Archive for May, 2010

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.