This is chapter 14 of the Graduate & Live 2016 Summer Tour of Asia, where three traveling freelancers take advantage of their freedom. In this installment, Ryan, Aom and Ashley travel to the edge of Thailand to visit Ryan's favorite orphanage.
Pressed against the border of Laos, Nong Khai is a northeast province in Thailand. We stayed in Nong Khai to recharge and relax, and get a taste of real Thailand. Ryan used to volunteer as an English teacher in Nong Khai. And in his time there, he made some friends, one of which whom owned and operated a guesthouse. Mut Mee, his friend's guesthouse, made me feel at home, except unlike my home there was a beautiful view of the Mekong River.
Many people staying at Mut Mee were taking a yoga course, while others were there to work. With a router every few feet, Mut Mee is a great place for anyone who works online.
A major reason we traveled to Nong Khai was to visit a local orphanage run by a Catholic priest named Father Michael Shea. Known as the Sarnelli House, the orphanage has been a project of Father Shea's since 1966. It specializes in caring for children who mostly lost their parents to AIDS. Some kids enter the orphanage as newborns in the nursery and some stay all the way through their college career.
Ryan rented motorbikes for 150 baht each, which is less than $5. We hopped on the bikes and drove through the Thai countryside with ponchos in tow. When we arrived at the Sarnelli House, there were groups of boys playing soccer and building sandcastles. Ryan, Aom and Emiliano immediately started to play.
I stood back to explore the grounds. The Sarnelli House was huge, colorful and had wide-open spaces. A playground area that resembled a carnival had kids playing on trampolines and elephant-shaped riding contraptions. The kids were so happy to have us there, they brought out waters and offered us snacks. One boy, missing a front tooth , was so happy to show off a shark he made from clay. He was beaming with pride.
Nazareth House is the girl's building, located just a few feet from the boy's building. The kids are permitted to mix whenever, but the girls seemed much older. They loved to take photos and laugh. Thankfully Aom spoke Thai, though we were all able to connect through taking photos and smiling despite the language barrier.
One of the kids wanted to be a photographer, so he took my camera and started shooting. He was so creative, setting up a pair of Nikes at a certain angle. He brought a friend over to the swingset and had him pose, carefully snapping his shots. There's no doubt he's a photographer in the making.
Because Ryan visited the Sarnelli House multiple times, he had built a bond with one boy. Even though the boy was a bit older, he stuck to Ryan like glue. The relationship made him feel special because Ryan had given him attention and shown that he cared. And really, that made a world of difference.
We left the Sarnelli House feeling overjoyed. Though it was a short visit, we were able to connect with the kids. The sharing of energy had all of us flying high, and we continued to increase our vibrations from the plants that were alive from the day's rain.
After visiting the Sarnelli House, I sat in Mut Mee’s garden to write. Work is the most enjoyable when I’m in a beautiful place. It’s hard to harness energy when you’re feeling trapped. Perching my laptop on the smooth redwood table, sitting under the shade of the grass-roof gazebo, I looked across the river into Laos, and let the writing flow.
You only know what light feels like if you've been heavy. The hard moments in India brought me to where I am now. The day spent riding a motorbike through the lush hills of Thailand, basking in the simplicity of the Thai people and sharing smiles with some fantastic kids. It's always worth it.