A gentle breeze blew through the vivid green rice fields and made the sea shell wind chimes above me sway. I was surrounded by the mountainous green hills of northern Thailand, but I wasn’t paying attention to any of it. I was thinking of the home and friends I had left.
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My family and I had come to Thailand with a few of my dad’s university students. The students were doing an internship in a Karen hill tribe village in northern Thailand. My family was planning to travel for an entire year and this was just the beginning of our trip.
In the village, we stayed with a local family. We got to interact with them on a daily basis. The children talked to us, the baby played with us, and the grandma looked out for us. Most of the family spoke enough English for us to communicate with them. The grandma, however, didn’t speak any English, but she was always eager to make sure we were happy and well-fed.
On the day that I was sitting on the porch outside of the house thinking about how much I missed my home and my friends, the grandma approached me. I didn’t see her until she was almost directly in front of me. She smiled at me and I smiled back, though I knew the smile didn’t reach my eyes. Then she held out to me something she had been carrying. It was a beautiful red stone necklace just like the ones that she wore.
At first I was uncertain what to do, but I gently took the necklace from her. She pantomimed for me to put it on. I slipped the necklace over my head and the grandma smile widely at me revealing her tobacco-stained teeth. I smiled back. This time it was a real smile.
Somehow this little old Karen tribe woman with her head wrapped in a pink towel had understood what I was feeling. I was touched by her gesture of kindness. I thanked her wordlessly and she nodded to me before leaving me again with my thoughts. I was no longer dwelling on what I had left behind, I was thinking about what I had just experienced. I was amazed that though we couldn’t communicate with words, the grandma had noticed I was feeling down and had wanted to cheer me up. I realized that we didn’t need to speak the same language to communicate, a connection could occur through small acts of kindness.
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