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.