Archive for December, 2009

through the skin.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Vuan and I have a weird relationship. She mocks me a lot.

But then she tells me I’m beautiful and gives me a hug, ‘ohhh, gnam lai, dhak vhay.’

Vuan, who is our friend Kamon’s girlfriend, is petite and stylish. She classes up her traditional school skirts with a little bling on her flip flops and flowers in her hair. She’s touchier than most Lao people; doesn’t hesitate to put her arms on me and ramble off some Lao things and giggle with an almost adolescent squeal. (She’s 22.) She tugs at my clothes in either admiration or disgust.

She knows I speak hardly any Lao, but talks to me constantly.

We made dinner together tonight, sat chopping vegetables for a good hour. I think we talked about Kamon. Or maybe this other girl, On. And I’m pretty sure we were laughing together. Or maybe at me.

We taught eachother our mother tongue for every vegetable, then severely mocked one another when we botched the pronunciation.

When Noy left halfway through the process and handed me a large slab of raw pork, Vuan nearly fell in the fire when she saw my expression. She was, however, very patient with me while learning how to cut through pork skin, (it’s quite tough). And in explaining that no, you do not cut off the fat, skin, hair, etc., it all goes in the pot.

She saw my look of panic when I was done muscling my way through the meat and there was nowhere to wash my hands. She stared me down until I did as she did–rinse in a bucket of water then eat a slice of deep fried eggplant.

So soon we will sit down together (our pig is barbequeing right now), drink some beer lao and eat our meal, Vuan in her pleather studded black pants and shimmering pink shirt, me in my laundry day clothes.

And we will laugh at each other, or maybe together; it won’t matter either way.

when the rooster crows at the break of dawn.

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Growing up in my house there was a lot of Grateful Dead. A lot of John, Janis, Joni. I deeply understood from this early age that I missed something; that a movement had happened that I was meant to be a part of it.

Every piece of Dylan resonated in my blood and I was sure I’d overshot my generation.

In my adult life, I’ve spent a lot of time coming to terms with this, in a way that was, at first, angsty and apathetic. I had friends who felt the same way, so we recreated in our smallest ways possible and talked. Talked and read and listened to music. And did nothing.

Until now.

People asked all the time why we were coming here. I cycled through several answers about writing, about this being our chance, about all things Lao, but all felt like half-truths.

I now know my answer in the purest form possible—the revolution.

I came here because I knew, in that bone shaking part me, that the revolution is out here. And I knew that with Bryce, I could finally correct what had felt like a huge generational oversight.

It’s an overwhelming testament of collective consciousness that this movement brings me here, to this part of the world that so deeply shaped the revolution I longed for.

So, here I am, with my amazing partner, in this country of profound beauty and grace, able to think clearly and let the momentum take me.

Here: truly happy and sure that I’ve found my revolution.

Imagine what will happen, the forces we will fight, when we educated the children and empower the women worldwide.

This is the revolution of my generation and I couldn’t feel more at home in it; like the home of my childhood, filled with Dylan, it feels right.

on the pavement.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Major development: I can ride a motorbike. A manual motorbike at that.

In the backpacker culture, I was awkwardly behind the game; I was starting to feel a little middle school in my lack of experience.

Today, just outside the city, Noy pulled over and told me to scoot up. (My only previous experience was two days ago doing two laps around a dirt track before I killed it and couldn’t restart.) Bryce blew past us on the back of Nu Si’s bike, with a look that I tried to interpret as confidence but was, most realistically, ‘what the…’.

Noy called each gear in my ear as we drove down the road, through the hillside and greenery on our way to Ban Kia Luang. We butted right up against a cattle truck: “Dhak Vhai, slow and slower. Three, two, nothing.” Nothing, it turns out, translates as neutral.


By the time we arrived at Ban Kia Luang to scout out some playground equipment, for B to replicate and improve on, Noy and I had only had one or two full-body muscle clenching moments. She informed me she would be driving home. “You are very fast learner. But enough for one day.” She wanted to let me rest, I’m sure.

On the way back, oddly running on schedule, B and Nu Si’s bike got a flat. Lao time. The number one Lao lesson: never expect anything to happen in a timely way.

Stuck on the side of the road in a small village, it didn’t take long before a pack of local kids were following B and I, the two falang. I had some pencils in my bag so sat down in the dirt with them and started handing them out.

Unsharpened and without paper. Perfect for drumsticks and swords. Kids came balling down the street to play with us; to have a good look at the two random falang.

We spent a while there, Lao time, waiting for the tire to get fixed. The first mechanic said he couldn’t help because he hurt his arm. The second directed Noy through each step and she did it alone.
On the way home I sat behind Noy. We shared my headphones, danced the whole way back. Johnnys in the basement mixing up the medicine, I’m on the pavement thinking about the government.

education vs safety

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Check out a blog post, by yours truly, on the PoP blog about the Champet girls’ dormitory.

visit the PoP blog here.

brush them teeth.

Friday, December 11th, 2009

While out looking at different school sites yesterday, we met these girls who had just been given new toothbrushes.

Click here to see the video…

salty, warm, thick.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

She ladles a vibrant red liquid into my cup—red like the center of a ripe hood strawberry. Red like fresh blood.

“Blood of duck,” she says, the fat one. (Her name is kuat, ‘slim.’) Before I look inside, I clutch my cup with one hand and chug it back. Blood of duck: salty, warm, thick.

Inside the singing is a low and constant murmur of hums and claps. A small cup of beer is filled over large chunks of ice. Fill it, refill it, pass it around.

We are at Noy’s sister’s house. Noy is a friend and now a co-worker. Together we will direct, organize, coordinate Pencils of Promise here on the ground in Lao. She’s taken Adam and I to this house to pick something up. But, in the Lao way, time and plans have changed drastically. She tells us we have ‘free time’ now, and takes off on her motorbike.

Adam is next to me in the circle on the floor. Here in Lao, he goes by his initials, AB. It is easy for Lao people to say. They fumble their way through Leslie. I say, to the one who knows a little English, that I need a Lao name. “Daak Vhay,” she says. “White flower of cotton. You are very pretty—very white.” She touches her skin and looks at mine.

Daak Vhay. It seems perfect. I pass along my beer, khawb jai lai lai, dhak vhay. ‘thank you every much, white cotton flower.’

It’s a culture of peer pressure here, in the best way possible. Drink more, faster, harder. They laugh when you wince and hesitate. AB and Daak Vhay. The falang will be drinking for a while.

I text B to get a ride here on Noy’s motorbike; that he will have to take the next beer lao shift. AB and Daak Vhay will have to make a quick escape before the beer, meat balls, bbq and duck blood soup settle into something scary.

Here, in Lao, we are happy. We have found a place to live (with Noy). We have cell phones, a nice café with solid wifi, my new job. We have strong stomachs (even mine), good pho, new friends. And eachother.