The texts usually come during the night. I wake to see “Miss you, teacher” on my screen from students at Mae Ra Moe refugee camp in Thailand and from Big Brother Mouse in Laos, the last two places I volunteered. Their messages bring me back to a different world than the one I am living in now.
I have bought a used car, rented a condo, ordered beds to be delivered, am scoping out furniture deals, have a fancy new phone, and still plan on upgrading my computer and my camera. I’m disappointed at how quickly I’ve become drawn to the latest deals and how easy it is for me to spend money on these material comforts. I resist the urge, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
I drive everywhere and live in air conditioning. Everyone complains about the heat and I can’t even manage to break a sweat. I rarely see anyone walking in the street. I sometimes wonder where everyone is. I’d become so accustomed to being surrounded by people and to being outside.
I eat whatever I want. I try to eat less meat, but it’s everywhere. It took two weeks for my stomach to get used to Western food again. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I ate a much healthier diet overseas.
My grandson has introduced me to Sarah and Duck. I’m addicted. (I love the Shallots.)
And then I wake to reminders of friends living on the other side of the world who are living on a few dollars a day (or less), eating rice, sleeping on the floors of bamboo huts, working hard to improve their lives, and always keeping a positive attitude.
A young Austrian economics student I sat next to on one of my last flights was bored one day and decided to figure out the probability of being born with all of the privileges he enjoyed. He was shocked to see how incredibly lucky he was to be born in a developed country with so many economic advantages. It was like winning the lottery. The vast majority of people in the world do not live the life we consider to be normal.
When I answer my students in Asia, I always tell them I miss them, too. I miss them, their hospitality, the peaceful way of life, the lessons I learned and the kindness I encountered on the road.