March 25, 2011
Today was one of the most stressful days of my life. Under normal, American circumstances, it would probably have been fine, but I’m in a foreign country and now I understand what immigrants to America must feel like when they go to get their visas renewed or go to interviews for citizenship and whatnot.
So, the day started out like yesterday, except today I decided to try to take a Song Thaew to work instead of the Tuk-Tuk, to try to save some money. Jaz drew a little map for me as to how to get to the Song Thaew station and told me “it should be 20 baht. Don’t ask, just give it to them.” So, that’s what I did. I was pretty proud of myself, first getting to the station (though, if I’m honest, it’s a straight shot down the road to the first light on the corner, so it wasn’t exactly rocket science) and then telling the driver where I needed to go, and actually getting there! There was one other lady who got on with me. She asked me something in Thai, but I was like “?” and shrugged my shoulders. Haha. I sort of guessed that she asked where I was going, so I said “Loi Kroh” and she nodded as if she understood.
Got to Taw Saeng, paid the driver 20 baht with no problem, and headed in for worship. Here’s the first stressful part of the day. Yesterday, Dtom was like, “you play guitar! You can lead worship tomorrow!’ I was like “uhhhh…..” So, worship! I looked through the book and finally found 3 songs I knew all the chords for. One of them was actually a song I knew from my guitar lessons (The Wonderful Cross), so I was a little more confident about that one. I had to have Dtom help me with the strumming patterns on the other two, but they were both songs I knew really well, so that helped for the chord changes at least.
I did give a disclaimer at the beginning that I’d only had 8 lessons, so please give me some grace. Inna was very impressed with my limited amount of schooling so far, so even though I felt like I screwed up the rhythm a few times with my less than stellar chord changes, I still felt ok about it. :)
After devotionals, Judy, Ning and I went to Starfish School, where the little girl I sponsor had spent the past week. A bit of backstory here: about a week after we left in November, this little girl had been sexually assaulted. She’s only 5, so it was pretty traumatic, obviously. We knew this had happened to a kid, but didn’t find out which kid til about a week ago. It just broke my heart knowing that it was "my" kid who got hurt. Not that it would have been any better if it were anyone else, but it felt really personal being the little girl I support, and whom I had spent so much time with.
Well, after the assault, she was still going to TS and doing really well, recovering and seemed to be back to her old self. Her dad was really really upset by the whole situation, and had decided that she just was not safe in their home anymore, despite the fact that they moved to get away from the person who hurt her. So, he sent her to this boarding school in town that is for really poor kids whose parents can’t take care of them. The family has two other younger kids too, so it must be really hard for them to make ends meet. When I heard about this, I really wanted to go see her, to see how she was doing and give her a hug.
Ning and her sister run an orphanage for 6 kids, so they wanted to take her in to their house, but the parents are not Christians, so they didn’t want her to go there initially. This last week was a trial week for her to see how she was adjusting to the school. I have to say, I had pretty strong reservations about it, but when we got there, it actually seemed really nice. It kind of had an Annie feel about it though, with all these girls of various ages running around. Part of me expected them to break out into “Hard Knock Life” at any moment. But, the lady who manages the place is American and has lived in Thailand for 18 years. She’s also a Christian, though the school itself doesn’t do religious education at all.
There are about 3 kids to a room, they help do laundry and clean up, the classrooms are really cute and clean, they also have a dance room, and a huge swimming pool and playground area, so it’s much better than I feared. We got to see the cute little girl, and she did remember me and gave me a big hug, so that was really great to get to give her some love. Ning and I went out and sat on the steps with her and she said she was really sad and missed her mom a lot. She looked so tired; she said she hadn’t slept all week because she missed her family and was crying at night. She also said she wanted to go live with P’Ning. I had told Judy yesterday at lunch that if the reason the dad didn’t want her in the house was because he didn’t want her that I was fully prepared to adopt her. She laughed and said that was the first thing she told NIng when she found out what was going on.
Ning told the social worker at the school that she really wanted the girl to go live with her but she didn’t want to control the situation and it needed to be the parents’ decision. One of the downsides of this place is that the parents only get to come visit twice a month at a designated time. But, since this was the end of the trial week, they came while we were there. I realized that the parents really do love her and just want the best for her. They just want to protect her, and the dad thinks this is the best way to do it. They looked so sad; I could tell they really missed her. She was really excited to see her brother and sister and was sitting on her mom and dad’s laps and telling them about her week. So, that was how we left them. I just hope they decide to let her live with Ning, because otherwise I’m not sure if I’ll get to see her at all anymore. If she lives with Ning, I’ll see her every week at church.
So, that was the second stressful, yet happy, part of the day. Happy because I got to see my sweet little sponsor child and got to see her reunited with her family, however briefly.
Next up was seeing the Kijigandee Foundation lady about the visa. So, initially, way back in December, I was told that the foundation would “take care of my visa.” I thought this meant that they’d get it for me, and sponsor my visa, basically, like in the US if you come to work for a company, they pay for your visa. I was wrong. I found out that I actually need to pay for the visa and a service charge for the paperwork processing. This comes out to about $700 altogether. This floored me and nearly made me start crying because I had totally not figured this into my budget or fundraising. Luckily, I think I have some time to pay the processing fee, and just have to front the visa charge, which is about $130.
Here comes the next snag. While I was making plans to come, Ahna, whose room I am staying in at the moment, was also planning to return this summer. Well, Rob mixed up which one of us he had given the visa coordinator’s info to, and realized that I had only had a cut and paste version of the email he had sent to Ahna that was lacking the visa coordinators info. So, I didn’t know that I should have asked for a 90 day visa when I came into the country, and only had gotten a 30 day visa.
This is a problem because in order to change my visa into a one-year multiple entry visa, it takes 2 months, and I only have 30 days! Normally, the solution is to leave the country to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and get a visa at the embassy there. As I’m hearing this, dollar signs are ringing in my ears and I’m seeing my limited bank account drain before my eyes.
Luckily (I hope), the visa coordinator has learned that there is a new law that allows volunteer workers to change their visas from tourist to type O by going to Bangkok instead of leaving the country. Now, she has just heard this, and has never tried it, so it could all be for naught, but for now, we are operating on the assumption that this will work.
Really luckily for me, my friends Stephen and Allison are working on a movie in Bangkok right now, so hopefully they will have some contacts who can grease the wheels for me so I can get this changed quickly and painlessly. Also, luckily, I can stay with them when I go to Bangkok, so I won’t have to pay for room and board, just transport. Now I just have to figure out whether I fly, bus or train it down there.
After this meeting, I was trying to just keep breathing and not freak out, but I just kept thinking “Dude! I’m already here! I flew 20,000 miles around the world and NOW I find all this out?” It was really scary and just not fun.
By the time I got back to TS, the classes were in full swing and I wasn’t really sure how to help, so I ended up tuning all the guitars for the guitar lessons that Field was doing that day! Then, I wrote an update to church and the leadership team so they would know what was going on. After dinner, Inna suggested we hang out that night, and since I want to make some friends, I was all for it!
One of the teenagers from TS just got a job as a waitress, so I suggested to Elizabeth (the high school teacher from Seattle) that we go have dinner there this weekend. She said that she and Ryan (her husband) were planning to go that night, so Inna and I headed over there. We had a nice chat, and I was able to vent a bit about the day and get some much needed support and advice, so that was great.
After dinner, Inna and I decided to go see a movie. I was very excited to discover that Sucker Punch came out here the same day as in the States, and since I’d wanted to see that forever, we got tickets! I gotta say, kind of a letdown, Zack Snyder. I thought it was going to be like “300” for girls, but the ending was highly unsatisfying. It did LOOK amazing, though.
After threatening it all day, it had finally rained during the movie, so the bike was soaked, but luckily I had an extra shirt in my bag! It was a nice drive home through the cool air, wind in my hair on the back of a motorbike. I kept thinking, “My mother would kill me if she saw me riding a bike without a helmet” but there was no other way to get home. Song Thaews stop running at 9pm and Tuk Tuks double in price. Anyway, we were only going about 35 miles an hour….