First Quarter Growth

 

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It’s been three months since I landed in Vientiane. Twelve weeks of attempting to grow where I’m planted.  Finding a way to thrive in a place such as this isn’t exactly easy. One minute I think I’ve got a hold on things and the next I’m on the floor. The trick is getting back up and trying again. 

I’ve learned a few things for sure in my short time here…

Ants are diehard little bugs. I know I’ll never win, but our battle wages on.

Vientiane and I aren’t strangers anymore. I know my way around. When it’s time to pay for something, I don’t have to stare at each denomination of kip trying to decipher which is which.

I’m immune to the calls of “tuk tuk” on every street corner.

Laotians will be friendly even without knowing a word of English. When I bought apples today, the produce lady smiled as she always does but this time put her fingers to each of her cheeks. She insisted I smile too. I did.

Killing a mosquito after it drank my blood all night feels amazing.

Ordering a coffee or tea is never as simple as I think it will be. Cream and sugar will be in everything unless I can communicate otherwise. Ordering wine is easier. I order wine a lot.

Crossing the street is exactly like a video game I played as a child. Dodging cars, motorbikes, trucks and tuk tuks requires some serious eye/foot coordination. Most street crossings are either a mad dash straight across or a run and halt, run and halt situation.

The extremely high temperatures are teaching me to find more ways to fill my time indoors. No longer do I trek miles a day as I zig zag through town. I wait for Rob’s day off when we can take Scout (our scooter) on the longer errands. Even on short walks I find new places on my body that have the ability to sweat copiously.

Surviving Pi Mai (Lao New Year) is an accomplishment worthy of a t-shirt.

Every day is a fresh start. I remind myself after the more difficult days (there are many) that today could be better (it often is).

A store employee will probably follow me around as I shop.  I’m prepared now to have a human shadow as I peruse the goods. It will never stop being annoying.

Strangers are almost always willing to help.

The power can and will go out randomly and without reason. Always be prepared.

Being an expat in Laos has had me dealing with emotions and situations I never dreamed I’d be facing. Making it through each week feels like an accomplishment. Well, it IS an accomplishment.

Three months in Laos has taught me so much about myself. I can only imagine what the future holds.

 

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Counting Wild Geese

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“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver : Wild Geese

 

I memorized this, my favorite poem, over a year ago. It has become my ritual at night when I close my eyes to repeat it in my mind over and over until I can sleep. Some nights I make it only half-way through before dreams arrive. Some nights I lose count.

What’s your favorite poem? I’m looking for a little inspiration this week. Please share.

(picture by my pilot husband. somewhere over Laos)

Pi Mai Prison

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The Loas Pi Mai/Songkran New Year’s Celebration was last week…

Day One:

Oh look at those adorable little kids tossing water. That may be the cutest little girl I’ve ever seen! The backpackers sure are enjoying themselves. I had no idea so many water guns existed. I hear some loud music but at least it’s low key and sounds like local singers enjoying their celebration. It might be fun to go join in, but not on my own and unarmed. I don’t mind a day indoors.

Day Two:

Wow this is early for techno music. I haven’t even had my coffee yet. Maybe it’s just a vehicle sound system that will move along soon. Good grief that traffic looks like it’s barely moving! I never imagined I’d see kiddie pools set up in truck beds. Are those people just spraying with hoses? Sigh, that bass feels louder but I think I’m hearing two different sound systems.  Holy crap I may go insane. I’d go out but everything is closed and I don’t feel like getting soaked now. The only way I can block the thumping beat is to play my own music louder in my headphones. I may never sleep.

Day Three:

Okay this will be the last day and it can’t be nearly as bad as yesterday. The backpackers still aren’t tired of the mayhem. Looks like I wouldn’t make it three steps outside before being half drowned. There’s the music again.  But seriously aren’t they a little tired of this yet? I mean, how much fun can it be after a couple hours of non stop water wars? Time to buy some new music to distract myself.  I’m pretty sure these Bose earbuds my little sister gave me are the best gift I’ve ever received.  There’s no way I’m going outside. Where’s a good power outage when you need it? Every sound system in  Vientiane is turned up to eleven.

Day Four:

You’ve got to be kidding me. Three days wasn’t enough? Don’t they realize there’s a water shortage in the world? Haven’t they turned all pruney yet from being wet all day long? Oh look… there goes my last shred of sanity.

(The two purchased albums that helped me wade through the mind numbing beats from outside were M83: Junk and Christine and the Queen.) 

 

Scout

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Meet Scout. Scout has a young soul and an old(ish) body. She enjoys long rides out of town where she loves to just relax (aka breakdown) and chill. She also likes long strolls down the sidewalk (aka getting a flat tire) in the heat of the burning Laotian sunshine. Scout sure is a little trickster but we love her anyway.

We found Scout about two weeks ago. She’s a 1984 Honda Super Cub something something something (aka more letters and numbers). The first full day of ownership we really did breakdown on the outskirts of the city. After she spent a weekend at the mechanic, we had about two days before the flat tire.

My mom commented that “Everyone needs a friend to keep us on our toes” and I believe she’s right. When Scout stops working, we have to negotiate the circumstances without losing our patience. Rob and I have to work as a team to find help, stay safe and learn even more about Vientiane.

I surprised myself the first time she broke down. We were far from home. Nobody spoke a word of english. It seemed like we could really be stuck, but at no point did either of us give up or even get annoyed. A previous version of me would have been freaking out, but this strange new Expat Rachael 3.6 kept calm, helped or stayed quiet as needed. Rob found assistance in a new friend who drove to where we were and led us to a great mechanic who specializes in the classic bikes.

The afternoon of the flat tire was extremely hot. I had an overflowing backpack full of groceries. Rob was pushing Scout as I tried to keep up. Sweat dripped from places I didn’t even know could sweat. It was Sunday which means most shops are closed, but he didn’t give up and I didn’t either even though I felt like I was going to keel over. A stranger walking by spoke enough English to help us when Rob asked for a local mechanic. This stranger walked into a minimart to ask as we waited. He even hurried around the corner to check that the shop was, in fact, open and able to help us.

Once again saved by the kindness of a stranger.

I found water while Rob watched the mechanics work their magic. Soon Scout was ready to go and we were on our way home. I’m beginning to suspect that this motorbike really does have ulterior motives.

She knows when it’s time to spill us out of our comfort zone right into the lap of a learning experience.

Scout is named after a character in one of my all time favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a name for a tenacious, brave but sensitive soul and fits our new wheels perfectly.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Feels Like Regular Life

It took leaving to really come home. Returning from our week away in Thailand triggered a shift in my view of Vientiane. It no longer feels as though I’m visiting. The comfort of knowing where things are and how it all works makes this feel like home.

The woman at one of the grocery markets I frequent knows me well enough by now to forgive me for being 1,000 Kip short. “Baw pen nyang” (it’s nothing) she replied when I realized I didn’t have enough.  She knows I’ll be back for the rest of the hummus…

Lately I feel a little more a part of this life and less an observer. I’m greeted by strangers as I walk by more often. Their “Sabaidee’s” always make me smile. The other day an elderly local man approached me as I sat alone in the shade. “Are you waiting?” he asked. I said no, only resting. “Do you have friends?” was his follow up and next “Are you married?”. In the course of this short but sweet exchange I told him I’m married, my husband is a pilot and was at work. He wanted to know why I wasn’t with him. I’ve learned that in the Laos culture, being alone is not relished one bit. They prefer the company of friends and family and view being alone as the worst thing for anyone to be. I reassured this worried gentleman that my husband would return soon. He said a sweet goodbye and continued on his way. His gentle and kind nature stayed with me all day.

This coming week will be a crazy one. Lao New Year is upon us. I’ve purchased my waterproof phone bag and have begun stocking up on food and necessities as I’ve been informed that a majority of businesses will close for almost the entire week. Water will be coming from all directions for many days and may be laced with dye and perfume. I’m about to witness the mother of all water fights and I admit I’m a little scared!

Nine weeks later – it feels like regular life.

 

 

Bangkok Reds

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“You know the days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?” 
― Truman CapoteBreakfast at Tiffany’s

Walking is the only way I truly get the feel of a city. It was on one such walk in Bangkok that I found myself on the edge of a breakdown. We had been walking in the heat through a dreary section of the city. The sidewalks were never ending and our destination felt unreachable.

It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Bangkok. Our three days there were overflowing with walking and hunting for things we can’t find here in Vientiane, Laos. The first mall we ventured into was immense. I saw H&M and heard the little girl inside my head squeal with delight. Here were clothes I understood and liked! This mall was one of about five or six we found ourselves nearly lost inside of. Bangkok is truly a shopper’s paradise. I’m not a mall lover in real life, but in my new life as an expat in a country where I can find very little of what I’d call ‘normal’ shopping I suddenly found myself ravenous. I had a short list of items I hoped to bring home with us and was able to find almost all of them. Thank you Thailand!

But back to that walk.

At first I thought I was simply tired, hot and thirsty. I figured it would pass. Instead I found this bubble growing inside my chest and it got to the point where I wanted to sit down and sob on the sidewalk. I wanted to go home.

“Home?” I thought. Where is that? I don’t quite feel like our Vientiane apartment is home. With each step I became more distraught as I realized I felt homeless. That’s quite silly I know. When the emotions are given free reign this is what can happen. I felt homeless and lost and somehow it made me terribly afraid.

Ah there’s that fear again.

So we continued walking and after many twists and turns found our haven in the city, a restaurant called The Veganerie. As we fell into our seats, sweating and frustrated, Rob saw my face and said the words that seem to always break my resolve not to cry, “Are you okay?” he asked. I shook my head and went to the restroom to pull myself together. I had to return to the table and admit I was not crying tears of joy at reaching the restaurant, but tears of fear and frustration.

Minutes later a torrential downpour let loose outside. I almost started laughing out loud. How perfect was our timing to be sitting safely inside? If we had still been out walking in that storm I’m pretty sure I would have lost my head entirely. Instead I was safely and happily sitting across from my favorite person in the world, enjoying a perfect vegan lunch as the rain came down and the wind stripped the trees. We lingered as long as we could which is easy when nobody is forcibly bringing the check, trying to free up a table. (This is one more thing I love about Southeast Asia. We have to ask for the check and even then can take as long as we want.) The rain halted almost the minute we stepped outside.

So the angry reds? They passed. I came back to my senses and continued on with our Bangkok adventure. And I remembered where home is.

Home is anywhere as long as I’m with the one I love.