Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

for doing what she did and getting free

Friday, August 13th, 2010

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If I had a legitimate excuse for my prolonged hiatus from this blog, it would be these two women: Lanoy (basketball star/surrogate Lao sister/PoP MVP) and Phet (architect/duck blood soup lover/PoP Rookie of the Year).

For the last month I’ve spent hours on end with these two ever-inspiring, always-entertaining, seriously kickass women. We’ve tediously translated budgets, interviewed contractors, braved the monsooned roads, hosted village wide meetings, and, of course, drank beerlao.

Our goal was very simple: build a school. Build a school and show every single villager, government worker, unconvinced observer, and ourselves that we could. Build a school and provide the kids in Houy Thong with a place to learn.

So we did. With the empowerment and help from an amazing visiting co-worker (and every person in our organization) we built a school.

And a few days ago this little school opened to some very happy people and very big party.

There were speeches (mine nervously in Lao), there was dancing (think square dancing take Lao), there was massive amounts of food (and beerlao), and there was me, with a ridiculous cotton-flower smile on my face all afternoon.

And I can say now with complete confidence that I have never been so honored, so humbled in my life as I was that day with those two great women at my side.

may your feet always be swift.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

With our friend from the states visiting, we undertook a (what we didn’t know would be so) major project to build soccer goals for the talented and fierce kids of rural Bo He village.

The men folk, B and friend, put in laborious days of metalworking in the heavy Lao humidity.
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Our Lao friends and PoP supports stopped by daily to help cleanup, paint, and serve the boys beerlao.
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Once in Bo He, the epicness of the project was far from complete. Villagers had to carry the goals down the hill, across the bridge, up through the village and to the school.
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But then, the rowdiest, far-better-than-any-world-cup-game, commenced.
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And when we left Bo He, sufficiently exhausted and Beerlaoed, a group of primary school girls, their skirts knotted up around their waists, were tied up in a raucous game, mimicking their new Lao city friends, determined to be serious ass-kicking females.

ah, but i may as well try.

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

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I knew I shouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t work out.

I tried to take the quickest route to semi-success; I flipped the teacher the finger and dove right in.

And I drowned.

My Lao is shit. I order fried forest instead of fried fish. I tell village elders I have too much pubic hair when I want to say I’m sleepy.

So, it’s back to basics for me. Back to where I know I should have started in the very beginning, but those damn squiggle letters and the multiple pitches and tones were just too intimidating. I know learning starts from the ground up. I know this. I just don’t want to know this.

My (very patient) friend Ya now comes over every morning with a Lao work book and I practice my alphabet. I practice squishing consonants and vowels together in my mouth in that ever-so-gentle, lyrical way. I move my tongue around and play with sounds that my vocal chords have never before known.

I sing the vowel song in the shower and chant myself to sleep with tones.

And I accept that before, I cheated. And now I must start over. One rising pitch tone at a time.

riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

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My boy’s got a brand new toy.

(Well, newish.)

Here, in the land where fantastical dreams become our ridiculous realities, B is outside in the thick midday heat, tearing apart his new bike. Fenders are flying, girlfriends are stressing over tetanus, sweat is pouring, and B is loving it.

Second only to building a jetpack, gutting a motorcycle has been a major lifelong aspiration for him. And everyone here thinks he’s completely nuts for it. If you have a new bike, why do you want an old crap one?

We’re currently working on getting the correct translation for, cause it’s badass, duh.

dont feel bad, it’s the best food I ever had.

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

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Major former-vegetarian confession coming: Grilled duck is fucking delicious.

It’s succulent, tender and juicy as hell.

A brief history of my foodieism: My life-long vegetarianism started as a general dislike of meat. As a kid I pushed the pot roast around my plate, horrified by the smallest glisten of fat, until incurring sufficient sympathy to be excused to pour a bowl of cereal.

As an adult, every piece of animal product tasted wrong to me, and I went vegan. Living in both San Francisco and Portland, I ate (and loved) homemade veggie burgers and oven-baked sweet potato fries and avocado salads. I checked labels and asked too many questions at restaurants.

And slowly it became no longer a simple preference of taste, but an environmental clearance. The raising of farm animals, the long transport routes, the packaging. To me, it equaled a seriously negative footprint.

But with this stance came a catch I repeated endlessly: If I lived in a place where eating meat was sustainable, I’d do it without another thought.

Fast forward to life in SE Asia, and it was time to make the change. Practice what I preached. Love the duck. Chew the fat.

I hesitated for a moment at my first blood soup and my first fish belly, but in the end, everything about the way we eat here is sustainable. I watch my eggs be collected, my chickens die, my fruits fall from the tree.

I eat organs and suck bones dry.

Because here, nothing is wasted. What we eat is a part of who we are and how we live. Everything is connected in an integral way that benefits our health, the stability of the land, the success of the crops and the vibrant, communal, food-driven culture.

Now in Asia, I chew that fat with pride.

salute her when her birthday comes.

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

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I am a very lucky girl.

Here’s how it went down: A raucous island party on a remote Sumatran lake, my 25th birthday, a long out-of-touch middle school friend, local palm wine, a traditional Indonesian skirt, and a seriously kickass time.

To rewind a bit–a few months ago I reconnected with an old friend and as two international expats from our rural Oregon town, we had everything in common. He was planning a trip out to Indonesia to meet his new step-family, and B and I were in need of a tropical scene and renewed visas.

A bit of simple planning and a couple short flights later, we (re)met, had a beer, chewed the fat, and meshed into the ideal traveling trio.

We spent the next week on this Sumatran island: A supremely clean lake to jump a few meters from our front door, motorbikes to troll the mountain villages on, a plethora of fresh pineapple juice and avocados and a crew of local and traveling friends.

For my birthday, a week into our Indonesian travels, these two amazing, kind and often ridiculous boys pulled off a pretty spectacular evening complete with chocolate cake, too much fun, and a serenading local band that made this far-from-home-girl feel perfectly loved.

So, to my two favorite tank-top clad boys: terimakasih.

build the death planes, that build all the bombs.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

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I say Am-ree-kah, and he taps his fingers on the bomb, flashes a big toothless grin at me.

Am-ree-kah! Am-ree-kah war! he says.

Outside the restaurant where he works, we’ve been talking for a while in an effective mix of Lao and body language–talking about my job, his family, and this country that we both love so much.

But when he asks where I’m from, I hesitate. The truth won’t hurt him. He’s Lao and in accordance to his intrinsic Lao nature, he will like me no matter what.

It will hurt me.

In this country that I have come to adore, to call my home, there is a painful and violent US led history that is ever present and always shocking. It’s in restaurants and guest houses as bombs-turned-flower-planters. In the countryside as UXO warning signs. On the body of my friend’s father–bullet wounds from his days in the secret army.

For nine straight years a bomb hit Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day; it is the most bombed country in the history of the world.

And outside the restaurant, my new friend remembers everything. Vividly. It wrecked havoc in his home province and instilled in him a fear of the sky. It stole family members and sent a neighboring H’mong village into exile.

He remembers everything about a war that most have never heard of, a brutal facet of the Vietnam War that we’ve tried fiercely to hide, a covert invasion hidden from the American people, cloaked in obscurity and denial.

An unknown country, a disguised agenda, a secret army. An entire people forever changed by those nine endless years.

Here, everything about that mysterious war is real. And when I say that word, Am-ree-kah, the secret is always out.

romance, learn to dance.

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

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When you hear the drums coming, see the villagers marching, and are waved over to join in on the procession, go.

When a warm glass of shared Beerlao is passed to you at 10 AM and the dancing village elders chant for you to chug it, chug.

When you end up packed in the temple with all the villagers, drenched in humidity, and everyone around you bows in unison to the floor to pray, pray. Thank whomever it is you thank that you are here, in this temple that is open to the locals twice a year. That they have invited to join their ceremony, that the eldest in the village is blessing you and the monks are praying for you.

And when, an hour later, the bowing, chanting and praying stops and the music starts, get ready to dance. Don’t hesitate when the woman next to you holds out her hand and motions for you to rise, to dance right here, right now, in this temple, alone and in front of an entire village.

Just dance. Dance your hybrid white-girl-lao-traditional dance.

They’ll laugh at you, with you, with each other. They’ll point and make jokes about your height, your skin color, your moves. They’ll say you’re beautiful.

And they will love you. They’ll embrace you and share with you the most intimate parts of their cultures and their lives.

And when you leave hours later, woozy from heat and boiled chicken and Lao whiskey, you will love them, too.

mama, you been on my mind.

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

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Here, many things may be lacking: Enough schools. Access to clean water. Sound medical care. Good coffee.

But, there’s an abundance of many others: Ridiculously happy children. Compassionate people. Sticky rice.

And loving mothers. Mothers who, against all forces, care for, raise and appreciate their children.

Teenage mothers. Elderly mothers. Surrogate village mothers. Mothers who spend their hours nursing, singing, dancing and playing with their children. Mothers who come home from the fields to cook and care for their children, to hold them and sing them to sleep. Mothers who pick their kids up when they fall, brush off their naked bottoms, and send them on their way.

And it’s inspiring. I know I’ll never be a Lao mother; I come from a much more privileged place in life and my children will have far more innate opportunities. But I hope that someday I, too, can be like them.

These mothers that care not just with gifts and expensive music classes. Not just with private schools and trips to the museum; with expensive foods and organic clothes. Undereducated, underpaid and underserved mothers who care just with what they have: their maternalness.

Their natural motherness to love their children, to nurture them and watch them grow. To appreciate their challenges, their triumphs and their growths.

To brush off their bottoms, to hold them close, to sing in their ears at night.

And see the lights surrounding you.

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

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I’m magical.

No really, I am. Just ask the kids of Phayong village.

Last week, AB, who was here with PoP, made the challenging, epic, and down right ballsy trek up the mountain to Phayong with me.

Our mission: Pure, youthful joy.

Joy in the form of glowsticks. When the sun falls, the fires dwindle and the clouds roll in, Phayong is cloaked in a thick, rich blackness. So with a group of our small and curious friends, AB and I broke out the magic.

And as each unassuming stick broke into a crack of neon, pure joy. Glowsticks made into bracelets. Glowsticks tumbling down the hills and flying through the air. Glowstick sword fights. Glowsticks tucked into shirts, coveted, snuck home to huts.

In the end it’s hard to say who had the most fun. The small worn out tots who chased flashes of neon through the village for hours, or us. Us who got to witness this discovery, this magical, youthful moment in their lives. It was, hands down, the most amazing childhood exploration I’ve ever seen.

Glowsticks. Now that’s one way to stay forever young.