What’s that on our faces, you ask? Oh, it’s just baby powder. “That’s not normal, Noah” you might say. But oh how wrong you are. You see, it’s Lao New Year which means random attacks of baby powder and buckets of water are completely normal. Anytime. I’m not joking. You could be walking down your office hallway in a three piece suit with a very important looking briefcase and you still aren’t safe from baby powder and water.
Did you also know it’s the year 2557? So depending on which calendar you go by I’m either a half day ahead of everyone in America or a couple a hundred years ahead. Your choice. I’m still in the future. Be jealous.
What are my plans for this week? Well, this week will involve multiple New Year parties which means being continuously wet and having an extremely soft face for about 3 days. It also means lots and lots of Maroon 5 songs (don’t ask because I don’t know). I will be getting away from all the craziness here in Pakse for the much more subdued (in comparison) atmosphere of the countryside. I love Lao people dearly but I can only handle so many Lao New Parties before I start turning into something not pretty. Specifically, I’ll be going out to my Lao family’s village. I haven’t visited them in a few weeks and I’ve recently gotten a few calls from “Mom” asking why I hadn’t come in a while. Depending on how I feel I may also go out and visit one of my year 1 students who was actually brave enough to invite me to his village. Remember, most of them are too terrified of me to even talk to me much less spend the night at their house. I’m proud of him.
I hope you guys have a wonderful Lao New Years! If you don’t celebrate it…well…go outside and throw water on some unsuspecting people and tell them you’re trying out a new holiday. It’ll be fun. Trust me.
If you’ve spent anytime reading this blog you know that I often write about my experiences with meeting new students. I love meeting new people in general but here in Laos it’s a completely different experience because in America people typically aren’t terrified of me (as are most Lao people) when they meet me for the first time. I’m pretty sure you can find pictures of my new students under the “terrified” section of the dictionary. It’s evil I love it so much but I can’t help it.
Even though I regularly meet new students around school this is the first term I’ve actually taught the year 1 students. Which means there’s no escape for them. Out of all the students who are most terrified of foreigners it’s the year 1’s. Why is that? Well, most of them have never seen a foreigner much less had them as a teacher. It can be quite overwhelming to go from one’s isolated mountain village to the “big city” of Pakse to having a 6’1” foreigner show up in your English class and start spouting English and calling on you to answer questions you had no idea where questions in the first place. Life is hard, sometimes.
Even though they are terrified of me I love them to death. I mean, I love all my students to death but getting to interact with year 1 students is unique. Watching them figure out that I actually won’t eat them alive and that I’m even chill enough to joke around with is a wonderful process to observe. I often try to invite them over to my house to hang out and practice English (my house is about 30 yards from the dorms where most of them live) but those first few times are the hardest. It’s like pulling teeth. Not only are they scared of me but they are students and I’m a teacher. In Laos students don’t go to a teacher’s house unless they are doing work for the teacher. Any other reason would be intrusive and completely unacceptable. So I’m fighting a lot of things to get them over.
But I have a secret weapon. Pancakes.
I don’t care where you are going to college, pretty much any 20-something year old guy won’t say no to free food. Especially if it’s sweet (and add to that it’s a “foreign” food and it’s doubly tempting). Trust me, I was a college guy not too long ago. I know this stuff.
And so I use this knowledge to my advantage. It works every time. I’m not joking. I have been trying so hard to get some of my year 1 guys over to the house but nothing was working. I had gotten them over one time before only because they were hopelessly lost in their homework but that was it. And so I pulled out the pancakes. I explained to a group hanging out by the dorms that if they wanted to try out a foreign dessert they should come to my house. What do ya know? That night, two guys showed up at my door with sheepish grins. And so we made pancakes. I taught them how to make them and I think they enjoyed that part more than eating them although they pretty much devoured all the pancakes we made in about 2 minutes (Which is rare because they are usually too polite to eat everything and eat it so quickly. Not with pancakes.)
Moral of the story: pancakes are awesome.
I swear they didn’t stop giggling the entire time.
I think they took about 15 pictures with their phones and kept telling me they couldn’t wait to show it to their friends and family back in their villages. Because, you know, making pancakes with a foreigner is worth bragging about.
Oh, and also, after that night these two guys plus another were willing to hang out with me and some of my other friends when we went down to swim in the river. I’m serious. Before pancakes they would barely even look at me in the eyes and now they are racing me in the river. Chalk up another victory for the pancakes.
And thanks to everyone back home who sent those pancakes to me. They. are. golden.
Maybe “domination” is a little too strong. Actually, it definitely is but can you blame a guy for feeling a little proud ofwhat happened today? The answer is no. You can not. What happened you ask? Well, let me just tell you.
Most of you know I’ve been learning to play one of Southeast Asia’s “unique” sports, kataw. If you have no idea what I’m talking about go read this blog POST first and then come back. I want you to be impressed. I’m going on about 4 months of playing now and even though I still can’t hold a candle to the ones who can do flips and craziness I’ve actually progressed enough to hold my own against average players. I’m to the point where I’m going to win a one-on-one match about 35% of the time with the average Lao player. Before you scoff at “35%” just remember you can’t use your hands at all and that these guys have been playing their entire lives. I’m going on less than half a year.
So while that 35% win percentage is pretty impressive (you’re impressed, right? Please be impressed) it doesn’t compare to what happened today. Usually we play three to a team (the max) and if your teams wins you stay on the court while a different teams comes on. As long as you keep winning you keep playing. Simple. Most of the people who come to play at my house are all pretty equally matched so it’s rare to put a team together that kills it game after game. In 4 months I’ve seen one team completely dominate the entire afternoon of playing (usually around 2 hours) and never come off the court. Today was the second time. And I was on that team.
Oh yes. For about 2 hours my team completely dominated. I didn’t keep count but it had to be more than 10 consecutive sets. Maybe even around 15. All I know is that I was actually getting winded from playing so much, which rarely happens because my team rarely plays more than 2-3 games in a row.
Now, without a doubt, the other two guys playing with me were super good. Definitely in the top 5 of the regular players who come to my house. But usually I play bad enough to pull down even the best players. Not today. Not only did I hold up my end of the court but I also ACTUALLY helped our team win. Using my feet to set the ball or return it is still extremely difficult but I’ve gotten much better at using my head. I can pretty much place it where I want and can put a lot of power behind it if I’m in the right position. I’ve even had some hits that had the good players ooh-ing. It’s not all skill, mind you. It really helps when you are about one foot taller than every player on the court. Other teams go up to set the ball and they usually set it really close to net. That makes it super easy for me to just jump up and get to it first before they can even touch it. It sounds kind of evil but a guy’s gotta use whatever advantage he’s got in this game. Don’t feel bad for them. Really, don’t. They are still so much better than me it’s not even funny but at least I was able to earn some respect (who am I joking, respect is the last thing I’m lacking in this country) on the court.
Come tomorrow I probably won’t be able to win a single game but I can sleep well tonight knowing I have the ability to actually play with these guys. No longer do I have to feel like the worst player 100% of the time. Now I’m only the worst player 95% of the time. It’s the baby steps guys. All in the baby steps.
This is where it all happened. The court of glory. Homemade, if you couldn’t tell. Be impressed.
It’s hot. Did I just repeat the title? Yes. Because it is. It’s the kind of hot where the second you step out from under a fan you start sweating kind of hot. The kind of hot where you stop using your water heater and just take bucket showers because it’s the only cool thing in your house.
I’m from Alabama, a.k.a. one of the places in America that melts your face off with heat and humidity, so really heat isn’t much of a problem for me. Seeing a thermometer go above 100’f with humidity around 85% is nothing. Heat indexes of 110’f are nothing to cry over. Just a normal day in the park type of weather. Laos is pretty comparable to that. The temperature regularly hovers over around the 100 mark and the heat index usually adds 5-10 degrees more. The biggest difference is the humidity (it’s dry season) which in theory should make the heat more bearable. So why am I writing about something I should be used to? Because there is one huge difference between the heat in Alabama and the heat in Laos.
Everyone in Alabama knows the beauty of air conditioning. We kids like to make fun of our Mom because she is dictator with the heat in the winter (I have to eat my bowl of cereal quickly before it freezes when I’m home in the winter) but in reality I think she’s just saving all that money so she can use it during the summer. Because you need a/c in Alabama. And that’s the problem. I don’t have it in Laos. Yes, I have a window unit in my bedroom that I turn on at night when I go to bed and I have actual walls on my house and windows that close (which is a whole lot more than about 85% of this country so I’m not complaining at all) but that’s all I have.
I always knew I was fortunate to have a/c In Alabama but I didn’t fully comprehend just how fortunate I was till I moved here. You see, in Alabama I was able to go from an entirely air conditioned house to my air conditioned car to an air conditioned grocery store. Total time spent outside in the heat? Less than 3 mins. Here, I go from my non air conditioned house to my motorbike, sporting a black helmet with lots of insulating cushions inside for “comfort”, and then go to school where I teach in open-air classrooms while dressed in khakis and button down shirts. All in all it takes me less than half an hour to be completely drenched in sweat.
Once again, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I knew what I was getting into before I got here. And yes, I used to work at summer camps where I would spend considerable amounts of time outside in the sun but even that didn’t fully prepare me for Laos. It’s almost April now which means it’s been 5 months since any real rain and the heat just keeps getting worse and worse. And I can’t. get. away. from. it. Is it enough to keep me from coming back? Not by a long shot. I still love this place but unfortunately no place is perfect and I’m smack dab in the middle of one of the few negatives about this place. So yeah. You guys said you wanted to hear more of my “deep feelings” about Laos. Today my deep feeling is “I’m hot.” I guess I’ll have to drive out to one of the 5 waterfalls about an hour away from house for a swim. Darn it.
Oh, and add this to one of the other reasons I dislike hot season. It really ruins all those beautiful mountain/sunset pictures. Ugh. (First picture is from October. The second one was from about two weeks ago. Same spot)
Hey, guess what? This blog is going to be going on for at least one more year because this guy will be teaching English in Laos for the year 2014-15. And you thought you had had just enough of all the ridiculousness that goes on in this blog. Not even close.
For real, though, I can’t even begin to adequately explain what the past two years have been like. I know I try to bring you guys into my world through this blog but I can never quite fully bring you into it. Partly because I’m not skilled enough as a writer but in my defense I don’t think Shakespeare himself could adequately explain to you in perfect detail what my life here in Laos is like. It’s crazy, awesome, confusion, heat, joy, beauty, frustration, community, and love all mixed into one and then some. Lot’s of “some”, actually.
I can tell you this. My life will never be the same. I’m ruined for the ordinary and I love it. I heard it multiple times before coming over here that living in another country would change you. Well, consider me changed. And two years isn’t the stopping point. This journey isn’t over. How long will it last? I have no idea but I know it won’t stop this year. This is where I’m supposed to be.
It’s hard being here just as much as it’s wonderful. It’s a weird paradox that doesn’t fit into words very well. Lao people tell me I’m a person with two hearts: one in America and one in Laos. No matter where I am I’m hurting but this feeling is far outweighed by the fact that I’m surrounded by love and joy wherever I go. A love that literally stretches half a world away.
That’s why I am staying another year.
This is what a dream job looks like. These guys right here.