From Tanzania to Indonesia: A World of Experiences

Emily (far right, in green) with her team of Habitat volunteers for their training session in Chicago before heading to Indonesia.

After graduation, Emily Lawson ’03 became an elementary school teacher at a brand new charter school, Dekalb PATH Academy, located on OU’s land behind Greek Row. She went on to travel the world, live abroad and most recently earn her degree from Yale University School of Nursing in May 2010.

After participating in Habitat International builds in Tanzania (2002), India (2005) and Romania (2009), Emily is now leading her first team of Habitat volunteers to Batam, Indonesia this summer. She attended a training in Chicago that outlined the responsibilities and procedures of being a team leader and recently arrived in Thailand to travel to the small community of Bua Yai where she lived and worked for the Peace Corps 2005-2007. Below is a sample of her experiences as related through her blog.

Emily Lawson in Romania on a Habitat for Humanity build in 2005.

By Emily Lawson ’03

Before departing from the U.S. I had an unfamiliar mix of excitement, anticipation and fear surrounding this trip. Would I be able to communicate? Would I feel totally out of place? How would my community (Bua Yai) react. I hardly slept the night before departure (which combined with 24 hrs of travel, time change and jet lag has left me feeling tired to my gut. Thank God for midwifery school’s lesson of function, participation and enjoyment on extremely minimal sleep!). So far, things are going great and my fears have been appeased. Here’s the story thus far…

Day One:
A friend asked me what the first thing was that I would do when I got to Thailand. I have fulfilled all my “first” needs now at the end of my first day here:
1. I bought new glasses (my very nerdy first, but they are cheaper here – and the frames I found are c.u.t.e. Narak mak mak)
2. I had a Thai massage – been waiting 3 years for that. It was WONDERFUL! Plan to get a few more before my time is up here. ($5 -and that’s the expensive Bangkok price)
3. Facial on Kiawsan road (the touristy road with all my favorite facial places) $12 for an hour treatment complete with 10 steps including steam, exfoliation, mask etc etc…and the cold cucumber wrap at the end, of course. NO facial is complete without the cucumber.
4. Eating – oh my there is SO much I want to eat

Today I had grilled chicken with papaya salad and sticky rice (gai yung, cow niow, som tam) – heavenly yum; fruit from a street vendor, mango shake, cow man gai (more chicken and rice, but prepared a different way) and the title treat – ice cream on rice: coconut ice cream mixed with sticky rice (I passed on the peanut). When I leave the internet cafe, I’m going to find a market with fresh fruit and buy as much as I can carry. Mangostein, pomelo, lychee -you name it. The fruit is one of the things I miss the most about Thailand.

And speaking of food, I talked to my friends in Bua Yai to set up my journey/stay up there tomorrow. Of COURSE food was at the top of the planning list. So, we’re going to my favorite fish restaurant: Danny’s (yes, that’s really the name – his father was in the US Army. Unfortunately, he left when he was a baby, so he doesn’t know any English – including the correct pronunciation of his name: Daniel (pronounced “dan-yun”) Oh well, he’s wonderfully nice and makes the best fish in town. I can’t wait.

It has been strange and wonderful to be here. I am just slowly walking the streets and riding the buses, forgetting how to get just about everywhere I want to go, but figuring it out and enjoying the slow paced journey. My Thai has come back better than expected, though I have definitely lost some. Still, the Thais compliment me and are delighted when I again pull out some of the fun phrases that always made them laugh. My life has changed and moved on at such a frantic rate, but this place is comfortingly the same. And without the frustration and oppression I felt when I lived here I am sitting back and enjoying all the details – sights sounds smells – that I was so accustomed to and took for granted (and even some that annoyed the heck out of me) when I left this land over three years ago. This really is a nice place to be.

I could not be more pleased that I went ahead and planned in these two weeks before the Habitat build I will lead to Indonesia next month. I think beyond having fun, getting cheap massages and seeing my Thai friends, this revisit of such a formative, frustrating and important part of my life is really important for me before starting the next chapter.

As I watch the tuk tuk drivers, som tam ladies and shop keepers, I am awed at the diversity, experience, pace and complexity of my life. Most of them have been in those stores, stalls and stands every day for the past 1,170 days or so since I left this place. I have been to over a dozen countries, earned two nursing certificates and a masters degree, driven over 10,000 miles (outside of my international travels), learned to catch babies and lived in three homes.

I am relishing in the slow pace of this country of smiles. It’s good to be back. Better than I expected. Yes, much better.


Upon her return to the U.S., Emily will be a midwife/nurse in Jacksonville, FL.

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