My first encounter with Pad Thai was not in a restaurant nor was it served familiarly on a plate. It came suspiciously wrapped in paper...
It might not seem like a big deal to eat Pad Thai or Pad Thai that is wrapped in paper but it was very meaningful to me. First, I was in Thailand. That means it was actually really good Pad Thai. Secondly, I was tired, frustrated, alone and hungry. It had been a really long day. I had woken up at 5:30 am to get the kids up in time so they could get ready for school, eat breakfast, and do their morning jobs before classes started. It then took two trips to get all the kids to school. Then, I made sure the children too young for school were fed, bathed, played with and loved. Plus, plan the daily English lesson and take the two trips back to pick up the kids.
So, come 10:30 pm that night, sitting in a cold, not white anymore Thai hospital ward was a little bit disconcerting. I would have been much happier under my mosquito net tucked in cozily for the night. Instead, I was still awake sitting on the edge of a hospital bed with bright florescent lights shining down on me. Cat, the woman who founded Bamboo School, had called me after I had managed to get the last kids home from school, asking if I could go stay at the hospital to take care of baby Bekah (10 months old) who was sick and staying there. Sure! How difficult could that be? I was a bit unprepared for the response I received upon walking into the hospital ward where Bekah was staying. I swear every mother, grandmother and woman converged on me. Clucking and firing rapid Thai at me. I practically had to fend them off as I held Bekah in my arms. It was overwhelming as I didn't know enough Thai to communicate with them. All the women seemed to think that they knew best how to take care of Bekah, and that this little, young white girl surely did not know what to do.
I couldn't tell them how to leave me alone. I didn't know how. I couldn't tell them that I had been taking care of babies since I was fourteen and that Bekah needed special care because of her sickness.
I was hungry. I hadn't eaten anything since early that morning. I couldn't tell them that. I didn't know how to ask where to buy food.
I just wanted a hug from my comforting mom. I wanted to be asleep in a bed that I knew. I wanted to talk to someone. I didn't want to be alone, but I didn't know anyone there.
So, there I was. Sitting on the bed with sweet baby Bekah asleep next to me, cold, tired, frustrated and hungry. In the next bed over, an older woman who was a burn victim was just as uncomfortable as I had been feeling with her bundled and bandaged hands and feet. She must have understood and she must have had a mother's intuition. Even though she was obviously in pain and she couldn't even get the pills to her mouth, she could still offer me my first Pad Thai. I hungrily devoured it out of its street paper wrapper with my bare fingers as I had no fork. And then I realized, as I was eating, that I didn't feel quite so alone.
As I later learned, her daughter had broughten her the Pad Thai for dinner not realizing she had already eaten the hospital food. The older woman and I never really got to say much to each other in the way of words, but we shared a bond of understanding of what it means to be uncomfortable and to feel out of place. I got to repay her over the next few days at the hospital as I helped her take her medicine and helped her eat seeing as how she couldn't use her bandaged hands.
I did eventually learn how to say, "I am hungry." in Thai.