Laos Part 2: Different lives
It was an early morning, but everyone seemed raring to go but I was not quite sure what to expect. After all, besides some information on the couple of families we would be meeting, all I knew was that we were visiting a World Vision seed area – which basically means that they have identified the area and are working on preliminary plans but have not actually started work in the area.
The ride was long, and the four vehicles headed down south. Midway through, however, we stopped by to meet the Governor of the district, as is customary. Iâ€™m sure lots of things got lost in translation (although Soukanya did a brilliant job trying to help us understand!) but it was generally ceremonial.
What was most significant, however, was that I was (politely) told off for wearing my cap in the Governorâ€™s building – a sign of disrespect. None was intended.
The journey from there towards the first village was bumpy, to say the least. It would be a sign of road conditions to come, although at that particular point – almost three hours of dirt road – I didnâ€™t imagine it could get any worse.
Thank goodness we didn’t get stuck … on the first day, that is.
Still, we were fortunate to have four-wheel drives. The Governor had earlier mentioned that some villages were totally blocked out during the rainy season. It is actually rainy season in Laos at the moment although the skies were merciful to us. It stopped being so understanding when everyone left – I had extended my trip by a few days and it rained quite a bit.
I wonâ€™t write too much about the conditions of the villages, or the people Iâ€™ve met. I have, after all, got to keep some material for my article to be published in Youth2 (next Wednesday in StarTwo). I am hoping that this series of posts about Laos will culminate on that day.
We met a lot of villagers that day but were directly introduced to two families. One was Mr Teeâ€™s – he has nine children, one of whom was born just a day before we arrived, and another given away because he could not afford to maintain so many children. The other was that of Mrs Chokâ€™s, who lives in the village with her two daughters, one of whom, like her, has an eye condition that would probably not heal as they cannot afford medical care.
(Left) Pam and Joy, two children of Mr Tee’s. (Right) Torp, who can only see using one eye.
At the village, too, we were introduced to the Basi ceremony for the first time. It was quite spectacular, if you ask me, although the villagers (through Soukanya), kept mentioning that this was only a simple ceremony but all they can offer us as a welcome and gratitude.
I missed most of the ceremony as I was filming at Mr Teeâ€™s house (yes, also available on The Star Online from Wednesday) but when the few of us showed up, we were greeted by the village elders who, while mumbling under their breath what I can only imagine are well wishes, tied bunches of white strings around our wrist. I looked around and noticed that Michael and Susan, who were â€œleadingâ€ our delegation had the most number of strings.
Michael (right), Susan (second from right)Â together with the rest of the village elders,
during the Basi ceremony.
Over the course of the next few days, we would participate in four Basi ceremonies and I finally got to experience what it was like. It starts off with a speech by the village leader. Then everyone was invited to touch the bottom of this large plate consisting of some food, fruits and flower-arrangement looking thing (to which many bunches of white strings were hanging off) while the elders chanted.
Those of us who couldnâ€™t make it to the front just needed to touch the elbow of someone in front of us (or just any part of the body alternatively) as the well wishes would flow through our bodies. It was the most interesting concept.
It was evening by the time we left, after spending about an hour playing with the kids in the school. Most of us took a backseat as Michael, handed out gifts (he had brought the kids school bags, stationeries and a brand new blackboard!) and played a game of Monkey using new footballs and volleyballs he had donated as well.
Playing with the new toys Michael donated.
We were mostly silent when we left, at least the car I was in with Joanne and Lee Bee, partially because we were tired and also because we were contemplative about what we had just seen. Or maybe it was just me.
But it was too early to react. This was only our second day.
10.10am Laos Time (+7 GMT)