A Lao Halloween

This past week was an interesting one (Now two weeks ago). The whole week I had an underlying feeling of redemption. The Friday before I taught English class to the most basic English speakers in the office. The tricky part was to incorporate professional development into the lesson. The lessons are actually supposed to be mainly focused on building skills that will make their work more efficient, all in the form of an English class. I had the lesson planned all week and the day of the lesson I was asked an interesting question that made me realize that those in my group wouldn’t even understand the English I was trying to use in my lesson. If they couldn’t understand basic sentences, how was I supposed to then incorporate professional development? I had the lesson and to say the least I had some improvement to make. It was mostly English an so much professional development. Talk about missing the mark. The lesson for this next week was to teach my colleagues to put information into categories and use that to organize information to make it clearer for themselves and others.

I had much more on my plate to get done, so that’s why I regard that class as an underlying thought. I wanted to be successful with this challenge, but I also need to make sure my primary work of supporting our programs is done first. Since I’ve been here for 2 months now and I’ve got a real hang of things at the office, I asked Andrea to give me some performance feedback. We pushed that to next week, where we will plan to have a bit of a more formal discussion. We had a bigger one planned at the half way mark, but I want some tips before I get to that point. After all, I can make a lot of improvement in the next month before that next feedback meeting.

On Tuesday, I was invited to attend a celebration dinner for finishing our main scholarship visits. We went to a buffet place. This is more of a 5 star hotel buffet then a soup plantation. I went and grabbed some of everything to try. I made sure to get a separate bowl of fruit. They have about 10 different kinds of fruit, half of which I’ve never seen before. I soon found out that all our Lao colleagues are collecting the food we need to make a feast. There are a few holes in the middle of the table where coals heat up a dome shaped grill like thing. They took a big piece of fat and put it up on the very top of the dome. Karin warned me not to eat that, like her friend had not much earlier. Apparently it’s just for flavor. Then they filled a moat around the bottom of the dome with water and vegetables. They laid meat out over the dome and we waited as it all cooked. Okay, I wasn’t waiting at all. I was feasting on the fruit already. I made sure to get some purple grapes cause I haven’t had those for awhile. Then, I got some mangos because there amazing, in season or not. I also got some small ball things of different sizes that I’ve had before, but these were was sweeter and juicier. They had mini apples that come from China I guess, which tasted like they weren’t real apples. They were too sweet and juicy to be naturally grown. Probably not far form the truth. Then there was some dark orange pieces of fruit that looked like carrots covered in gravy, at least in color. They were so sweet, I could almost not handle it. I can eat some of the sweetest stuff out there, but even though this was natural, it was almost too sweet. The meat on the dome was great quality because it was actual American cuts of non-fatty meat. I went back a few more times to get more fruit and then got some ice cream that ended up being the best I’ve had since being home. Overall a great celebration and stuffing of food.

Wednesday was mostly filled working with the Teacher Trainer Program leader on translating the teacher guide. The guide is intended to train teachers for those who won’t get contact with our trainers. It’s hard enough to write directions when just explaining how to sit up out of bed. Training teachers how to teach well, is pretty much the top of difficulty. That was mostly my job, even though I told them I was there to translate, which I was. After a few hours he really got what I was trying to say and told me that he wants to meet with his team and go over the whole document again. Later at night, I had my Lao lesson and we continued down his lesson plans. He works with a big teaching organization in town, so they all are taught to go down this standard language curriculum. I really enjoy the lessons because they are totally different from my own approach, so they keep me studying the language in diverse ways. Outside of the lessons I’m mostly focusing on memorizing key words with flash cards and then recognizing them when I listen to all the Lao conversations around me all day.

Thursday I’m doing various projects and still thinking about what to do for my class. It hit me that I can use basic sentences as long as they only have the vocabulary they use for their specific jobs in the office. It’s still not perfect and probably and obvious solution, but it’s worth a try. Friday comes very quickly and I prepare all I can for my lesson. I review some from the previous week and then move on to the new lesson. I go over a basic example of making a materials list and making a chart that identifies each material by color, amount, and name. Okay, that’s pretty basic. I have many examples that get increasingly difficult and end with planning weekly activities by priority into a easy to use format. We don’t even get past the first example. Some of those in class who speak more English help me explain some of the nuances to the rest of the class. They start to tell me that the word for category doesn’t translate from English to the Lao word I chose. That’s just a reflection of my teaching because I went to great lengths to make sure everything was translated to the most practical words. Finally after lots of dancing around and frantic examples of things I could find around the room, they agreed they were the same words. Finally by the end I think I made some progress, although nothing close to what I was expecting. Andrea warned me about this and told me not to worry and just keep solidifying these skills. I’m good at teaching when I’m with just a few others and they have similar skills and education levels and I am using just one topic. Not being a trained teacher, it’s very difficult to do the same with such a diverse group of people and combine two topics like English lessons and professional development. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge and will continue to improve until I get more of the pace and ability of what kinds of professional development topics they can learn in an hour.

Oh and this whole day on Friday was Haloween. Back track here a bit. For lunch Andrea planned to bring in Charley Brown’s Christmas and some of her baked goods. Phavath and I went and got some more candy from the store across the street. The video didn’t work, so we just ended up devouring all the candy and totally missing the meaning of Halloween. However, minus the dressing up, I think we captured exactly what it means to most Americans, with lots of sweats eaten at a ridiculous rate. The more appropriate Halloween celebration is yet to come though. After work Bay, the Finance Manager, invited all the other managers and interns in the office over to his house to have dinner. It was really nice to hand around and talk with all the managers. I don’t get to spend much time with them outside of work, except for some random Batan days after work. Batan here is basically just bachi ball. We were all standing around the table eating what they called Jobes Tears. After some debate we found out we’re eating hops. They’re a good crack and eat food, like sun flower seeds. Andrea made a great point though that if the people here like to drink beer so much, then why are we also eating hops? I think maybe it’s just the excess crop. I could easily imagine the crops out growing the production rate of their breweries. Then Bay came over and started bringing out dishes of food. He brought out a plate with a lot of garnashes on top with spoons for every one. Around the side of the food in the middle is a pool of red colored liquid. I knew we were eating Goose this evening, but I slightly forgot how much of the goose we actually eat. Apparently this is the blood. I’ve had duck blood that was in the form of tofu in soup. That was good because it absorbed the soup. It had slightly strange texture, but was good. I’ve never just had blood straight in liquid form like this. As I went for a spoon full I’m quite scared and creeped out, but I go for it anyway. I have to use my spoon to cut away some because I think it’s already beginning to coagulate. I try to put it down quickly so I don’t barf or anything and to my complete surprise it is delicious. It doesn’t taste like the metallic blood most of you have probably had in your mouth if you bite yourself too hard or if you’ve ever flossed to hard or been prodded by the dentist. This was much more like a soup broth. Everything else added into it gave it great flavor and I found out the harder stuff in the middle is just meat, not coagulated blood. At least not yet. The blood still coagulates, but it’s take some more time and it’s hard to tell under the garnishes which is coagulated blood and the meat. I’d say that’s a pretty good Halloween celebration.

The rest of the night at Bay’s was wonderful filled with more food than I could eat, some beer, and good conversation. The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing and studying as much Lao as my brain would allow.

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