I was thinking about Mother’s Day today. I don’t know why today, days past the actual date. I was thinking about how grateful I am to the women in my life that have helped me along the way. This, of course, includes my mother who I could never pay back but hope to emulate (I sound an awful lot like her on a daily basis), but it also includes women who have mentored me, helped guide me and befriended me in different situations in my life.
One of these women stands out in my mind. She was the wife of one of my co-workers at the land settlement I worked at and lived on in Thailand. He was older and had lost use of one of his arms. He worked as a driver for the land settlement’s office. I honestly can’t remember how I met his wife or if I came to know her before I knew she was his wife. This was potentially due to my subpar language skills. I always felt like my Thai was not great; that I was able to get the gist but was missing out on some subtle nuances. Possibly the story of my life.
So this woman, the wife of my co-worker, I called her “Bah”. I did a bit of research on some Thai language sites to see if it was a term of respect for an older woman but that does not seem to be the case. Thai people usually use nicknames instead of their longer given names. They used names like “goog” which means shrimp, cute right? Anyway, Bah had her own little restaurant stall across the street from the land settlement. Using the word restaurant here is really a stretch. It was a stall with some tables and chairs. At some point, I took to going over to Bah’s place in the mornings before I was supposed to go to work. I would hang out with her behind her restaurant as she prepared the things that she had brought back from the market that morning. She would squat out back cleaning vegetables or cutting up meat. One of my most vivid memories is her having plastic bags containing live catfish. She had this giant knife and just whacked them on the head to kill them. She would frequently make these hard boiled eggs that were soaked in some brown liquid. I loved them and she would save make sure I got one. And yes, I am relatively certain that brown liquid was not vegetarian. Sometimes she would make me a traditional breakfast which consisted of a sort of watery white rice porridge. I loved hanging out with Bah.
She and her husband lived in a house some miles up the road from the land settlement. I am not sure how I ended up visiting the house. Maybe it was because her husband had rigged a chicken coop over a fish pond at the entrance to the home and I was a fisheries volunteer. Before I knew it I was having sleepovers over at their place. The house itself was typical Thai, raised off the ground with the interior being one giant room. Aside from me, Bah and her husband had taken in a young boy who was always at the market and one time we both slept over. The inside of the house was strung up with mosquito nets for everyone with mats and pillows inside. I remember trying to see through my netting into the netting next to mine. I couldn’t. It was like we had all been given these small private rooms. Private enough without removing the comfort of just having everyone close. One time my fellow volunteer friend Mary came to Bah’s house with me. To my surprise, delight and shock, Bah had somehow prepared us a meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce. It was pretty spectacular.
She never expected anything from me. She just did what she did because she knew that I needed it. She may have been my closest Thai friend when I was there. This 70 something year old woman. I know nothing of her past and have not had contact with her since I left the country. In my mind I orchestrate this return journey and somehow she is still there, like in my mind. She is still squatting behind her restaurant every morning and just cooking all the time. And when I see her, I hug her and I thank her and tell her that I love her and apologize for taking so long to come back. And even if I can’t make this happen for real, because it has been a long, long time; it happens in my head and maybe that’s enough for her to know. Like a silent prayer that she hears, wherever she may be.