms around them one at a time. She knew that when she touched me, she was leaving. LIFE AND DEATH ARE A CONTINUOUS FLOW.

Karen Downey, Group 112

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Story Source: US Embassy in Thailand

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; PCVs in the Field - Thailand; Stories



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