By Leah Averre

Its midnight and we're driving back from the beach party the local Thai families threw for us. This is my last night in Phuket, I think to myself. Has it been two weeks already? I was just really getting to know people.

Mui turns to me as he's driving, "What have you learned from this whole experience?"

I draw a blank. My clothes are still covered with cement mix and mortar. I'm sure I stink of sweat and ocean, but I can't tell anymore after my two Spy wine coolers. What I've really learned is that showers and sleep are good things, and that I really miss my blow dryer, but I know this is not what he's talking about. Now's the time for me to make a serious statement.

"What have I learned?" I repeat. I flash back to the first day I arrived on the work site. I'm looking at four skeletons of houses. My first instinct is, 'I want to go home.'

I turn to Mui, "I believe it's important to do things that scare you or that you don't feel like doing in order to grow. I'm 32 years old, and this is the farthest I've ever been away from home. I didn't even travel to Europe until three years ago, and that was with my Grandma!" This is not something I'm proud of, but going to Thailand was scary for me. Even the different smells made me feel strange.

I tell him, "The first thing that inspired me was the people I met on this trip. Three of the volunteers are traveling by themselves around Asia and they're under the age of 23! That's amazing to me. Plus, meeting the Thai people and communicating with them, each of us struggling with language yet > > still understanding one another, was so much fun."

I don't tell Mui this, but at first, it was so difficult for me to create relationships with the other volunteers and with the local people. I flash on the other 20 something they did the work AND formed friendships with the Thai men, women and children. A few of the boys would constantly joke around with the young Thai women, who were earning about $3 a day working at the site. Seeing those girls laughing and smiling was so inspiring. Billy took his Polaroid camera, taking pictures of every Thai person he came in contact with. Then he'd give them the pictures. They loved it. I envy these acts of kindness. I'd constantly question whether I was giving such kindness out.

"It was hard too," I confess to Mui. "Usually I'm the organizer, so I'm busy strategizing and scheduling, but this time, I had to sit back and just do the work. I'd remind myself it's about them, not me. The situation was more different than anything I've ever experienced." I had to just jump in and start making connections, just like I had to jump in when I first got to the work site. I didn't know anything about construction, but I just had to grab a bucket and fill it with mortar and begin.

"The whole experience is like laying the bricks for the houses," I tell him. "When I first started, I hated it. 'One brick at a time,' I thought, 'this will take forever!' Plus getting all grimy and stinky in hot humid weather didn't have much appeal either. But I forged through and soon walls were built."

"It's just like us," I tell Mui. "People are just like those houses. We can either stay a barren piece of land. Fine and flat, or we can build. We can get our fingers dirty and slowly start to build, make ourselves evolve into something other than how we started. It might not always be fun, but that's how we grow."

I look out the window and flash on just five minutes before I got into Mui's car. I was talking with Shane while we were sitting in the Van.he was trying to decide what to do with the five coconuts a local Thai boy had given him. "It's weird," I confess to him, "Everyone is so emotional, but I don't feel any thing." I think to myself that this can't possibly be true. I must be feeling something. And before I knew it, I was crying. For what, I can't really describe, but Shane reached over and rubbed my back and then handed me a coconut and we began to laugh.

By Leah Averre

Group 2 of volunteering with The Phuket Project, rebuilding homes for tsunami victims.

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