On a recent bike ride with fellow trainees we started talking about our host houses – who has which amenities, who has really nice houses and who is really “roughing it”. One of the guys in our group, Chandler, said, “You know, all this talk is great, but at this point, I can’t imagine my house being any different. It’s become mine and it’s starting to really feel like home.”
At that moment, looking out over yet another rice field, I realized Chan was spot-on accurate. My host house has truly become a place I feel at home and my host mom is someone I’m excited to greet and eat dinner with every evening. Of course there’s things I miss about my parents’ house in Wisconsin, but there’s no rule that “home” can only mean one house in the world, right?
So, for all my loyal blog readers who have been wondering where I sleep and how I do laundry, here it is – the grandiose tour of my homestay house!
My host mom and I live in a small house at the back of our compound. There are two other houses on our particular compound, where my host mom’s two older sisters live. There’s a large gate at the opening to our compound, which I especially appreciate because it makes me feel extra safe and secure!
The most exciting part about our exterior and yard is the 4 dogs I get to navigate every time I come and leave home. For those who don’t know, I’m not at all a dog person, especially after being vaccinated for rabies and warned about the vicious dogs in Thailand. My host mom has one dog that sleeps in a cage on our front porch, but the others are either her sister’s dogs or the occasional stray.
Funny story about the dogs in our yard: Dogs here don’t get rawhide bones or toys like dogs in the States. Instead, they chew on old animal bones from meals and what not. A couple of weeks ago I walked outside to find the dogs chewing on jaw bones, which meant there were TEETH scattered all around the front yard. Now, if I’m not a dog person, I’m definitely not a teeth person! It’s safe to say the yard became a minefield for me that morning as I made my way out to the street, trying not to gag as I saw each tooth in the lawn.
Upon entering our humble abode, one finds themselves in the living room. Our living room has exactly one chair, positioned in front of the television, and a small table off to the side. We eat our meals at the table while sitting on the tile floor. Mealtimes almost always include some sort of television program, which I only partially pay attention to because, at this point, I can only make out every third or fourth word. In a very sweet way, my host mom tries to find children’s cartoons or educational shows that she thinks will help me better understand what is going on.
Situated directly across the room from the television (not pictured) is my host mom’s sewing machine. She is a seamstress by trade and is often making things in the living room while I do my Thai homework. One of her more common projects is making favor bags for weddings. She even gave me one to keep – what a cool souvenir!
Our hong-nam (bathroom in Thai) is perhaps the most interesting room in the house. Just like my parent’s house in Wisconsin, our Thai bathroom has a toilet, shower, mirror and washing machine. Notice I didn’t include “sink” on the list. Thai bathrooms are considered “wet bathrooms”, which means the whole room is the “shower floor” and all water drains through a small pipe along one of the walls. Yeah, figuring that concept out took some serious brain power on my first night here.
Among our group of volunteers, I’m one of the lucky ones with a western toilet. Others have a squat toilet, which we like to refer to as “squaties” or “squaty potties.” Toilet paper really isn’t a thing in Thailand, especially in public restrooms, but some bathrooms, including mine, have a bum gun to help with that issue. As my sister asked via Skype, “Is a bum gun is like that part of the kitchen sink that never really worked at the old house?” Yes Claire, that’s actually exactly what a bum gun is! It’s essentially the hose commonly found as an accessory on American kitchen sinks, except it’s fashioned to the wall and is used as a Thai bidet. To flush the toilet, you use the pink bowl to scoop up water from the reservoir and dump it down the toilet bowl.
Since there’s a lack of sink in our bathroom, there’s also a lack of hand soap for post-toilet use. I’ve found this to be a common occurrence, especially in public restrooms (i.e., please send hand sanitizer), but took matters into my own hands and quickly bought my own hand soap for use at home.
Showering is always an interesting task, especially since it involves a similar pink bowl. That’s right folks, my new shower reality is what they call a “bucket shower”. It’s exactly as it sounds: using a bucket (or in my case, a bowl) to scoop water from a garbage can full of water. The large garbage can is refilled using the garden hose hook-up on the wall. At first I was not thrilled about the idea of bucket showering, but now find it to be quite alright. What I’m still not a huge fan of is the cold water, although the daytime heat and humidity make the cold water slightly easier to endure.
Our bathroom also doubles as the laundry room. When doing laundry, I fill up the washer’s left compartment with water from the hose, put my clothes and soap inside and then let the spin cycle do it’s thing. Washing machines also happen to be luck-of-the-draw here, so I’m very thankful for not having to hand wash everything. What I do wish for is a rinse cycle! That’s right, the washing machine washes the clothes, but the rinsing is more of a manual process. After the spin cycle is over, I take my clothes out of the washer, drain the water (onto the floor) and, using two different rinse bins, serve as my very own rinse cycle! When everything is rinsed out, it goes into the fabric softener bin and stays there for a bit to soak up all the softening magic. Since water softeners are certainly not a thing here, fabric softener has become an important part of my laundry cycle. When all this excitement is over, I take the wet clothes outside and hang them on our drying rack. The nice thing about laundry in Thailand (at least during the “winter” season) is that the sun and heat do a very good job drying everything out.
Our kitchen isn’t necessarily considered “outdoor”, but it’s not exactly inside the house either. Directly next to the bathroom is the metal door that leads outside to the kitchen. The floor is a mix of concrete slabs and dirt and the walls are basically planks nailed together to serve as mild sources of privacy and protection. Our kitchen does, however, have a roof and a sink, which are very nice amenities in a Thai kitchen! My host mom and I cook dinner together most nights, which has become one of my favorite parts of the day. She pretty much only lets me stir things, but I’ve recently been allowed to pour oil into the frying pan, so we are certainly making progress, people!
My bedroom is directly off the living room, as is my host mom’s. There is another door next to my host mom’s which I often refer to as “door #2” because I don’t quite know what’s behind it. I have a hunch it’s another small bedroom, but I’ll admit to being far too afraid to explore the unknown. Additionally, there’s another small room off the living room, directly across from the bathroom, that holds lots of odds and ends and our refrigerator.
My bedroom has become my safe space. Other than the mosquitos and the occasional gecko, it’s a place all my own, where I can be alone and be myself. The Paul Frank curtains hanging over my windows are handmade by my host mom. I only know this because there are matching ones in other rooms of our house. I’ve settled in as much as one can in six weeks, but an entire suitcase full of colored clothes and extra personal items sits next to the door, serving as a constant reminder that my new home, is, indeed, temporary.