Today I went to the travel clinic to get my vaccinations for Thailand. Here’s what I learned from the doctor:
1) I am not going to change the world
“I spent three years in Africa. People go into developing countries thinking they can change systems; that they can fix people. You’re entering into a completely different culture and you need to conduct yourself within the parameters of that culture. People aren’t going to like the reasons why you are there. Especially since you’re entering a city whose tourism thrives on the very things you are fighting against. When some of the doctors left Africa their work fell apart. You are not changing people. You are informing people, training people on how to create change, how to carry on when you leave. There is so much work to be done. You will only scratch the surface. You will not change the world.”
When I graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2007 and walked on stage to receive my degree, the person who presented it to me (I don’t remember who he was) asked me what I was going to do next. “I’m going to change the world!” I responded.
I actually said that! How embarrassing. He asked me how, and I said, “I don’t know yet!” I was excited (clearly) and maybe a little bit naïve, but I believed that I would, somehow, help change the world.
And I still believe that. I believe we all can. It doesn’t mean you have fly across the globe, do something “big” or become someone well-known. You do it by waking up to the world around you. Meeting the needs of the people close by. Showing grace and humility and honour. Whether you’re a mom, a businessman, a teacher, a student, a vet tech, or a shoe salesman. We can bring joy and life and transformation to the people around us.
When I walked across that stage more than 3 years ago I was filled with dreams and idealism, and to a certain degree I still am. I’m reminded of a quotation I read in Follow Me to Freedom: “You are as young as your dreams and as old as your cynicism.” I don’t believe that my doctor was being cynical. I believe he was encouraging me to be realistic – not to go to Thailand filled with an idealism that will come crashing down the moment I get a taste of the culture and experience the dark reality of trafficking. If I was cynical I wouldn’t be going. If I didn’t believe that change was possible or that there was anything worth fighting for, there would be no point.
2) Lassie is not my friend
“Ten percent of dogs in Bangkok have rabies. Don’t touch a dog, don’t pet a dog, don’t try to nurse a dog back to health. It will bite you and you will get rabies (probably) and die (maybe).”
“I’m not really into dogs…”
3) I should consider getting married before I leave (any takers?)
“You are a single white woman living alone in Bangkok. People are going to watch you. They are going to talk about you. They are going to assume things of you. Thailand is the world’s sex tourism capital. They are going to think you’re there for sex. Be careful how you act. Be careful where you go.”
To be honest I never really had this concern before – not to this extent, at least. I have complete confidence that ECPAT is going to take good care of me. That being said, I’m glad that he was blatantly honest about the risks because it means I’m going to be extra careful to act above reproach in everything that I do – dress, speech, etc.
“Be prepared. You are about to encounter the dark underbelly of humanity…But I’m excited for you.”
All and all, after today’s appointment I’m a touch more nervous, a lot more prepared, and much more excited.