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Posts Tagged ‘AFS friends’

I shared my post  about my AFS year a few weeks ago with those very students who were such an important part of my year, and remain an important part of my life. 33 of us are on a Fbk group, and we’re individually in touch with one or two others who don’t “do” Fbk. There are a few who continue to be elusive, having lost touch in the intervening years before the internet reunited so many of us.

As it was our 40-year anniversary, we had talked previously talked about whether there was a possibility of a reunion there. I’d been planning a trip, another person was waiting for a wedding date there before she could commit, but the likelihood of more than one or two of us getting together there was slim. I was sad about that, but resigned to it. It is 2020, after all, and there’s a global pandemic, so travel is pretty much impossible, and if not impossible, then it is definitely unadvisable. But then Sharon B had the brilliant idea to do what lots of people are doing during this pandemic.

“Let’s have an online reunion!” she suggested.

After a little organisation – mostly because the Kiwis complained about getting up at 3 am – we fixed a time. Cocktail hour for many of the Americans on  Friday night, and early afternoon for the Kiwis the next day worked perfectly. Those of us who had never used Zoom downloaded it. We tried to link in a few who weren’t part of the Fbk group too – at the last minute I realised Madeline wasn’t in the group, and linked her into it just in time.

At the appointed time, we logged on. It was fantastic, watching each person sign in to the meeting, seeing their face for maybe the first time in 39 years. Exclamations of delight, helloes, waves, and big grins all round. It took quite a while for everyone to get on, especially as many of us had learning curves. A few didn’t quite realise their discussions with the families would be heard (Jane putting in a crucial beer order, for example), but we all figured it out eventually. And at least we weren’t like the young woman I read about last week, who was on a Zoom meeting with her workplace, took her laptop into the bathroom, placed it on the floor, and sat on the toilet, before she realised they could all see her! We may almost be boomers, but we’re technologically capable, thank you very much.

Fifteen of us signed in, which is not a bad turnout given the circumstances. We had a great catch-up, finding out where people lived and what they’ve been doing the last 39 years, who had been back to Thailand, were still in touch with their Thai families, etc. Of course, we indulged in some reminiscing. Some of us drank tea or coffee or water, others enjoyed wine or cocktails, one fell asleep on the couch after a busy work week, Jen dialled in briefly from her car (when she wasn’t driving) in Australia, and right at the end, Cee cooked her dinner. Gradually people started signing off, all with commitments to do this again, sending love and safe wishes.

When it got down to the last six or so of us, it was a more manageable conversation, and my goodbyes when it got down to three of us were lengthy, as we chatted easily, and didn’t want to sign off, but after three hours, figured it was time.

Technology makes life so much easier, so much richer. Even in times that are hard, when people might feel isolated from others, when people were already feeling divided, technology allowed us to come together. I’m still smiling now as I think about it.

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Forty years ago today, I spent my first full day in Bangkok, Thailand. I was with 46 other AFS exchange students for an orientation programme at a hostel in Bangkok, having arrived in the dark the night before with the ANZAC contingent. I remember being hit by the heat and humidity as we left the airport, and later, my diary recorded my disgust that I could feel so hot and sticky immediately after a shower.

As it was a Sunday, there were no classes organised. Instead, we were all sent out to discover Bangkok. The newly-arrived Australians and New Zealanders were escorted by the one New Zealander who was finishing her AFS year. We were amazed at her confidence, her language, her level of comfort in this foreign environment. Would we ever be that relaxed here?

The bus into the city was crowded, and I remember being amazed at the sheer numbers of the road, and the variety of buildings. We arrived at the Sunday Market – which in those days was a collection of stalls under canvas across a large field (Sanam Luang) near the Grand Palace. I’ve written about that day before, here and here.

My diary doesn’t say much, but I remember some things very clearly. I don’t remember having lunch at the Sunday Market, which I duly recorded as consisting of “rice and stuff on top!” I don’t actually remember going on the boat ride, shocked at the poverty side by side with the glorious golden temples. But I do remember going to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, amazed at the beauty and exotic architecture. It was the first place I went to in Bangkok, and was the last place I visited when I left Bangkok 13 years later after my diplomatic posting there. It has etched itself into my heart, or perhaps I left part of my heart there, even on that first visit.

After the grandeur of the Palace and Temple, we went back to the market to explore. It was, I noted, “very dirty and smelly!” I remember that the heavens opened for my first experience of a tropical downpour. I remember the muddy floors.

We were thrown into Bangkok in the deep end. And it set the scene for the coming year.

But how could I know that day that most of those students in the bus with me, or the ones I met at the hostel, would become dear friends? How could I know that Chai, the language teacher we met the next day, would become an important part of our year too, and would still be part of our lives? How could I predict that I would be back ten years almost to the day to live and work for another three years? That I’d get to visit Sharon and Chai in Delaware, and have dinner with Amy, or stay with Madeline in Dayton, when I made work trips to DC in the 90s? How could I imagine that my AFS friends would become part of my everyday life through social media? That Fe would make me a quilt?That I’d Skype with Cecilia on (her) Christmas Day 39 years later? That in February 2020, almost forty years later, I would be thrilled to have lunch by the beach on a sunny day in Wellington with Jane and Vicki (one Kiwi, one Californian), the first time we’d seen each other since 1981!

How could I even have imagined that we’d all have such a strong bond after that year? That love and laughter (sanuk) – with the help of technology – would keep us together, all these years later? I couldn’t imagine it. I’m not sure any of us could. But isn’t it a wonderful thing?

 

 

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It was early May.  The weather was turning, and mornings were getting cold.  I was lying in bed, no motivation to get up into the cold air, and lacking energy (not realising it at the time, but later that day I would be whisked into hospital for a blood transfusion).  There was a knock at the front door, and a few minutes later, my husband appears with a large package.

“Do you know a Maria from Maryland?” he asked puzzled.

“Oh yes!” as I leapt up, remembering that we were partners in a project on FB where – back in December – we had rashly promised that we would make things for each other – and three other people.  The recipients of my gifts would be “the first three people who respond to my status.”  They were then asked in turn to post this and make something for the first three who commented on their status.  I hope they did!  Reflective of my internet life, I had taken the idea from an English friend in Devon, who I first met on the internet.  My first three responders were 1) a friend I first met 34 years ago when we were exchange students in Thailand but now from Maryland, USA, b) my niece’s cousin from Malaysia (though she had stayed with us a year or two earlier), and c) a blogger friend also from the US (Missouri) who I have yet to meet.

The gifts could be anything, as long as they were home-made.  If my friends lived closer I’d make them my Ras al Hanout mix and give them some baking, but those things are a little hard to post!  But that’s okay, I committed to the project knowing what I was going to do. Sort of.  I sent off the first gift at Christmas, via my sister-in-law who would deliver it to her niece who stayed with us last year. That was gift number one, and I was impressed how quickly I made it, and sent it off. Free postage is a great motivator.  Although my haste meant that it wasn’t quite the quality I would have liked.

The second and third recipients are still waiting. I am procrastinating you see, indecisive about which angle I should take. I like personalising gifts you see, and I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times. I’m wondering if I should appeal to the exotic, or the familiar, or the things we have in common.   I have until the end of 2014 to deliver, but now there is some urgency.   The bar has been set very high.

I opened the box, and pulled out an amazing quilt.  Quilting isn’t really a big thing in New Zealand, but I know a couple of my US friends are keen quilters.  This is a beautiful one, and the first one I’ve ever owned, let alone been given.  It was appropriately lined with a wine bottle print!  (I’m wondering what kind of impression my FB friends have of me.)  And some squares were definitely related to my wanderlust in particularly.  It was a wonderful personal gift, and I can’t imagine how long it took to make.  And if that wasn’t enough, there were knitted socks too.  And they fit!  They were warm and comfy.  The timing was perfect, as winter arrived, and a few days later I had surgery.  In my recovery, I have reclined on my couch with the quilt keeping me warm.  But even better was the warmth and comfort from a friendship that has endured over 34 years, and across a planet.  Thanks Fe!

 

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