Simple Gifts This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     My feet, caked in dirt, ached with each step. Hunger made itself known by frequent growls and cramps - the last meal I had consumed had been sticky rice and fried crickets. I tightly clutched the heavy plastic bag so it wouldn’t slip from my sweaty palms. A group of us, maybe nine, made our way down the dusty, litter-strewn path. We each carried a similar bag, tied with a rubber band.

We had reached a hut fashioned of wood and palm boughs. Four “walls” encompassed an area no bigger than a college dorm room. Constructed on stilts, no doubt to keep out animals and floods during the rainy season, the one-room hut leaned dangerously into the mosquito-ridden rice fields. I climbed the four steps slowly, scrunching my nose in an effort not to breathe in the stench. Though I was not entirely sure that the boards would hold my weight, I safely reached the top.

My bag contained several smaller bags, one of warm sticky rice, one of pork-and-cucumber soup, and a pineapple, the fruit du jour. Someone appeared in the entranceway. Silhouetted by the sun beaming through the palm boughs, a hunched figure with wispy gray hair knelt on a rice mat. As I came closer, I could see that it was a woman who was probably 60 years old, although she looked about 90. Countless hours of back-breaking labor under the hot Thai sun had aged her body beyond its years.

Now less than a yard away, I raised my eyes to meet hers. In the midst of a face mapped with wrinkles were two tired, dark eyes. The fatigue was clearly manifested in every crease, but her eyes were warm and grateful. I smiled, and she slowly opened her mouth to reveal almost toothless gums. From years of experience, she held her hands up, palms together, to her face. I performed the traditional wai in return, though mine was significantly less graceful.

“Sa-wat-dee-kaa,” I murmured in Thai, and she nodded slowly in response to my hello. Holding the bag in my right hand, always, I extended it toward her with my left hand clutching my right elbow in the traditional offering form. She reached out for the bag, nodding again and again in thanks. I looked once more into her eyes. A fly had landed on her right lid, but she didn’t notice. Her eyes transcended the language barrier and explained her gratitude.

That may have been the only meal she had that day, for her body could no longer work, and she had no family to care for her. Perhaps on other days villagers took turns feeding her (and other lonely elders) but would there always be enough food in a village dependent on indigenous agriculture?

Giving that old woman a meal was painful in a way I had never expected, because I knew that when I returned to my life of comfort and privilege, she would still be huddled in her one-room hut, hungry and lonely and tired. The small pains and annoyances I had documented in my head since my arrival in Thailand disappeared when I saw her, and I didn’t think of them again. Seeing her smiling in gratitude for food made me want to stay and give her everything she needed, and still needs, even now that I’m back to my comfortable life.

I will return, maybe not to that woman or even to Thailand, but to where I can impact the lives of others in a positive, profound way. .

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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