Meet Samniang Geller: A hard worker with a yearn to learn since her childhood
Samniang Geller has her mom in Thailand and her “American mom” in Dalton.
Her “mom” in the Berkshires, Marilyn Desoe, started out helping her learn English.
“We became good friends,” Samniang says. “She understands me really well. She has a huge heart to be able to not only teach me English but guide me with so many things in life that sometimes I’m sort of naïve about or don’t know.
“She’s like my American mom instead of my English tutor.”
Now a massage therapist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, 40-year-old Samniang first came to the Berkshires in 2000 with her then-husband. She lived here on and off until she decided to return permanently in 2011: “Life in Thailand was difficult, not the same quality of life as here.”
She grew up as Samniang Thongkam with three brothers, two sisters and several plow-pulling water buffalo for her family’s small-scale rice farm. Home, about 250 miles northeast of Bangkok, was the small town of Buriram.
Buriram translates as “city of happiness,” Samniang says. Her descriptions of her childhood surroundings do sound idyllic as long as you don’t mind the part with the poisonous snakes.
“I would ride the buffalo,” she says. “My father would come home with eel and other fish for dinner. There were a lot of banana trees around and we would cut a banana branch and take all the leaves off and we make a horse from that. We bent the front of the stem and made it the head of the horse and we rode around on it.”
Like a hobby horse? “Right, like that!”
A school teacher recognized her head for learning, she says. Her parents Jan and On sacrificed for her to study science and math. She was a math teacher in Thailand and majored in computer science. She also trained and worked in traditional Thai massage back in her home country. Massage is now her career: “I feel that working helping people makes me feel happier.”
Her massage degree from Thailand did not carry over to the United States. She enrolled in the massage therapy certificate program at Berkshire Community College. To finance it, she worked third shift overnight at the Poly-Matrix plastics mold manufacturing plant in Pittsfield’s Downing Industrial Park.
“I often came home at 7 in the morning, just to shower and to go to school,” Samniang says.
That’s when the bond between her and Marilyn Desoe, her English tutor, grew. Samniang needed to know a lot of anatomical and other specialized medical terms. From her 38-year career as assistant to the director of the radiology department at Berkshire Medical Center, Marilyn was well-versed in that language.
But more important, they both say, was Marilyn’s moral support. Exhausted after her night shift and looking at a day of school work and massage practice, Samniang sometimes felt she couldn’t continue. Marilyn gave her renewed courage.
Also, her Dalton home for years had been home to foreign medical students doing their residencies at BMC. That room was available, so Marilyn took in Samniang for a while.
“I told her, ‘When you graduate from the program, I want a diploma, too’,” Marilyn says.
A framed graduation photograph of the two of them tightly hugging each other and the diploma stands proudly displayed on the piano in Marilyn’s living room. Samniang has become part of the family there. She goes over for holidays and just to socialize.
She now lives in Lenox. She secured a travel visa for her mom, On, to come to the United States. Her “American mom” can’t wait to meet her.
“I want Samniang to translate for me,” Marilyn says, “and tell her how hard her daughter worked, and how proud she should be of her.”
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