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.

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.