Laos Reading Room Visit
On the Move… Constantly
Our travel plans have been a bit hectic lately, to say the very least, so I apologize for the delays in posting and whatnot. Unexpected clashes between Thailand and Cambodia prevented us from visiting the Ian Tilden School when we originally intended to, which proceeded to throw off our schedule for South East Asia. Luckily things cooled down in the area, and we were able to return to Cambodia later in the month to visit the school. Unfortunately, though, that left us with less than a week in Laos, where we wanted to visit one of the three reading rooms that we had funded through Room to Read. And that is why we have been traveling like maniacs for the last month or so.
After flying from Vietnam into Luang Prabang, Laos, we spent two days (about 18 hours) on buses to get to Lak Sao, which is a small town near the border of Laos and Vietnam and is also about 15 km from a village where one of the reading rooms was located. After our reading room visit, it took us another three days of bus trips to travel back to Luang Prabang for our flight to Cambodia, where we then had to travel to the school. Needless to say, I’ve been very tired lately- traveling at such a quick pace is utterly exhausting. I honestly don’t remember where we were a week ago, I struggle to remember where we slept last night, I don’t know what day of the week it is, and this morning feels like WEEKS ago. Welcome to my life :)
Finally made it to our destination!
Lak Sao (the town nearest the reading rooms with a guesthouse) was less than wonderful- far from it, as a matter of fact. The fact that we were all a bit travel weary didn’t help I’m sure, but we were not all that impressed upon our arrival. It was a tiny town that wasn’t really used to tourists or travelers… This normally wouldn’t have bothered us much (we love being submerged in local culture, and getting off the beaten trail!) but we were a little cranky, and it didn’t help that there wasn’t very good accommodations, the restaurants were far and few between, and the people weren’t particularly friendly. But we only stayed there for one night, and visiting the reading room made it completely worth it!
The Reading Room!
We drove to see the reading room early in the morning. After a 30 minute drive, we arrived at the front of the community’s school (where the reading room/library was built) and were surprised to see the entire community had come out to see us! Everyone- kids, parents, grandparents, neighbors, etc- was lined up and waiting for us along the pathway that led up to the school. Much to my embarrassment, they all started clapping as soon as we got out of the car, and continued to do so as we hurriedly walked up to the school, waving and saying “Sabai Dee” (hello in Lao) to everyone.
We spent the morning in the reading room with some of the students and a teacher from Room to Read, who comes once a month. The students (a group of about 20 kids) did a skit, danced, sang, drew pictures, and read stories with the teacher and us. The teacher (a young woman whose name I don’t recall) was great with the kids- she got them involved and was very energetic!
The Baci (a traditional Lao ceremony)
After the activities we were involved in a traditional Lao ceremony called a Baci. A Baci ceremony can be to celebrate any sort of special event, whether it’s a wedding or a birth, and is very special to Lao culture. Pretty much what happened was we all (RTWwithUs and community members) sat on the floor around a low table with food and a big plant centerpiece thing. One of the older men said something, and we were then instructed to put our arms out in front of us, while holding some sort of food object, so that the entire community could tie white strings to our wrists. It got a bit crazy- there were people coming from all angles trying to tie a piece of string to our wrists- and by the end we each had over 20 string-bracelets. The white cotton threads are a lasting symbol of continuity and brotherhood, and are supposed to be worn for at least three days and then untied rather than cut off. It was very cool to be accepted into the community in such a local way!
After that, we all shared a big meal and talked (via a translator) with some of the village elders. We had a great time bonding with them, as well as seeing what an impact the reading room has on the community!
A personal connection
The whole time we were in the reading room, the rest of the community was watching through the windows, or just hanging around outside (apparently they had all taken the day off of work to greet us). One of the older women watching through the window was particularly interested in the books. She kept picking them up and flipping through the pages, and she even told Teresa what sounds some of the letters make. But when our translator came over we found out she actually she could read very little of the children’s books. She was so interested in them though, and she continued to flip through and try to sound out the words for the rest of the time we were there. It really touched me to see how much she wanted to learn. Hopefully with the reading room in her community, she will be able to!
Visiting the reading room was well worth all the hassle to get there and back! The community was very friendly and open, and made sure that our short visit was a memorable one. Everyone was happy and smiling and eager to talk to us! The reading room was remarkable, and I hope the community can benefit from it being there as much as possible! Thanks to Room to Read and everyone that made the reading rooms a possibility- every little bit makes a huge difference in the lives of others!