My last day off before starting work will be spent at a local Lao ceremony for one of the PoP employees. Apparently this ceremony has a lot of meanings, but in this case it is to name their baby (in Lao) and wish him luck in the future. Andrea got us all a Tuk Tuk and we rode over to our colleague’s house. I met a bunch of people there, most of whom I have forgotten their names. I have tricks and things for remembering names, but it’s difficult when I’m meeting 30 people in one day at the same time as getting used to this culture and trying to learn the language. I’ll stop complaining and just find a way to get better, I know. After introductions I had some nice conversations. I don’t know why, but my favorite conversations are hearing about people’s passions. It’s fun to me to see someone excited about something I know nothing about and have them teach me a little bit.
Then, some men came in and put down a very thin woven grass (or some other material that looked like that) carpet on the ground for everyone to sit around. Some Lao women came in and formed part of the circle. A few of them really had some attitude and I just enjoyed watching them talk and their facial expressions, even though I had no idea what they were talking about. Sometimes I could even get the context and laugh at something just through a gesture or facial expression. Then a very elderly woman walked in and joined the other Lao women. She is probably the cutest old woman I’ve ever seen. She looks like she forgot what it’s like not to smile. I finally went over and joined everyone on the sitting area.
In Laos, the head is considered sacred and the feet are considered dirty. Hence you don’t ever touch anyone on the head, with any part of your body. You also don’t ever do anything, especially point with your feet. That makes an interesting situation when you sit down. Think about the different ways you would sit on the ground and which of them don’t have your feet pointing at someone in a wide array in front of you. Yup, all the ones that hurt really bad are those that don’t point your feet frontwards. The two ways I saw to sit were sitting on your butt and having your knees go out straight and your feet hook around and point behind you. That a nice elegant looking pose and something I can only hold for a few minutes. Then there is the Japanese style where you tuck the part of your leg below your knee underneath your thigh and sit on your feet. Amazingly that’s even worse than the first one. I sit down with the legs hooked one and have to change so many times that I look like I’m break dancing on the floor. I’m sure the Lao women were getting a real kick see the falang squirm. Falang, in Lao, means foreigner.
The ceremony starts and they bring a big statue with some offerings around it in the middle of the group. There’s some Lao prayers made and then everyone grabs some string and ties it around the wrists of the mom, dad, and baby. Half way through the ceremony my legs have had it and I’m trying to make room for people to get around me so I try the second pose that I think is the Japanese position. Immediately my legs send sirens to my brain telling me what an idiot I am. I quickly hop off my legs, do a spinning headstand, and then get back into the first position. The ceremony finishes and we all head over to the office to eat.
The meal is absolutely amazing. All of the food is homemade, so I’m getting probably the best introduction to Lao food I could get. I start off with sticky rice, which has some light oil on it and is so delicious that I could just eat that on it’s own. Then I grab some meat and vegetable mix. There’s a salad with a watery, but blissful, dressing. It was perfect that it was watery because the rice soaked some of it up and just added to all the flavors. There was a big piece of fish with some garnishing on top. I’m normally a fish lover, but this fish didn’t really do it for me. Oh and there were also these dried seaweed pieces that had some really good seasoning and sesame stuck to each piece. I ate until my eyes were going to bug out and still wanted to grab more. There were two types of new fruits I tried. One was a green and red spiky ball. I broke it open with my fingers and was left with a translucent inside the size and shape of a big green olive. It looked like the inside of a grape after the skin has been taken off. It was very sweet and will definitely catch my attention next time I see them on the street. The next fruit was a small green ball still attached to a stick from a tree. They were similar in look and taste to the first, but maybe a little more tart. Both were delicious.
The tables were moved around and I ended up separated a bit from people, but I was enjoying the perspective and chance to chow down on my fruit. I also had some Lao beer that is a very light beer served with ice. I think the point is to drink it fast before it becomes watered down. Some of my Lao colleagues came over and sat next to me. They poured me some more beer and we talked for a bit. I could barely hear them though because people were starting up the karaoke with a keyboard and electric guitar. Then the wife and husband of the baby got up and danced in a big circle. One of the women next to me told me to go up and dance with the other one. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity, so I joined in the circle. The dancing was a slow bobbing while swaying the hands back and forth. I would start with one hand like I’m signaling someone to stop and the other hand would be the same, but pointing in the opposite direction. Then they would move in a circle and switch which way they were facing. I walked along the woman on the inside of the circle, like all the other men. At some point, I couldn’t figure out what the trigger was, the women and men would all dance in a circle around each other. Then, we started back in the big circle with the same move as before. It was a really great time, great food, and even better people. I’m really excited to get the chance to work with such amazing people in such a special place.
Someone asked me what surprised me the most about my first little bit in Laos. I hadn’t really thought about that before the questions and answered that I was surprised at the genuine and loving nature that everyone seemed to give forth. Even the people trying to sell me something were very kind and didn’t push me past anything reasonable. Now that I’ve thought of it a little more I would change my answer slightly. I would say what surprised me the most has been the innocence of the Lao people. I don’t mean innocence in a negative way. I mean that when I look at someone and smile or communicate with them, I really feel like they are just enjoying the moment and the chance to communicate with another human being. There’s no sense of ulterior motive behind any of their actions. It’s really nice to be around such genuine people in an age when a genuine interaction seems so far and few between. After the meal I head back to my room to learn lao, read a bit, and catch up on the blog posts.