*Author’s Note: The names of the refugees in this article have been changed for their own protection. Locations within the city have also been omitted to help ensure their safety. There will also be no descriptions given on the photos in the post. To learn more about how you can help refugee families in Bangkok, please visit the In Search of Sanuk website.
I remember the first time I arrived in Bangkok. It was 2010, and I was starting a 4 month trip (which I thought would be longer). I remember walking out of the airport, the sky was black and I felt as though I would suffocate from the intense heat. I was wide-eyed, but trying to ‘act normal’. Finding my hostel proved to be a challenge, especially since the hostel used 7-Eleven as a landmark. I learned very quickly that there are more 7-Elevens in Thailand, than in any other country in the world, which means I also learned to never use them as a landmark when I was meeting someone.
I have such fond memories of my first fews days in Bangkok, and in Thailand.
Things were a little different this time around.
The sky was still black when I emerged from the airport in Bangkok, but instead of being suffocated by the intense heat, I felt as though someone had wrapped a warm blanket around my body after I had been out in the cold for days on end. I took deep breaths. I was relaxed. Confident. I navigated myself into a public taxi (the train into the city closed before I was able to collect my luggage), and made my way to the hostel, Lub_d.
For some reason my flights felt a lot longer this time around, and once I was settled into my room, I didn’t have the energy to venture to Nana for Shwarma. I know, you’re shocked. I was too.
My first full day back in Bangkok was like deja vu. I woke up early, checked my email, grabbed my things and made my way to the MRT. It was time to see the refugee families again.
It’s been 15 months since I’ve seen the families, and boy, have there been some changes!
I walked up the last stair and into the hallway of the apartment building. K and F had come to get me at the MRT, and as we entered the hallway they called out to their families [K and F are cousins, and live across the hall from each other]. When F’s monther came out, and spoke to me in English, I almost passed out from shock.
Mrs. M is a delightful woman. I remember her as being shy, and silent. When I saw her last time, she didn’t speak English. Now, she was not only greeting me, but conversing with me. We kissed cheek to cheek, twice. I slowly moved through the families members, greeting each of them, thrilled to be seeing them again. Wow. I’m back in Bangkok, and I’m with the families again. The same families who changed the way I approach my travels. The same families who broke my heart with their stories of struggle and hardship. The same families who let me into their lives and made me feel as though I was one of them.
After everyone had been greeted, I was guided into F’s apartment for lunch. Mmmmm Sri Lankan food. The last time I was in Bangkok I had to ask for non-spicy food as Sri Lankan food is spicier then Thai food. This time around I decided to be brave and eat the spicy food. Oh, it was delicious. I could have sat there eating chicken, rice, and curried potatoes all day long. But, I wasn’t in a restaurant. I was in a refugee’s home, and if I was eating, then they were watching me eat. I took small portions, but savoured every last bite.
As I ate, I gave my Nikon D3100 camera to G, and my Lomography LC+A camera to F’s younger sister. While I ate, they walked around and snapped photos [I can’t remember the last I had my photo taken so much].
Although the food was amazing, it wasn’t the highlight of my visit. That came after lunch.
Sam had arrived. Sam is a volunteer who has been teaching the kids English, as well as Mrs. M. She was sitting on one end of the room with F’s younger sister and another volunteer. I was laying on the bed with K and F. As I laid there I listened to F read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in English. It. Was. Bliss. I laid there, amazed and feeling very zen. English. They were reading to me in English. From time to time I would look over to F’s younger sister who was learning to read in English, amazed at her progress. It’s because of volunteers like Sam, that these girls, and their families are learning, and growing.
Although the families are being visited, and Sam is able to teach English to a few of them, there is still need. They are still refugees, and therefore working is very difficult, which means paying rent and buying food is also a challenge. They need support. They need people to sponsor them, to help them survive until the UN grants them refugee status, and they are given a new country, and a new future.
These families are dear to my heart, and while I’m in Thailand I will make an effort to see them as often as I can. I want to keep up with their progress. I want to know that they are doing okay. I want to be there when K’s Mom learns English and can speak to me like Mrs. M. Oh, what a fabulous day that will be.
My time in Bangkok is short, this time. I’m off to Chiang Mai tomorrow for the month of April, but I will be back. I have several visas to buy for the Mongol Rally, and I plan to stay in Bangkok while I apply for them.