Yesterday marked my official first week in Luang Prabang, Laos. I haven’t been writing during the week for good reason. I get home from work and three days a week I do laos lessons and then pretty much go to sleep after that. The other two days are for relaxation. I think from now on I will post on Friday to sum up my week and then again on Sunday to talk about what went on during the weekend.
My first week in the office at PoP was better than I could have imagined. I spent the first day getting to know the office, the people, and our operations. I’m technically the programs intern, so I help the program manager, Andrea, and the assistant program manager, Jua, with anything they need. An interesting part of my position is that I get to sit in on a lot of meetings and get to understand everything that we’re doing in order to put our donors money to work, which is quite a lot. I get to see people in action at the office and it’s quite inspiring to see the passion and hard work that goes into everything here.
It’s also Lao custom to take off shoes before entering a building. So, we come to work dressed nicely and then take off our shoes at the front and walk around the office barefoot. It might seem like a strange combination from the outside, but I think it’s a great balance and quite analogous of the office operations. From what I’ve gotten so far, the way we operate is to push everything to the limit to have as much out put as we can handle, while still accomplishing our goals and doing it well. That means that there is a very serious and task oriented part of the office that I picked up on immediately. PoP Laos divides and conquers their work very well. At the same time, there is also a lot of enjoyment and fun in the office. One of the meetings I’ve been to in particular consist of a lot of singing and acting like a young student. There is also a strong feeling of being a family. We’re more than just a team of coworkers. I feel more welcomed and supported at this office then any other work experience I’ve had. I truly feel that if I needed help with something either with work or not, people would be falling over each other to come and help. It even comes down just to the warm smiles that are given whenever I make eye contact with someone around the office.
A daily routine for me so far is to get up send personal emails and things, get ready for work and then leave my guest house. On my way to work I cross the street and get breakfast from the same woman. I’ll probably pick a new spot next week. She gives me a bowl of some soupy ricey stuff with some chicken and garnishes on top. Then she puts out a basket of some fried dough tasty things and a cup of tea. All of that is for 7,000 kip. A dollar is roughly 8,000 kip. Good deal, huh? Oh and I always have my umbrella with me because the weather has been mostly good with some spurts of rain. Then I take my 20-minute walk to work. In the office I greet people and then get started on my computer to check my calendar events for the day. We break for lunch and I went with Caroline to a place up the street a few times and it was pretty good. If you get the vegetable fried rice, they add fruit. That’s about 15,000 kip, or just a hair under $2. One day for lunch I was going to take care of something with one of my colleagues and I think I misunderstood because he was no where to be found. One of the women saw me still around and told me that I’m invited to eat lunch with them. I gladly accepted. I tried to help them prepare the food, but I could clearly see that I would just be making things more difficult for everyone. They made a few different kinds of spicy vegetable mixes and we had sticky rice to go with everything. I’m pretty sure I’ve had sticky rice back at home, but this doesn’t even compare. I’m totally obsessed with sticky rice now. It an amazing spoon and even really good just by itself. As we eat they teach me some Lao words. I’ve learned that a word that sounds a lot like comb means bitter. A word that sounds like pet or ma pet means spicy. They taught me a bunch more words that I forget. Then after lunch back to work until about 4:30 and then home. On Monday I walked, but everyday after that I’ve had people offer to give me a ride.
The first few day back at home I just tried to let things settle. I would relax and learn my Lao on a website I found before leave the States. On Wednesday I met with a Lao teacher who came to my guesthouse to teach me. He started with learning the sounds and a few basic phrases. Luckily I already started learning all of the vowels and some of the consonants. Vowels are called sala and pine nien sena. He did have me learning some different consonants, which were fun to practice. I felt more like I was in singing class than a language class. There was one word that sounds like ko, except one version was in a low pitch and one was in a high pitch. It really sounded like the singing when we got into doing them one after another at a faster pace. As far as phrases are concerned I’ve learned hello (sabaaidee), you (jao), me (kooi), thank you (kawb chai), and excuse me (Kaw thot). This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to learn a language that uses a different alphabet. It’s been a wonderful experience seeing the progress so far. Before when I looked at the signs around town, they would just look like pictures or scribbles that didn’t make sense. Now I’m able to pick out some of the symbols and put a sound to them. I can literally see the language come alive as I learn more. Even though I’ve only had a week of learning so far I’d say this is the most eye opening language experience I’ve had. I’m getting much better at hearing, producing, and understanding the different tones. I’ve had the experience of hearing what sounds like gibberish turn into ideas and words, but it’s fun to do this all over again. Again, my favorite part is seeing completely foreign symbols start to have meaning and make sense of the world around me. One night this past week I went out to get dinner with our office country director and deputy director. We had a great time playing pool and eating pizza at a nearby restaurant. I’m really excited to get to know them better.
Next story I’ll write about everything that happened this weekend and include some stuff from the week that I forgot.