Friday, May 15, 2015

How are your eyebrows?

So apparently I have been walking around saying things like, "You are filled with water," "how are your eyebrows?", and "I am pubic hair."  This is the major bone I have to pick with tonal languages: the tones.  I think if you weren't raised with a nuanced understanding that comes with mother-tongue fluency in a tonal language, then you are just screwed for any future tonal misadventures.  I had the same problem in Uganda learning Lugbara, when I would frequently tell people that I was a cabbage.  Victory doesn't appear imminent for my Lao language learning.  The only downside of making Lao friends has been that once we feel comfortable with each other, they feel more free to openly laugh at my language and explain (through their tears) all of the horrible things I have been saying to Lao grandmas every day.

On making Lao friends: this has been a great new phase of my life here.  I honestly think it sometimes takes an entire year before you feel comfortable enough to make genuine connections with people. The last few weekends, I have taken off my bonnet and gone out to do things with Lao friends.  It seems like most young Lao's idea of fun on the weekends is going to a restaurant and drinking beer lao for hours.  I'm pretty into it.  Also with Thai rock music blaring or Karaoke blaring quite subtly in the foreground.

The uniquely loud music and other things have got me thinking a lot about Uganda recently.  I feel so far away from my life there.  I miss my Ugandan friends so much, but I don't really miss Uganda itself.  I almost can't picture myself returning, which is a big problem since I need to visit sometime soon.  Uganda was a hard place to live.  I was more than ready to leave by the time that I did.  Lao on the other hand, although I haven't been here nearly as long, is a place I can see myself returning to.

I've learned a lot about anxiety this year.  I've learned that most of my anxiety stems from the obsession to 'be good.'  That can mean a lot of things, but all of the things it means come from the same place; a desire to please others and an acute sensitivity to what others think or feel.  This anxiety often obscures my own desires/feelings.  My 'being good' obsession makes me feel really guilty for making the luxurious choice of living somewhere really far away like Lao.  In moments of anxiety, I warp it into something 'selfish.'  A great thing about learning more about mental health, is that the more you know about it, the easier it gets to deal with.  This year in Lao, I haven't experienced much anxiety at all to speak of, and this has allowed me to coolly examine it from a safe distance and thus understand it more.  Lao agrees with me.  I don't think place makes your experience entirely, but it does help.  My recognition of increased anxiety in places like America and Uganda is definitely relevant.  Anxiety is an unreasonable beast by nature, and so it's really relieving to be able to separate it from reality and realize that my entire family supports my decisions to live where I do because they can see that I am happy and doing well.  So, it is without anxiety that I've been able to make my recent decision to extend my stay in Lao for another year.  I'm not ready to leave.

On Friday, I signed a contract to teach 5th grade at an international school in Luang Prabang, a peaceful and beautiful UNESCO world heritage town nestled in the mountains of Northern Lao.  Luang Prabang is like Shangri-la.  It also just so happens to lack the weird expat dynamic that Vientiane has.  Think, more monks; less awkward white people.  Also, mountains, waterfalls, jungles, temples, quiet streets, cooler climate...

My love for Lao was firmly solidified by my recent trips away from Vientiane, thanks to my lovely brigade of visitors throughout April and May.  When Frank came, we went to Vang Vieng to stay on an organic goat farm where we had many titillating encounters with pliant goats.

Then, the week after, I met my parents first in Cambodia, after which we flew back to Lao to experience Lao New Year both in Vientiane and in Luang Prabang.

Angkor Wat was amazing:

 I loved Angkor Wat but my favorite part of my parents' visit was our time in Lao, witnessing the annual insanity of Pi Mai Lao.

During Lao New Year, the entire country descends into chaos, and for 3 full days there is a country-wide water fight.  No one is exempt.  It doesn't matter how old you are, where you are from, or how fancy your clothes are.  You will get doused by every pick-up truck that flies by with buckets of water.  You will get shot in the face by a granny with a hose.  We were soaking wet for three entire days, which was incredible because it's the hottest month in Lao.  It was during this last trip to Luang Prabang with my parents that I started to think seriously about staying.  Both the lovely environs and the amazing number of interactions we had with Lao people seriously influenced me.  I love living in Vientiane but it is dirty and smelly and hot and you can go for days without speaking to a Lao.  In Northern Lao, I can more interact with Lao people, and also live in Shangri-la.

After Luang Prabang, we went to the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury.

After my parents left, I received three more consecutive visits.

Beth (Mini): On her honeymoon!  I hadn't seen her for 10 years.

Erik: A buddy from the Peace Corps who is teaching in Thailand.

And Melissa: An ultimate frisbee/Madison buddy on her sabbatical.
Tis always refreshing to see a place through a visitors' eyes and fall in love all over again.

Thanks for visiting, everyone!  If you haven't come yet, you can next year!