Song Thaew Seats Twelve

A song thaew seats twelve. Well, eight comfortably. Ten if you squeeze. But right now it seats twelve. Right now twelve sets of shoulders hold each other locked in place. Heads jostle on the bumpy road and someone compares them to bobble-head dolls. Some laugh, some grin, some act like they didn’t hear. Maybe they didn’t. The pavement is rough and the tires aren’t new. Song thaew is Thai for “two benches”, as in two benches bolted to a pickup bed with a roof overhead and a bright paint job meant to catch the eyes of the hordes of tourists that pour out of their air-conditioned rooms each time the temperature dips below 90. But this doesn’t concern those people. This concerns travelers.

If we wanted to we could easily turn this into a metaphor for the whole trip. We could say that the song thaew’s sturdy construction represents how solid our group is. We could say that the bumps along the way and how we all flail together is representative of the semester’s challenges and how we faced them as one. And isn’t the casual intimacy of sitting across from someone, knees nearly touching, the perfect visual to represent the way we’ve all become so close in such a short time?

But this experience deserves more than cliche road-as-the-journey metaphor. This experience deserves gratitude.

Gratitude first for the people who supported us along the way. The communities, the families, the guides, the restaurant owners, the tuk-tuk drivers. Our teachers, our mentors, our friends. And not only the main characters of our journey, the Manops and Sandots, but also for the smallest of interactions that made the biggest of differences. For who could forget about the colorfully dressed woman in Ban Apa who would walk by our concrete-crusted bodies peeling rambutan under a high tropical sun just to give us an emphatic thumbs up? Or our chef on Koh Thnout who quickly and joyfully filled the table with home-cooked food while we quickly and joyfully filled our bellies. Or even the senior monk who happened by the meditation hall on the first day of the retreat and (with special attention given to the word “abdomen”) led us on a journey through our own minds.

But as we sit here and watch the waning hours of our journey slip away, we find gratitude for you. Twelve weeks ago, before you even climbed into that first song thaew, you boarded a plane with eleven strangers bound for the other side of the world. You chose something different. You chose novelty, adventure, challenge, wonder, discomfort and growth. Now twelve weeks later, here we are: Awed, humbled and grateful.

We are grateful for Joe’s commitment, all the times he pushed through discomfort, exhaustion and a language barrier to engage with local people, often with wooden tool in hand and a sweat-soaked t-shirt.

For Paulina’s laughter, the way that she can light up a room in a matter of seconds. Whether it’s around a bonfire in a rice field or in front of 100 wide-eyed Vietnamese college students, Paulina never fails to make us smile.

For Bryley’s curiosity. The way that she thoughtfully investigates the world and people around her while also making us laugh through her adept and humorous reflections on those investigations.

For the way a seven hour bus ride could fly by in easy, pleasant conversation with Kylie seated next to you and how Kylie dives in fully to the events she loves and enhances experiences for those around her.

For Madi’s compassion and passion for the well-being of others. And for how she utilizes her detail-focused mind to ensure we are all cared for and thriving.

For German’s humor. No matter what we were doing, we were at all times one German-comment away from gut-busting laughter.

For Sammi’s kindness and they way she brings love to all those around her. No matter if you’re having your best day or your worst, Sammi won’t stop showing you that she cares about you.

For Harrison’s heart and the way he cares. For his willingness to show his love no matter who is watching. Coupled with his determination and work ethic, we all are cared for and know it.

For Claire’s willingness to connect with people. Both within and outside the group, she consistently cultivating meaningful relationships with those around her.

For Audj. With all the passion and determination she brings to everything she does, never forgetting to being the same fervor to caring for the people around her.

For the moments that rendered us speechless.

For the puppies!

For all the memories that still make us explode in laughter simply at the thought of them.

For mango sticky rice and banh mis.

And for all the hard times that made us better.

We often think back to that first song thaew ride, packed to the gills with bags and people and excitement and nervousness and the common mission to experience something new.

Each one of you brought your own light and it has been a pleasure to grow and learn alongside you. We hope that you look at the picture below and smile. Take a moment to acknowledge the person you were three months ago, but don’t dwell on it. Because after all the challenges, elation, absurdity and jaw-dropping moments of the past twelve weeks, we hope that you find gratitude for the person you are now.

We cannot wait to see where the next road takes you.

With love always,

Kate and Lucas