Thailand – Sangkhlaburi: Behind the Smiles

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When the ones I love sleep in a world I left behind, I am awake in a strange land. However, it is I who is strange here, yet I am welcomed as one of their own people. Thailand has challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. It humbles me everyday, reminding me of my childhood in Cuba. Reminiscing of those moments as I am sitting at a café all my senses are awaken. The sound of the calm music along with the raindrops by the windowsill, play the perfect harmony. At this very moment the books around me, and my thoughts that linger on are all I have.

I always thought that growing up in Cuba and witnessing poverty first hand in other countries made me capable to immerse myself in any place with such means. I would be lying if I said I didn’t take for granted some of the comfort I have back home. However, the body and mind adapts to anything, and suddenly this lifestyle is like all I have ever known.

The small village of Sangkanaburi has showed me the heart of Thailand. The people and their smiles have left an eternal impact on me. These smiles, as gentle as they are, hide an innate sadness and a history of turmoil. The region is close to the Burmese border, a country with a troubled past that has forced its citizens to escape for the hope for a better life. Once they reach Sangkanaburi, many immigrants fall victims of labour abuses and human trafficking.

One day as I was walking down the street, an old lady selling handmade jewelry caught my attention. I was surprised at how well she spoke English, something I wasn’t used to hearing in such a rural area. She mentioned to me that she was born in Burma but migrated to Thailand when she was younger. It took her three days through the jungle, a dangerous and treacherous journey that guided her through with only the hope that the life she was seeking was better than the life she left behind. She kept mentioning how grateful she was and although she didn’t have much, she has taught her children and grandchildren to be good to others because there is always someone who is in more need. She then invited me to meet her at church the next day and to join her and her family during lunch.

To me, the story of this woman represented the hardships that immigrants like myself, face when leaving everything behind to start again. It was at that moment, on the other side of the world, that once again I felt familiar feelings and I understood that our cultural differences didn’t separate us but united us in a common understanding of the heart.

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