I don’t usually start with an excuse but on this one I must. Either this will be the longest post ever or I will have to do it in parts. So much was done today, and I have so much to share, that as I write I am trying to figure out how I will do it.
Laos, as you know, has me prisoner. Loatians or “Lao peoples”, as our guide so endearingly calls his countrymen, are gentle people. There is no aggressiveness in their demeanor. Even their smile is gentle: slowly, but steadily, corners of lips rise to remain in a smile for as long as you care to look. Their eyes reflect the same. I want to be awake as much as possible so I can soak up more of Lao.
We woke early for we are giving alms. Monks eat only twice a day. They come out of their temples and collect their morning meal (around 5:30 am) from locals –and now tourists. Our guide has found a street away from most and in front of a temple.
There is a ritual that goes into our offering. We put a scarf over our left shoulder, around our back, under our right arm and over our left shoulder again. We kneel. We will offer sticky rice from a basket, still steaming hot, prepared by a local. They will not stop as they walk past us. With our hands we will pick the rice and throw it into a basket they will open. We are ready. We wait.
Today we will have a “home-hosted” meal in a village in the mountains so, since we are up and in this daily ritual thing, we head to the morning market where Khamsouk gives us each a piece of paper with the name of the ingredient we have to buy for the meal.
He also gives us the exact amount that we are allowed to pay. Not that easy of an assignment when he refuses to tell us what we are looking for and where it might be sold in the market. In Mission Impossible, weren’t they allowed to decline the assignment before the tape autodestructed? Seems that’s not the case here. Off we go!
The place offers such a wonderful array of colors, shapes, and textures, along with smells that could never attempt to be aromas, sounds of women bargaining, animals not yet silent, and odd noises –as that of a vendor keeping flies at bay by shaking a plastic bag at the end of a stick– all tangoing together in a not so graceful dance.
Am I buying carrots? I say the name of what I want and the vendor shakes her head as she laughs and points further down the road. Carrots are so big anyway I don’t think I’d have enough money.
Why does that bucket have a net? Oh noooo, I’m not even asking if it’s frogs that I am buying. Much less live ones! So glad that Americans are known to be squirmish about such things and they wouldn’t expect us to buy them!
I meet the others empty handed. We go tuk tuking (freshly coined term) to the bus where our luggage awaits and a long ride, up a winding road to the village where the parent company of my tour supports a school.
The ride goes on for hours and the road is starting to look like the Death Road in Bolivia. Thankfully, as I am starting to not like this much, we are directed to look to the right where our school children and their teacher are lined up with a little flower bouquet in greeting.
We introduce ourselves writing our names on the board, then sit with them in class. When I go to my kid he has written my name on his notebook and under it, his name in Lao. I point at my name, then at myself. He points at his, then at himself.
They sing to us their anthem, we sing to them the Star Spangled Banner. Then we sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It…” They are having a blast. We are too. I look and at the window is a mother with her child observing us.
He repeats everything I say and I thought he understood very little until we go to the library and he brings me a book “Do Kangaroos Have Mothers To?” (Of Course they Do. Just like me and you!) It repeats, with the only variable being the animal. At one point I take a breath after “Just like…” and he fills in –pointing at me-, “me”. I say “and” and he says “you” pointing at himself. I am smitten and want to take him home.
We say good-bye. They go back to class as we head towards the meeting hall to be received by the village chief and the woman’s leader. He will host lunch in his house for 8 and she will for the other 8.
For those interested in an authentic hand-woven scarf from Laos, just give me a ring. Didn’t want any to feel left out. Just tug at my heartstrings and I am putty in your hands.
The meal is simple but really good! Our main course is wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.
We are headed a little up hill so that we can meet with the Hmong people in their village. For that we must cross this village and go to the other. You’ll see that tomorrow though, or this will never post!