And so the journey continues. Two years ago I was living in the Chiang Mai headquarters of Urban Light (UL), a non-profit group working to end the sexual and systemic exploitation of young males in Thailand, all the while grappling with all that would come in the next couple of months with my inevitable return to the United States. I had worked with Urban Light day and night—- giving English and guitar lessons to clients, helping with day-to-day operations of the drop in center, and helping to conduct, write, and publish a research project on male sexual exploitation in Chiang Mai. I had heard of reverse culture shock, but would my experience upon return be different? My stay in Thailand sank into the depths of humanity’s darkness, but also shined light on the power of love and connection, that indeed, there is more good to this world than bad.
I returned to Baltimore just one week before Christmas in 2013, perhaps the most exciting time possible to make a homecoming. Festivities and happiness abound. My previous job as a neuroscience lab technician awaited me shortly after, and I committed to completing a four month RYT200 Yoga (200 hour Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher) training at Sid Yoga, a local studio I have practiced in since my early years in college. Surrounded by family, my girlfriend, yoga practice and what seemed to be a lifestyle similar to that I had lived just one-year prior, I still felt a sense emptiness. How could I leave my pre-Thailand life just 10 months prior, experience a completely new culture and lifestyle and return to the “same” life I had? I was changed, but my surroundings seemed too familiar. Puzzle pieces weren’t fitting—- a confusing and frustrating time finding my place.
While I had started my journey in Thailand in mid 2013, my twin brother Darryl was on a similar path (read my previous blog post “Strong Bonds”), starting service with the Peace Corps in Tanzania. I followed him in the beginning stages of his journey, which included intensive cultural and language training, adjustment to local cuisine, and several severe of bouts of giardia, which caused him to lose more weight than any exercise program ever would (not a recommended form of weight loss). He struggled at first but found a foothold and has been thriving over the past two years.
Yes, “place” can define home, but for me, people create the warmness of home more so than any structure or city ever could. Those we love and surround ourselves with inspire passion and drive that moves us forward. I can’t ask for a more incredible family or support system at home, but still, my twin brother was missing when I returned to the United States. The hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai distracted me from an apparent “twin separation syndrome” (this is REAL), and our prior 24 years of joint living in the states left me with the true “shock” I experienced when I returned. Even so, the separation was positive and has given me a chance to grow even closer to the rest of my family, something I am extremely grateful for. Darryl and I taking separate routes is something we both needed to do and the growth each of us has experienced through the past two years is immeasurable.
Fast forward one year from my return to the States and plans came together for a second stay in Thailand, this time with my girlfriend, Cara, by my side. I completed my yoga teacher training and had taught ever since my training was wrapped up in July 2014. I continued to progress with my practice and teaching all the while working as a research technician in a neuroscience lab (work I have grown to love and look forward to continuing). The disoriented sense I felt after returning from Thailand had faded, and I was truly coming into my own way of being— a true sense of contentment of all that had transpired. My interests in science, art, music, and yoga have blended into homogeneity. Each interest has become miscible with the others— perhaps the most liberating part of my growth over the past two years.
At the end of 2014, my cousin Scott and I had the chance to visit Darryl in Tanzania for an entire month. We joined him for Thanksgiving and adventures in Zanzibar, Ruaha National Park (safari), and Darryl’s Peace Corps site in Njombe. It was incredible to see Darryl at his Peace Corps site and explore the country he has called home for the past two+ years! He is a currently a chemistry teacher in a rural part of Tanzania and has also worked extensively with his school to increase the capacity to provide good nutrition to all students. By planting over 1500 Avocado trees and nearly 1000 apple trees, students will have year-round healthy snacks to supplement meals. Check out Darryl’s blog HERE!
Prior to this year, letting my life flow was not an option. I felt an overwhelming sense that a choice in one interest would mean sacrificing another. Instead of wallowing in the POSSIBILITIES of action I took ACTION and carried on each and every one of my interests—- teaching and practicing yoga regularly (fitness and wellness), playing music with friends regularly (Black Eyed Boh rocked more shows than I could have asked for — thanks Rob, Chris, and Greg), and working as a lab technician (immunofluorescence microscopy fulfilled my love of art and photography). Often, all that we want is already in front of us. The stress is all in our heads and even I get lost in the brain’s tendency to wander.
And so I am back, back in Thailand, continuing my journey and living life on my own accord. Many people, including my family (and girlfriend) may think I am crazy but it is the richness of experiences that will bring riches and a concrete path. Taking a leap into the unknown is a risk for sure, but faith in my self is the strongest determinant of where I will end up. And a lot of faith I have. Cara has joined me and I cannot wait to grow along with her. Living with the one I love is a HUGE jump, perhaps even comparable to moving 8000 miles away from home. Combining the two is perhaps unimaginable for most people, but again, I know when things are right. Cara accepted and Elementary English teaching job (proud boyfriend) while I am continuing to work with Urban Light, building awareness and fundraising capacity for the organization. I am currently working on revamping Urban Light’s merchandise by raising $1000 for the purchase of shirts, stickers, and other cool stuff to sell at shows and to groups who visit the Urban Light Youth Center. CHECK OUT THE FUNDRAISING PAGE HERE. It is incredible how much UL has grown over the past two years and the increased capacity for those it serves. I will be continuing to fundraise at the Colour Bar, as I did in 2013 (which raised 100,000 baht), while teaching yoga and hopefully starting a yoga studio that will benefit UL.
Sometimes I am scared that I haven’t bought a house or settled into a career. So far my investments have been travel and connecting with the world, something no interest rate could ever compare to. The relationships I’ve made across the world feed my heart and soul each day. Take a chance, take a leap, but most importantly fall in love with the life you have. What could be a better revolution for this world?