Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Mai Pen Rai (Don't Worry)
Interviewing Dr. Alongkot Dikkapanyo
I shake his hand and tell him that I did not understand a word from his mouth; but it was obvious he was speaking sincerely and from the heart. Weeks of emails and phone calls had gotten me and my Thai host no where as many attempts to contact him always failed. Even though I had never seen him, it was like I already knew him. His photo, either alone or with patients, is all over the temple including over some patients' beds. We had just spent nearly two hours with him, which I knew was something unique and special.
I was already in my fourth day of volunteering at the Temple and I wanted to introduce myself. Word comes back that I can see the Abbott Sunday at 3pm. I rush to call my interpreter because I am told that my interview should be done at this time. Flash to 2:55pm and we are waiting outside his small building. Accompanying us are over 25 pairs of shoes. I learn Sunday is the day villagers come, make donations, and then get to see the Abbott. While we wait I get versed in the proper way to address the Abbott and reminded of both how important he is and the respect that all must show him.
The door slides open at 3:15pm and we are invited in. The room is furnished with golden Buddhist statues and other elaborate decorations (see photos). I quickly tell my interpreter, Aoh, there is no way I can interview him in front of all these people. Before I know it I am told it's our turn. Aoh asks if I know the proper greeting. I stare at him with confusion and realize all around are on their knees bowing. I quickly get down but do not touch my head to the ground as the others. The Abbott is sitting peacefully in his burnt orange robes, the signal of meditation monks. It is time to think quickly. I slide in front of the monk, graciously bow my head, and begin to introduce myself in a very slow and clear voice. I feel as though I am in an Indiana Jones movie -
"Sah Wah Dee Khrup Lauwpaw Alongkot, my name is Marco Ambrosio and I have come from America to include your Temple's story of compassion in a book I am writing". I know I only have a few other moments so I inform him of all my contacts that suggested I come to his temple and let him know I have been volunteering at the infirmary. He smiles kindly and welcomes me.
A huge sigh of relief rushes over me as a slip up or negative response from the Abbott would have ended my time at the Temple and weeks of planning and funds. All my excitement is crushed as I see Aoh talking in Thai and looking quite frazzled. He comes back to tell me that they will give me 15 minutes alone for an interview. I know and Aoh knows that the interview takes at least an hour and fifteen minutes. I simply decline. We reiterate that I have come from America with this specific goal and need enough time for the interview. The response . . . the Abbott will be free after his speech at the site of Project II.
Great! Right? Wrong! I find out the site is over an hour away and we have no way there or back! I am told that it will be my only chance to interview him as his schedule is full for the week. Aoh works some magic and befriends a crew from National Geographic. They are in the same boat but they have a life raft - a car. The entire time I am in shock that a scheduled appointment that was confirmed would end up this way, but then I recall a famous Buddhist saying "Mai Pen Rai" (Don't Worry/No Rush). Three hours later I found myself sitting next to Dr. Alongkot the person. No kneeling or intimidating shrines or followers bowing all around. Instead when we rise for photos he is swarmed by over ten different children who live at the facility with HIV and a group of dogs that call the site home as well. In the end, "Mai Pen Rai" was right.