This guest post is from Jennifer from the site Frisch Food. If you aren’t reading her blog already then I suggest you get your booty over there. Go on. I’ll wait.
Jennifer is also involved in the big announcement I have tomorrow and I am so freaking excited.
Q and A with Jennifer.
Elle: What’s one of your favorite movies?
Jennifer: The princess bride. Because it has never stopped being anything but awesome, no matter how many times I watch it.
Elle: What’s a favorite book that you like to read to your kids?
Jennifer: I love reading “Hush, little dragon” to my little dragon. Also “the paper bag princess”
Elle: If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, which weapon would you want to have to fight these brain eaters?
A. a flame thrower.
B. an unlimited supply of ninja throwing stars.
C. a chainsaw.
D. a shoelace because you’re bad ass.
E. other and what would it be?
F. none of the above, I want to be a damn zombie!
Jennifer: E. I would fight them with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She could take them and I could stand in the periphery and make witty comments.
The Helicopter Incident
For those not familiar with the format, in Peace Corps Thailand they place you in a home-stay almost as soon as you land in country. You live with a family that often cannot speak much, if any, English. You hang out with your family, learning because you have to, and attend regular language/ culture classes with a native Thai speaker for about three months. You are placed in a language group with other volunteers who live in the same village, and my language group was…ahem…competitive.
That’s another story, but suffice it to say I left home-stay feeling pretty confident in my language skills. One might almost say overconfident. Yes, one might. Maybe even more than one person might say that.
After those three months, I moved to my “official” site. My site was a wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the “least visited province in the entire country” (according to the Lonely Planet, 1997 edition).
I quickly learned that my language skills were not anywhere close to as good in reality as they were in my head. They used different words in my new province than in my home-stay province, for one thing. For another thing, Thai is hard. I spent about two weeks feeling useless, because I had come there to Change the World, and I couldn’t even communicate at a third grade level.
Right around the two-week mark, one of my co-workers informed me, through a mixture of his rudimentary English and my rudimentary Thai, that people from the European Union were coming to the sanctuary. They were coming to check out the sanctuary in order to determine if they wanted to support the sanctuary’s efforts financially—there were wild elephants, leopards, and (allegedly) Sumatran rhinoceroses in the sanctuary.
So, my coworker said with glee, maybe YOU could translate! The EU people, he said, are from France and Germany, and don’t speak Thai, but they do speak English, and he figured I spoke Thai at least well enough to translate most of what we would say back and forth. This made me feel better. I had a purpose! I could be a translator!
Only a few days passed before the EU commission showed up. I put on my official Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary uniform, the one they had tailored especially for me. I headed over to the dining room to meet the commission and have breakfast.
It was there that I was told we’d be taking the EU guys up in a helicopter to view the sanctuary. “Is that ok?” asked my coworker.“Uh, sure,” I replied, unsure. I figured, what the heck. I’d never been in a helicopter. Plus, the EU guys seemed impressed by my Thai speaking ability. I was on my way to Changing the World!
So we met the pilot and co-pilot and got in the helicopter. I translated as best I could between the two forest rangers in our helicopter and the EU guys, as well as the pilot’s occasional comments.
I was doing fairly well, but sometimes I nodded and smiled when I had no idea what people were talking about, which is generally a mistake. It can get one into trouble. Still, I felt pretty good about myself.
About midway through the ride, I started to feel as if I had to burp. Really loudly. While this isn’t, strictly speaking, extremely rude behavior in Thai culture, it isn’t the height of politeness, either. I tried to fight it back for a while, but finally realized it was a losing battle.
Mid-sentence, I turned my head politely and put my hand up in preparation.
Only I didn’t burp. I threw up. All over myself.
And no one was as surprised as me.
For breakfast, we’d eaten a concoction the sanctuary cook often made consisting of leftover rice and chicken boiled up in a soup. For the briefest of moments all I could think was, “Wow. That looks exactly the same as it did before I ate it. I could have sworn I’d chewed.” And then I looked up.
All of the people in the helicopter were staring at me, horrified. Just then, the helicopter hit an air pocket and dropped, and I threw up again. I tried to say something, but all I could think of was, “do you have a bag?” We hit another air pocket.
The co-pilot, by this time, was madly trying to find some kind of bag (I kept saying, have bag? Have bag?), while still keeping the helicopter…uh… afloat. I continued to lose breakfast (who knew I ate so much?); it was in my shirt pocket, all down my front, and pooling at my feet.
The pilot kept trying to turn around and apologize (apparently, while up there, they had spotted some villagers illegally cutting down trees, so he had to follow them until the rangers could catch up from the ground). I tried to figure out how to ask the pilot if there was some sort of “eject” button he could use on me; if ever there was a moment to drop to my death, this seemed like a good one.
By this time I was down to pure stomach acid and was laughing so hard that tears were streaming from my eyes. (What else could I do?) I looked up at one point, and everyone was politely looking out of the windows, away from the trainwreck that was in the seat next to them. And the smell… well, I’ll stop the description here and just let you imagine it. It was delightful.
Eventually, we were able to land. A number of rangers I’d gone hiking with were standing in the cleared field, with walkie-talkies in hand. They had heard the play-by-play from the pilot. They were trying very hard to keep straight faces. I disembarked and waved sheepishly. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, “you can laugh.”
They laughed for two years (taking a few breaks to eat unripe mangoes, but mostly nonstop). Sometimes they pointed and laughed. It was awesome. I learned a lot of Thai slang for vomit.
That was when I realized that I wasn’t going to change the world. But—maybe better—I would come out of the experience with a few good stories. And that was probably good enough.
Epilogue- even though this was a pretty humbling/ borderline humiliating experience, I don’t really feel bad about it (odd for me–I have a WONDERFUL case of social anxiety) because it is a pretty great story. However, I offered to clean up after myself but the pilot told me it was all right, and cleaned it up himself, and I still kind of feel bad about that.