Teaching Abroad – Two fun games

Hello everyone!

This past month has been such a super busy month working with many volunteers! Hopefully one day YOU will join us also! (check out our Wat Doi Saket project) We had volunteers from Australia, England, Canada, Germany, Lithuania and USA. They all taught at different locations, and they all wanted to know about games for the classroom. So, I am sharing a few that were super fun here with Thai students.

WHAT AM I? 

This game is great for practicing Yes/No questions with the verb ‘to be’ in present simple.

Think of a category: fruits, places, countries, people….

  • Pick one student to stand facing the classroom with his/her back to the board.
  • Write a word from the chosen category, for example: banana.
  • He is now a ‘banana’, but he does not know.
  • The student standing in front of the class has to ask at least 10 questions to guess what he is.
  • Questions have to be yes/no questions only. Am I big? Am I red? Am I gooey? etc.
  • The class can only reply with YES or NO.
  • The student gets 3 opportunities to guess what he is by asking: Am I a watermelon?

You can make variations to the game, like giving certain amount of minutes to make as many questions as possible or choosing from a vocabulary list that you have been working with in class. You can even make teams and keep score.

BANANAS!

This game is super fun to play as a warm up to get the students to feel comfortable speaking in English. It is also a good way to practice asking the correct format for asking yes/no questions. (You can use simple present, past or future, if the class is a beginning level I suggest you keep it in simple present unless using the game to practice a particular tense)

  • Pick one student to sit on a chair in front of the class.
  • The class gets to ask any questions they want, but must be in a YES/NO format, funny questions: Such as: Do you like to eat potato chips with your feet? Do you pick your nose with a fork? Do you eat worms?
  • The student in front of the class cannot say anything but BANANAS!
  • The object of the game is to make the student laugh! If he laughs, then the student who made the question gets to go in front of the class and try to go as long as possible without laughing.

This game sounds simple but trust me when I say: students laugh much sooner than you would anticipate.

Here are a few shots of our volunteers using these fun games in the classroom. I hope you get to try them one day and share your experiences.

josh teaching peter teach

If you have any suggestions or questions about anything relating to ESL, leave me a message and I will happily respond!

Chok Dee Kah! (good luck in Thai)

Be well!

Marcia Somellera, ESL coordinator

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

ATMA SEVA photo exhibition in Cabo San Lucas!

Hello everyone, I am back on the blog again…and as most of you know I was in Thailand volunteering in 2012. I had received so much while I was in Thailand, that when I got back to Mexico I began working towards a fundraiser event. It all started as a small family and friends get together, and slowly progressed to a lovely event held at the Cultural Pavilion in Cabo San Lucas.

Over my nine months stay in Thailand I had taken over 14,000 photographs. I decided to print some of them thinking that maybe I could sell some and raise some money for scholarships and ATMA SEVA.  It took months to select just a few among thousands. I wanted to show all of them lol, but that just wasn’t happening. I learned that digital photos and printed photos are two very different worlds. I had to learn about aspect ratio, printer profiles, sizes…etc. It was indeed a lot more work that I could have possibly imagined, but the thought of giving something back was a great fuel for my engine. I was very excited to organize this and in the end it all paid off.

After looking at my photos over and over and over again, selecting…I got a bit overloaded so I asked my niece Daniela and my friend Karena to help which was an excellent idea; their input meant all the difference; looking at the photos from a different perspective helped me narrow the thousands to hundreds. After months of planning and working I was able to constrict the topics to only six: The beginning of the story, Thailand: Landscapes and People, Daily Life Style, Temples, Monks and Novices, and ATMA SEVA. It was a story told through photographs; what had taken me to Thailand and what I had seen there. The exhibition was called “A taste of Thailand through my lens”.

A lot of people got excited with the project and helped me. My mother took me to all the places I needed to go (I can now drive but not as much as I would like) she also helped with all the errands and supported me anyway she could. My niece Daniela, from Love Ideas, helped with all the planning and logistics.  My friend Mirna (from MX producciones) helped with all the permits and locations. My friend Heidi invited me to her radio talk show. The local radio station, Cabo Mil, helped with spots during the days prior to the event. My friend Adaisa donated all the photo framing from Marco Framing; her employee Aldo was an amazing help framing and handling all of the photographs. Nico, one of my students from ‘Bonaria carpentry’, helped with the set up and construction of the blackboards and display boards. My nephew, Luis Fernando, from Cantoya Studios helped adjust the ATMA SEVA logo for the event. My friend Nivea donated the cloth for the display boards and all the tablecloths. The Faraway Restaurant Lounge, in Cabo San Lucas, donated some food for tasting during the event. My friends Martha and Josefina helped at the photo selling station. Also, my friend Indalecio, from Los Cabos News came to the event to photograph and published an article about my story and how I got to Thailand! Many of my students helped that day with whatever I needed. So, as you can see this was a wonderful and successful volunteer-team work!!!

The team in Thailand led by David Poppe had set up a video to show at the fundraiser. The video was excellent!! I had been showing our YouTube videos during the exhibition and at the end we showed the video where David explains about ATMA SEVA and the monks chant a blessing for all the participants and donors at the event. Everyone loved it! Prior to showing the video I spoke a little about the experience, shared some anecdotes and I was shocked to see  how people showed great interest in what ATMA SEVA does, the monks, the food, and asked many interesting questions. One little girl asked about the girls in Thailand: “Why aren’t there any girls?” she said….I had displayed many girls but most of the photographs were of novices and monks. I was happy with her question which gave me the chance to speak about our huge project: the building of a school.

The day of the event Cabo was hit by a storm and we considered canceling it but in the end we thought best to continue and opened it anyway. We had a great turnaround, over 90 people showed up regardless of the heavy winds and rain.

A lot of people got involved and learned about our work. Many were intrigued by the culture and Buddhism. A very nice couple arrived early, while I was still getting things organized but they didn’t mind, they waited and stayed till the very end, wanting to hear me talk and watch the video.  During the set up as well as during the event I could hear people calling other friends telling them about what a great exhibition it was and asking them to come to the photo event.  I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped and believed in me and the project.

Planning and organizing this fundraiser was a unique experience, I am planning on doing it again someday when I go home. We would love for you to organize something like this and be part of our worldwide community; you can help us spread our work and raise money to help us for the school we are planning on building for kids less fortunate here in Thailand. If anyone is interested and would like more details please send me an email! (marcia@atmaseva.org)

Thank you sooo much to all of you who helped, believed in us, and made of this event such an incredible night. May you all be blessed with abundance and love!!!

I hope you enjoy the photos!

Again, huge thank you to all supporters and friends who helped make this event a true success!!!

Bonaria Carpentry, Nico Marchesi

Cabo Mil

Cantoya Studios

Faraway Restaurant Lounge

Heidi Von Der Rosen

Los Cabos News

Love Ideas

Marco Framing

MX producciones

Pabellon Cultural Cabo San Lucas

Platicando con Heidi

 

 

Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Teaching Abroad – Introduction from Marcia

The ATMA SEVA team has decided to include a NEW section on our blog, ‘Teaching Abroad’, which will include stories of teaching experiences from ESL/EFL Certified Teachers, present, past and future ATMA SEVA volunteers’ and interns’ as well as;

  • Suggestions to make teaching fun and interesting
  • Tips for class management
  • ESL Games, Ideas and Activities that can or have worked in the classroom
  • Funny and unique classroom experiences
  • Online resources
  • English camp ideas and reflections
  • Interesting websites about teaching
  • And so much more!

Without further ado, this will be our first entry and it is my turn:

DSC06768

Marcia with some of her students

My name is Marcia and I am an ESL/EFL Certified Teacher whose first language is not English, but Spanish; however, the English language somehow feels more natural to me –I read and write in English more than I do in Spanish, to the dismay of many of my Spanish speaking friends. Given that English is not my first language, I most likely make mistakes and might even have an accent here and there, but having had to personally learn a second language has helped me immensely to understand second language learners; I try to do my best and I strive to help my students communicate in English and to not be afraid of making written or oral mistakes, which are part of the fun of learning.

What is it like when I walk into a classroom? What is my most important goal?

When I walk into a classroom, I feel transformed, happy, motivated….almost like a brand new battery:  fully charged!….and yes, sometimes I also feel tired and frustrated but that’s part of the deal. I think everyone should, at least once in their lives, give being in front of a class a try. The first thing I do is try to get all the students’ names and try to memorize them all right in the first hour….this did not work so well in Thailand, all of their names were so new to me that it was impossible. Name tags helped…

My most important goals for my students:

1) I want the students to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes, to be foolish, to SPEAK; so, I make a fool of myself first, acting, signaling, drawing, even trying to speak a little of their native language……..etc.  This sounds odd but in order to learn a language one must understand that the pronunciation and the correct usage is almost impossible right away. We weren’t able to speak our own mother tongue without making mistakes in the beginning. It is not like we have a chip where we can just upload information, like in the Matrix movies. As we get older we become more self conscious and it hinders our ability to learn a new way of communication. The acting and the allowing myself to be foolish helps them see that it is OK.  It is OK to make mistakes, to pronounce incorrectly or to have an accent when using the new language…it is part of the deal.

In the beginning, usually students will laugh at one another; this laughter, most likely, comes from a place of self protection and fear. I try to help them relax and see that it is funny but not good to make fun of others; you must be attentive to the vocal tone and/or body language to notice the difference……..once they are able to let this go, and learn to laugh with each other we can have lots of fun during class without making others feel uncomfortable. That is my favorite part. One however, must be very careful because having fun does not mean not working hard, and this is where we monitor the feel of the situation, by settling students down….speaking in a whisper….or not speaking and just looking at them…..or acting something silently while focusing on the students who are paying attention to you…..little by little they will start to quiet down….you should not try to ‘calm them down’ by shouting or yelling….I think this makes it worse.

novices having fun at English camp

Novice monks having fun learning English

2) I like to engage the students into PARTICIPATING, I joke, interact and laugh with them. I like to be physical, in a loving way, it helps me feel closer to my students. However, these particular activities were a bit challenging while teaching Buddhist novice monks. A Buddhist monk or novice may not be ‘touched’ by women; I could neither ‘high-five’ them nor tap them on the shoulder nor touch their heads….no physical contact whatsoever. It was very hard in the beginning, but after a while I was able to feel comfortable with those limitations and was able to enjoy myself in the classroom.

My most important goals as a Teacher Trainer:

1) To help teachers not to be intimidated by the students; they are not there ‘to get you’ like the boogeyman; remember what it was like being a student and behaving mischievously?  It was harmless, however your attitude is everything.

2) To help teachers realize that they are just as human as their students and the title ‘teacher’ does not include ‘perfection’. We are humans and we cannot KNOW everything; it is vital to say “I do not know” followed by “I will find out and let you know”. Students can also teach us many things if we let them.

Past experiences & advice

Students appreciate honesty and when that happens they are more likely to engage and participate. We are there to help out, to facilitate. The students will do the rest, and when they are engaged, they will go beyond the finish line, just for the fun of it.

I remember when I started teaching “Advanced English” to English speakers at a high-school in Cabo; I felt intimidated, for the first time in my life I experienced fear of teaching, I had no idea what that was until that time…. and I am thankful for it.

As I walked in the first time, two of the girls, decided to switch their names. I didn’t see it right away but towards the middle of the class I realized it; their attitude was not the ‘fun’ one but the ‘let’s get her’ kind of mean…….but I was not about to follow that, better yet I let it go on for the whole class and in the following one I told them it was a good one and they had definitely gotten me!  They had had their fun teasing me, and I had enjoyed their joke; but it was time to start responding to their own name.

We had a boring “Literature” book and I had to read many parts of that in front of the students and boy was it hard!!…  I made colossal pronunciation mistakes, to which the students laughed. So, I decided to level with them and openly admitted that English was not my FIRST language but my SECOND and I was very likely to make many mistakes with all of those old English words; I asked for their help since English was their first language….but I also said I was a teacher and I was able and willing to help them use those new words properly to improve their written abilities. All they had to do was give me a chance and help me with the pronunciation. We became good friends!! I learned a lot teaching that class.

Sometimes communication does not require language skills but sensitivity, heart, and empathy skills. I believe we ought to start with this especially when we cannot speak the student’s mother tongue. And then, try to learn their language, a few words, a few phrases, and let them see you try and that you are not embarrassed to pronounce it incorrectly and/or make mistakes. Let them know their language is just as important.

school pa pei-3Being able to communicate with other human beings is priceless and being an instrument in this process makes me smile every time. I sure hope this also can happen to you.

Please leave us a comment below with any questions, comments, or ways we can help you in the classroom!

Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner – Bo Sang umbrella festival

Bo Sang is a small village in the San Kamphaeng district right outside Chiang Mai. It is famous for its handmade umbrellas which are painted with bright colors and different motifs.

Every year there is an international “Umbrella Festival” and for three consecutive days the village becomes a magical place of color, art, and festivities. People from all over gather here to engage in umbrella and fan painting contests, enjoy the parades, shows, exhibitions, etc.

The main street shops decorate their entrances and a prize goes to the best one. It is a delight to take a walk down the street admiring all the remarkable and artistic decorations. These are a few photos from the last festival in January!

Photos by Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

Check out Marcia’s blog ‘An Unfolding Life in Simple Stories’

www.atmaseva.org

Wat Doi Saket project – “Keep having fun” he said..

……..And it made me wonder…… What do we mean when we say that? What images flash in our mind when we out that phrase?……I think this is a phrase we use a bit too often, but when asked: what do you do for fun? It is a whole different story…Isn’t fun anything that brings us joy and happiness?

Web definitions of FUN:

  • Fun is the enjoyment of pleasure. Fun may be encountered in many human activities during work, social functions, recreation and play, and even seemingly mundane activities of daily living. Fun may often have little to no logical basis, and opinions on whether or not an activity is fun may differ. The distinction between enjoyment and fun is difficult to articulate but real, fun being a more spontaneous, playful, or active event. A source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure.
  • Light-hearted mirth, pleasure or amusement.

What about the other side of the story…the parts that are ‘not so nice’? Like when we go on a trip: the waiting in line, the mishaps with the airlines or the transportation, the hard beds……..or when we go to the beach: the sand all over, the heat……..I bet not everything was always lovely, all happy and bright yet when we come back we say: we had so much fun!!

Can we have fun amidst mishaps? Can we have fun while enduring hardships? If fun is doing something joyful, or that brings us joy, are joy and fun synonyms?.

I have been in Thailand volunteering for 6 months….Is ‘having fun’ what I am doing? Let’s see….I am going to give you a glimpse about this volunteering experience:

What do I do here?

I teach English, better said, I help others understand a different language, a language that will empower them to communicate with others when Asia opens its borders like Europe did years ago. These ‘others’ are Buddhist monks/novices. I enjoy teaching them, but I do not understand what they say and it is very hard to verify if they have understood the concept. My students are enjoyable and very nice….yet I cannot ‘high five’ them nor hug them.

Why Buddhist monks and not others?

Well, the Buddha’s teachings resonate with me more than any others I have studied. I feel that if I can help at least one Buddhist monk to communicate in English, eventually he will be able to convey these teachings to non-Thai speakers and point the way towards the end of suffering…towards enlightenment….. Buddhists do not encourage people to become Buddhists, nor be necessarily religious, (maybe some do, but I have yet to meet one) instead they encourage people to practice loving-kindness and awareness….to find the end of suffering…..and to experience this by themselves, not by ‘believing’. However, I have experienced and seen how any good advice like the Buddha’s teachings and his experience can be turned into a religious belief…and Buddhism is indeed a religion.

Why in Thailand and not in Mexico?

I needed to move away for sometime, to re-learn to be independent, to trust that regardless of my tight-limiting boots and gloves I could be OK. To do this I thought I needed to leave my comfort zone. I do not know really why Thailand, something inside me felt always drawn towards this country. Thailand is lovely, but it is also hard to not be close to family and friends, and many days I crave Mexican food.

Why in a Monastery ?

I wanted to be in peaceful place, a place that would also allow me to make peace with these tight gloves and boots…..this 24-7 pain, or sensation. A busy town reminds me constantly of how limited I am now; how I cannot just decide to go down for a stroll down the streets, or go for a hike by a nice waterfall….to name a couple. Keeping my surroundings simple and close gives me certainty of my improvement, of how I can still do lots of things in spite of the limitations I now bear. The monastery has given me this. Students come to class to the building where I live. The school is in walking distance. Life is simple. And yet, pain is pain, here or there.

What is it like to be living at the monastery and/or being in Thailand?

Aside from all the great stories and adventures that I have shared on Facebook and on this blog, aside from me loving it here……..there is the ‘other side of the story’. I leave in a building within the monastery, it is a ‘multi-activity’ place. People who look for a few nights of shelter stay here on a donation basis. Families of new novices stay here when bringing their kids to the monastery. Meetings of all sorts take place here…..etc….My room is inside this building, it is spacious yet simple,….one bed, one tubular structure for a closet, a small desk, and a small weak tubular end table. The bathroom is of communal use -somedays I have to stand in line to take a shower- There is a stove-less kitchen which didn’t use to have a microwave, now it does, and finally after 3 months of cold food, I can heat it up.

There are lots of spiders and rare insects, which I do not find precisely loving. Spiders build their webs faster than I have ever imagined!

If I leave my food or drink unattended for a few minutes the ants get to it before me! In the beginning I would not eat anything previously visited by them, currently I just shake them off….;) I must have an ant colony inside me by now!!

At the market…colorful, new vegetables, everyone smiling….and yet it is very hard to recognize what kind of food they are selling….all looks very different and no signs in English to help me, people do not speak English and when they see me…they smile and say “aroy, aroy” which means ‘delicious’.

Many activities go on at the monastery, most of them I am not aware of, nor do I understand, yet I participate and join in to experience and take pictures. Every activity is held, of course, in Thai….so I just sit there, observing, smiling and attentive to a signal from one of my friends to tell me what happens next.

Thai language is rather difficult because it has 5 different tones to each syllable…and if I am not careful I can end up saying some not so nice things. ;) Some sounds are so new that I can hardly pronounce them. But I have learned quite a bit.

I live alone, if there are no classes I really have no ‘thing’ to do and…well…like my great aunt always said: ’No hay nada mas tranquilo que un bolsillo vacio’…..there is nothing more tranquil than an empty pocket….

I have a roof and there is always food somewhere, so basic things are covered. I have seen how simplicity can bring great joy.

Which country will you go next?

A lot of people have asked me this particular question. I guess most volunteers are usually volunteering while they travel…..You see, I have not been able to work like a normal(?) person since October ’06. In order to accomplish this new recovery step I received help from many friends and family, who are always in my prayers…(for lack of a better word). My budget is extremely limited so unlike other volunteers who have participated in this program, I am not here ‘traveling’, I am here…just volunteering, which it is in itself a wonderful activity. Everyone usually asks me: ‘what country will you visit next?’…..This is not my case, I am here doing a simple thing: helping out, working without any monetary retribution. However, I have been very lucky for I have been able to visit and see many different places with the friends I have made here. I love what I am doing and it feels great. Traveling..?…we are all already traveling…on this earth.

Two sides of a story…….Two ends of the stick…..if a stick always has two ends, then…. which of the ends is the stick?..the right the left?…the top the bottom?….I think life is the same way……some are good days, some are not…some great feelings, some not so much…some laughter, some tears….some joy, some sadness….some days Thailand is great, some days is hard…some super busy days, some free days……..life happens in both ends….we cannot have one without the other.

Volunteering is great but it is also challenging…leaving my comfort zone is enriching but it is also tough……..I am working hard helping as much as possible but I am also allowing myself to rest and do recreational activities…………therefore, if experiencing both ends of the stick fully while dancing to the music played by life is what it was meant with the phrase: “keep having fun”…then I guess that is exactly what I have been doing and hopefully will continue to do so. I hope you do too!

Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Wat Doi Saket project – Ordaining novices

I live on the grounds of Wat Doi Saket temple. My room is inside a building originally used for an HIV education program. The bedroom is spacious, with a glass door and pink curtains. It has two windows and one of them with a nice view of the woods….or what I call woods anyway. At night I can hear a huge “gecko” right outside; one day I hope to be able to also see it.

I really like staying here and being able to participate in all different kinds of Buddhist activities. Last week I witnessed a very special one: young kids ordaining as Buddhist monks.

I was in my room chatting with friends in Mexico and heard lots of music and cheering right outside my room. I didn’t know what has happening so I grabbed my camera and headed out to investigate. I was immensely surprised to see a lot of kids dressed in white robes walking around the temple followed by cheerful adults and a band. “What is this?” …. I decided to follow them to find out. They all went to the “Akan See Su Pa Ak Son” (new building for ceremonies which is named after the donor). As I was taking video of all this,  I saw my good friend and Buddhist teacher Phra Maha Ake. He explained to me what was going on: ’Novice Ordination’: 60 young kids from a school in Chiang Mai called Montfort were ordaining as monks.

Montfort (‘fortress in the mountain’) is a Catholic school.  Montfort is managed and supported by the St. Gabriel Foundation in Thailand, which follows the moral principals and spirituality of St. Louis of Montfort. Montfort is the name of a district in France where Louis Marie was born;  he became a priest in 1700.  In 1932 Montfort College was founded in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The schools logo is ‘God alone’.  Kids from this school come from a high socioeconomic status. This is interesting because most of the young Buddhist novices enrolled in Buddhist high schools come from lower socioeconomic status in search of an opportunity for education. The school these kids go to is Catholic and yet they all ordain as monks to learn about their religion and gain merit.

The young boys ordained for 7 days and lived like monks. The week before the ceremony, monks from Doi Saket went to their school to teach them about ordaining.

They must purify themselves before ordaining so they came to the ceremony dressed in white robes which means purity. During the ceremony they acknowledge their parents, asking for their forgiveness for any wrong doing. The kids also recognize what their mothers have done for them from the moment of their conception until the day they are being ordained, and they do this by paying respect with three consecutive bows. They do not ‘out’ words expressing this. The head teacher leads them through it. When I saw them crying I originally thought they were saying good-bye to their parents and I was very sad. Later, I learned that they were crying due to the emotional aspect of the ceremony which also involves asking their parents permission to freely ordain and parents giving them their blessing, telling them not to worry about anything and granting their forgiveness.

Aside from this sad moment, I was impressed by the joyful atmosphere of the ceremony and all the feelings involved. They chanted together requesting the Monks’ Leader to be ordained as monks. You could see some serious faces, the older ones, and some mischievousness in the little ones.

The parents give their children the orange robes, a lotus flower, and an alms bowl. The lotus flower in Buddhism is associated with purity, faithfulness, and religious awakening. The flower is considered pure because it grows in muddy waters and remains impeccable through all the mud and dirt of its environment. It represents the journey through darkness into light and knowledge.

Once they have been accepted by the Abbot to ordain, they proceed to change into their new orange robes. Older novices, and monks help and teach the ‘novices-to-be’ how to wear the robes and how to put them on. One can see the emotion and happiness in the parents’ faces, taking video, photos, and smiling from ear to ear at the sight of their sons.

After putting on the orange robes they go back inside to proceed with the ceremony. They are now officially novices and they chant the 10 precepts that will be undertaken during their life as novices.

Every morning around 6:30 am all of them go down for alms. Their parents await by the stairway entrance to give them food. When novices and monks go for alms they do it barefoot. It was very cute to see the young ones having a hard time walking without shoes, tip-toeing. When the alms round is finished, they all chant a blessing to their parents and walk back up to the Wat for breakfast.

When I followed all of the ceremonies, activities, and events during those 7 days, I came to think of it as a Buddhist version of a western summer camp. Sure, they were all novices and wear the orange robe, people respect them for doing this, but they are all kids nevertheless, I saw them playing, laughing, and running around. It was an incredible experience. And in April, 120 young kids and men will be ordaining, some for a week some for the whole month.

Check out this video to see the ceremony (switch to 1080p for maximum viewing enjoyment!)

Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Wat Doi Saket project – Riding a bike in Thailand

I was standing outside the building, which I would be calling ‘home’ for the next 4-6 months.  Dave was standing right next to…..a Honda Wave! “I am going to take you for a small tour of the district”, he said.  Suddenly, an image from a movie came to mind:  Ben and Andy are going on their first date after meeting at the bar, and he points to his choice of transportation: a motorcycle, and says to Andy: ‘are you ready to go for a ride Andy?’…..to which Andy replies with the same question but different intonation: ‘are YOU ready to go for a ride Ben’? (How to Lose a Guy in 10 days)  Hahahaha….Was I ready to go for a ride?

Me? Get on that, for real? How was I supposed to hang on to my seat-cane and still hang on to the rider for safety? I was not an octopus! But adventure was part of the deal and after putting on a helmet, securing my seat-cane with a bungee cord to my waist, and wrestling with my legs and balance I was able to get on the back of the bike. Dave took off and I hung on to him for dear life!!!

The experience was great; I am not so sure Dave’s waist agreed though…I was hanging on hard! We went to look around Wat Doi Saket, to the fishpond, and to the Dam. What a wonderful ride that was!

While riding with Dave that first time I remembered the Elite Honda I used to own, a gift from my brother Emilio.  I loved riding it; I even rode it to the school where I used to work.  When I told this to Dave he insisted I gave it a try, not on his, but on Natch’s, which was a Scoopy, an automatic, much easier than Dave’s. I did. I was terrified and thrilled at the same time. Between my balance issues due to the neuropathy and my forgotten experience I wobbled but I did it and it felt amazing!

A few weeks later I saw myself searching for a bike! You ought to see the amount of bike markets and stores, used and new, it was a bit overwhelming making a decision. I opted to rent one first and to see how I did with it. I chose one that was not too high for my legs and not too heavy. The fishpond was the witness to my first lesson. Going around the pond, trying out the brakes, always-knowing Dave was walking around in case anything happened.  He was so nice, patient, understanding and encouraging.  Soon, my previous knowledge came rushing back and slowly my confidence grew stronger.  However, on the way back to the Wat I learned my first hard lesson; scared to ride it up the hill, I stopped and turned right in the middle of the ascent; long story short, the bike tilted to the side, I tried hard to hold the bike and kind of succeeded but it was scary and difficult!  I had bruises on both arms for days!

It is not hard to see that Thailand is definitely a motorbike country!  I have to say that maybe 75-80% of the population drives a ‘motorcy’.  Back home one could see a few motorcycles, mainly Harleys and Hondas but nothing like here. I have seen such a variety of bikes it is unbelievable!  Yamaha and Honda are the most popular but there are others as well. I was in shock when I saw the first PINK bike, so lady like, it made them look so easy to drive! Yes, they come in all different colors and styles: blue, orange, yellow, light-blue, purple, red…automatic, non-automatic….Fino, Mio, Amore, Scoopy, Wave, Dream….you name it.

When I first planned on volunteering I pictured the Monastery to be out in the wild with no paved streets, but this one does have paved streets and it is right next to a small town that makes it perfect for having a bike.

I have slowly gone from ‘holding on for dear life’ to ‘lifting both arms and happily feel the wind on my face’; no more bungee cord for my seat-cane or holding on tight, my middle section has gotten the ‘feel’ of riding the bike and now I can take a picture, drink a cup of coffee…..even carry a big laundry bag on my lap!! Hahahaha I know, crazy, huh?  But you have got to see what Thai people are able to do and carry on the bikes. I have seen: young girls all dressed up and wearing high heels; family of 3-5 on one bike; kids fast asleep on the back of the parent driving; animals balancing on their own in front of the bike with two paws on the seat and the other two on the handle; girls seated side-ways on the back texting, unworried.  Some bikes even have an extra front seat, specially installed for kids.

I feel very lucky to have chosen this program amongst many others.  Dave is great and is always there to help and make my stay a memorable one. Being a volunteer with the Atma Seva-Wat Doi Saket project has been a great experience.  It has allowed me the opportunity to teach (which is one of my passions) at the Buddhist monastery, but it has also given me the opportunity to ‘dive’ into the Thai culture; riding a bike has been an incredible way of doing this.

Bike hunting was fun and exhausting and I had mixed feelings: excitement and terror! But excitement won and thanks to my brother’s generosity I now have my own bike, an orange Yamaha Fino.

I am blessed with the opportunity of being here. Dave and I have been exploring the area, riding on the back roads, learning about Thai culture, enjoying the views, visiting markets, fairs, festivals, schools, Wats, parks, making new friends…riding along happily….and when we least expect it after a turn on the road, the universe has a peaceful sunset over the mountains reflecting the sunlight on the rice fields…a perfect way to wind up long riding days.

Riding a bike here in Thailand has been exhilarating! The sense of freedom, the sun hitting my skin, the music of the wind singing in my ears, the song in my heart, and an unvoiced, sometimes voiced, energizing shout in my lips.  After a few days of having my own bike, Dave asked me: “have you sung already while riding your bike?” I laughed so much because that was exactly the way I felt! Feelings are universal, after all.

Marcia Somellera

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org