Another warm welcome, literally
It seems travelling to humid countries has become part of my globetrotting experience, apart from Malawi, whose weather is similar to that of Zambia. I’m yet to experience extreme cold though. Whoever said the quest for inner peace was a quick trot, anyway.
Stepping out of the Suvarnabhumi Airport terminal, I was greeted by an expected but seemingly surprising humid Bangkok. This was my first time in Southeast Asia and I honestly did not know how the weather would be. The feeling was comparable to that of when I was exiting JFK International Airport en route to the Global Health Corps Training Institute in July 2012 at Yale University. Yes, you are probably wondering why I did not look up the weather. Well, the little important things are the ones we neglect or forget about. I spent so much time mentally preparing for the Amani fellowship that in return, other things were of trivial importance. Don’t be like me, trivial is important.
The elephant(s) in my mind were the negative stereotypes associated with Asian countries, specifically Thailand at this point. Although I’m a life student of cultural pluralism and tolerance and I would like to think my school of thought is somewhat aligned with that of the global citizens spectrum, I still had the monkey mind. What does this whole thing have to do with inner peace, meditation, monks and other related things? Well, it will all make sense soon. Who said Part 2 was the last instalment.
The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this. ~ Chinua Achebe
The shotgun extravaganza
From the airport to the World Peace Initiative Foundation Headed Quarters, alias PIPO House, I rode shotgun with one of the Peace Revolution interns, Eye. It’s hard for me to start or hold a conversation with anyone when I’m tired, let alone someone I have just met for the first time. This wasn’t the case with Eye though. Despite both having some linguistic challenges understanding each other, mostly due to accent and semantics, we improvised by typing out what we did not understand on a text editor, pretty effective if you ask me.
This was my first experience of Thailand from conversing with a Thai person who was/is among other things kind, smart, funny and free spirited. My appreciation about this experience was that the conversation was not a cliché, scripted or small talk oriented. It was a genuine chemistry based interaction with random deviations, humour and plenty of joy.
Are Thai people sabai by default? I can’t answer for everyone but I feel so. Not only because of this experience but also others with almost every other Thai national I interacted with throughout my short stay.
The rather convenient commute from the airport to the PIPO House caused me to briefly forget why I was here. I guess you can never trade quality human interaction with being a slave to the screen of your smartphone. Or can you?
The multi-purpose PIPO House pitstop
Arriving at the PIPO House was more of a buffer refresh. I did not get time to experience and appreciate it whole, yet, as this was a pit stop. Everyone knew our final destination was still a “million” miles away. Taking another moment to freshen up, eat up, use the internet for the last time for a while and begin our long double deck bus ride to the ferry port.
When I learned how many hours (about half a day) we would be on the road, I had no words, I did not know how to feel because I was already at my last at this point. A combination of altitude fatigue, jet lag and insomnia creating one large cocktail of I don’t know what “Fajetin?” :). Was this what it took to experience and learn from Amani African Youth Fellowship? I guess it was gonna be alright – Kendrick Lamar.
How do I begin to find and cultivate inner peace and patience when I’m beginning to reach the limits of what my body can take already? before we even begin the training? I mindfully thought to myself, if everyone is doing this and not complaining about it, then I can also do this and not complain about it, loudly. So I just resigned and switched to my mental autopilot. It was mind over matter now. A physical and mental glide to wherever we would end up.
Luggage loaded once again, we were off, once again.
The long road ahead
I don’t know where my propensity for being in a position of control and certainty comes from. On the top deck of the bus, I rode shotgun again. Wait a moment, what are the rules? does this count for shotgun considering the driver is on the bottom deck? Anyone?
I finally had a chance to catch up with Timothy Onyango, as we sat together. I don’t know why but our conversations always go down to the core. Some pretty deep stuff. Perhaps it’s because we share similar ideals, schools of thought and that we want the same things for Africa? Or perhaps our blossoming brotherhood is just one of those incredible things you can’t evade or escape. But it is something that I have respected and appreciated from before we even met, through his guidance, encouragement and mentorship. His character and heart for what he believes in is very profound and if that does not attract respect, the type of respect that our teaching monks taught us about, then my moral code would is flawed.
The journey was long, it seemed like a never ending twisting loop. Just like the arcade game Pac-Man. Midway through the journey, everyone seemed to have succumbed to exhaustion and tried their best to get an ounce of sleep or the minor equivalent of it. I don’t remember sleeping, I could not sleep. I felt as if I had an outer body experience at some point. Maybe I was experiencing some minor hallucinations, I will never know.
Major kudos to the driver(s) of the bus. I don’t know how they do it but we arrived at the ferry port in time, safely, with no incident whatsoever. As much as all our bodies were itching and aching for a stretch and scratch and thinking of our final connection that would bring us to our final destination of what we all came here for. It was a relief to get off the bus and get on the ferry. Everyone was on full autopilot at this point I assume? I don’t know. I was busy coping with myself and trying to define what I was feeling, but we still all looked like a unit, which was the most important thing. As much as every person came to Amani with different agendas, we all came under the African umbrella and we were all representing our wonderful mama Africa.
Ferry, Sea, Koh Samui
When your body and mind is in overdrive, you don’t really know how to comprehend anything. All you want is to find a nice corner somewhere to lie in the foetal position and fall into a deep slumber.
However, the ferry ride to Koh Samui was therapeutic and much needed. The sense of the waters, warm breeze and the rejuvenated attitude of everyone was much welcomed. I guess we all knew this was the last hurdle to finally completing our arduous journeys with regard to different circumstances getting here. All the frustrations of travel arrangements, visa issues and everything else was coming to an end shortly, so what the heck, some spontaneous excitement would suffice at this time, and so it was.
Catching up with Faith, another amazing fellow from Zambia, on the upper deck of the ferry, I had begun to lose sense of time. The ferry ride seemed not to last long, perhaps 45 minutes to an hour. Despite the humid Thai weather, the ambience of the gulf and the waves smashing against each other provided a needed and calm sabai feeling. This is what we all came here for right?
Ko Samui was in sight, we were finally here. The shore was clear, vivid and busy. We disembarked and once again for the last time loaded up for another short trip. This one was quick and before we knew it, we arrived at the Samu International Meditation Centre. My immediate feeling was that of “phew” … We are here, where can I find a bed, recharge and get ready for what comes next.
Allocation of the living quarters was quick and seamless. Everyone got a living space of their own but three other male fellows and I would be sharing a house. This is how I met the prince, Josphat, from Namibia, we instantly clicked and bonded, where was he all this time? He is awesome!
Our living quarters were located on the upper side of the compound on the other side of from where everyone else was placed and getting there was an effort. The ascent was overwhelming and from that point, we had a precipice like vantage. I thought to myself, by the end of this retreat I will not only have learned a lot about inner peace and mediation but I would also have some seriously buff legs.
Because of this unique situation of our residence placement, my roommate Josphat and I declared, since we were on higher, higher ground, far from the rest of the group, we were in a palace and behold, this was our little palace, I was King and the Amani Kingdom was born…