and your eyes like smoke.

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

clothes sizedHere, too, there’s days like this:

You wake up at 3:30 with the sound of roosters and (is it possible?) some sort of construction; the possibility of more sleep has been quickly crowed away. You think for a moment that it wouldn’t be so bad to dig out your eardrums.

When the sun finally comes up, it’s light and warmth are hidden by a thick and oppressive shield of smoke. It turns out, the entire country does their field burning at once, so you spend the morning delirious in the haze of some farmers rice.

Then you’ve got to do laundry, which of course, being you, you’ve put off for far too long. So it takes hours. Not hours of unattended washing machine sort of laundry. Hours of labor intensive, stain scrubbing, hands pruning laundry. Then hang it to dry, rotate it every thirty minutes and quickly smack out the dust stains before anyone figures out you dropped most of it on the ground at one point or another.

(Pause here to spend a good hour running to and from the bathroom because you thought yourself tough enough to eat handpicked fruit you washed in the Mekong.)

You sit for a moment and see the dirty french press and mugs staring you down. So, back outside it is, to the kitchen (read: hose). Again, being you, you find several days of dirty dishes piled by the kitchen (hose) so have to hunker down on your haunches, and start washing, sans soap or sponge. You’ve long ago accepted that nothing, nothing in this country is actually clean.

You convince yourself that some nice cheap market food will be perfect for dinner. But tonight, well, it sucks. The vegetables are cold and wilty and the chicken on a stick has far too many mystery parts to it. The beer Lao is warm and the crepe man on the corner has taken the night off.

But this is it, and this is how you want it to be.

Life is life, and you are you, wherever you go. As it should be. My grandmother, who moved around countless times in her life, always told me that if you enjoy your life and have friends in one place, both will be true in the next place, as it’s something that you carry with you.

Well said, grandma. And might I add the same is true for laundry and sensitive digestive systems; they will follow you everywhere.

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.