Here I am! One month in!

While I have been scribbling down tid bits of thoughts, I haven’t been able to process all of my feelings… errr… maybe I just haven’t been willing to sit down and sort through them. As I get more comfortable I can feel my eyes and my brain starting to open up. My subconscious is slowly letting in more and more information and inspiration.

For those who have expressed interest, the following is an attempt to express the inner journey so far…. It is not a post about how beautiful and lovely it is here–although it certainly is—although I am sat on the porch of a café, sipping coffee and looking off into the jungle covered mountains, this is a post about my first month, adaptation, and strength.

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Week three was really tough. REALLY tough. Settling in and realizing that this is it, while jumping right into the middle of multiple work projects was a lot to take in. It’s only within the last few days that I feel like I have some kind of clue to what is going on, giving me the motivation and confidence to finally write this post. I still see myself in the mirror and think I look a little too thin, my face is puffy, my skin and hair are terrible and the bags under my eyes are a little too dark. But as I’ve found some solid ground for these feet, I am feeling a little healthier and sleeping a little better.

Last Saturday evening I sat on the edge of my bed, face in the fan and eyes on the wall thinking, “I am not this strong person. I can’t do this. I’m not having fun. Everyone will be so disappointed when I move home.” But that night I was forced to go out with some of my new friends. They knew the rough afternoon I had had, piled on top of a sparse and broken sleep cycle. We stayed up drinking beer and gimlets until 4am. They listened to me vent and were able to bring a few things into the light for me—things that I guess I didn’t realize were taking their toll on me, things I thought I could handle, or I didn’t notice were bothering me.

I realized that I had really been struggling with my “westernness”. Surprise! Yes. I had been feeling… almost… ashamed… of my “falang”-ness. I know its strange, and I’m not sure if any other expats have felt this way here? But, hey, the truth is I am a westerner. I like western things around to make me feel at home. I’m never going to be Lao. I like yogurt for breakfast, not noodles. I can’t stand to eat soup everyday. I have to wear shorts and a tank top sometimes because it’s damn hot outside. I hate how everything feels dusty and my hands always feel dirty. I don’t like that I need to go to four different stores and the market to get everything on my shopping list. And I especially hate when I have to throw my toilet paper in the bin instead of flushing it.

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I understand the privilege I come from to be in a place to feel this way and I know that in time I will accept and get along with much of the lifestyle here, but I also need to give myself permission to miss my big soft, plushy bed back home. It’s ok that aircon, a dip in the pool and the option to close my windows make me feel more comfortable. It is ok to be tired and intolerant sometimes. And its ok that cheeseburgers and gin and tonics help me deal with it.

When I moved here, I felt like I was supposed love everything and melt into the culture because it is an incredible, unique place. But it took a friend to tell me that it’s ok to not be totally comfortable and happy here, especially after only a month. And it definitely gives me new respect to all the foreigners I have met living in the US throughout my life. Cheers to the courage and the journey of people migrating to new places and dealing with racsism, discrimination and all the other bullshit going on. Be brave, speak your language, wear your clothing, pray when and where you want. Make your little piece of home wherever you need it.

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My next concern… So, am I strong enough?

Well… Only I can decide what is strong for myself. I think being strong is just another choice we make for ourselves. I think it is understanding that strength is not lack of weakness. I had this idea that being strong was about not letting things bother me. It was to handle things well, without flinching. Strong people brush things off easily and don’t let bad thoughts or emotions penetrate them, right? Maybe not.

You wouldn’t be human if you were never sensitive, sad or angry. Being strong is about learning how to live with and among the things that bother you– but also knowing its ok if you mess it up a little too. Wouldn’t it be too easy if you could train yourself not to flinch at anything? I guess that strength to me, right now, is surviving the day and still being capable of taking on the next one. I wish I could do it with a little more passion, a little more finesse—and I will, in time–but right now I just need to find my routine, build a home, make more friends and start creating pretty things.

 

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Last night I had a dream in which my heart broke. I found you and I had you but you slipped right through my fingers. When I woke up my hands were hot and numb and swollen. My eyes were wet and my mouth was dry.

Slowly Waking

Today is a Buddhist Day. I began my day laying in bed, slowly waking to pounding drums and dancing oms. I hear the rustle on the street as I suspect the daily alms giving passes by beneath my window. The whole morning vibrates. As I run my early errands, a cloud nestles itself over the city. It begins to rain.

The First Trip to the Village

It is a long and bumpy road up to the village. I am excited. And nervous. Everyone comes to greet us when we arrive and before I know it, we are surrounded by smiles and laughter. Emi starts introducing me but it is hard to keep track of names- especially Lao names! They are all so unfamiliar to me. I have patience with myself and know that I will learn them slowly. I listen carefully and try to make out the few words I know.

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We move inside to catch up with our sewers, but all the women from town come in to show off their product in hopes that we will purchase from them. We gather on the floor, touching textiles, exchanging smiles and listening to the rain.

We spend the afternoon quietly folding and tying scarves to dip in the indigo baths. When the scarves are done we walk down to rinse them in the river.

Rain, it is still raining, but it doesn’t bother me.

Finishing the first day at the village is exhausting. I can’t explain it. It is a full day, but there is something more strenuous about wanting to fit in, wanting to succeed and wanting to understand… trying to figure it all out as oppose to just wondering through as a regular tourist thinking “oh, isn’t that neat. Isn’t that pretty.”

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As I sit in bed in the evening images flash through my mind. The mist on the mountains. The fisherman throwing nets on the high river. Beating the indigo. The woven mats on the floors. One of the weavers helping me use my chopsticks. Another woman pulling fruit down from the trees with a long bamboo pole. Walking through the mud in flip flops. Betsy getting followed around by all the other dogs. Drinking wine, getting to know each other. Getting chased by a turkey. A young boy in a superman t-shirt gliding by on his bicycle.

So quiet. Rain. Rain. Rain.

On the second day we return to the village to work as our other guests go out on a trek. The 30 minute tuktuk ride flips me inside out! I stumble out of the back dizzy and trying not to throw up in the middle of the village road. As we settle in with the sewers to discuss upcoming projects I start to feel better. I begin to see the real village. I see that the day before there was more of a “performance” put on. The women are now very relaxed and casual with just Emi there. This is life, this is business now. They joke and discuss. One woman sprawls out and relaxes on the floor. Some of the men come in to watch TV or sleep over in the corner.

When it is lunch time they pull the table down and fill it with bowls of delicious food! We all use our hands to eat. I prefer this. I look around to see how others are doing it, what they are grabbing first and what they mix together. (The cucumbers! oh god, the fresh, crunchy, delicious, sweet cucumbers!!) Despite the language barrier, I feel included. How unique it is to be a part of this relationship that Emi has built with the people here.

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Returning “home” from the village was really strange. I felt like I had been on this big cultural adventure. I had already learned so much. I was feeling pretty positive. But the place I returned to wasn’t home at all. I’ve only been here a week. And it has been a wild week. So, I don’t really know why I expected to feel some kind of a relief or relaxation when I got back.

This place is still strange.
The street is still noisy.

My head cold is gone and the drums don’t wake me up in the morning anymore, but I still have the shits and I can’t get my body to feel quite right. I think I might be ravenously hungry, but my appetite is so minimal. The time it would take for my body to physically adjust was certainly not a factor I had given much consideration. Maybe it’s a good distraction as I slowly, subconsciously work through my mental adjustments.

I also was not expecting to be so creatively stunted. I have the feeling that I want to create, but I’m having trouble bringing my confidence up and making design decisions. It is all so new— the materials, the patterns, the colors, the techniques. I am trying to figure out what my own take is on all of it. What is my style? Who am I when I am here? I know my design perspective will develop. I will learn what I like, what works, and what we are and are not “limited” to in terms of design… finding the patience with myself is going to be the biggest difficulty.

 —Trying to pick what to write about is impossible. There is so much that I will never be able to explain to you. Hopefully as I continue to exist here, I will gain a better grasp. I will find words to show you how beautiful and special… and rare… this place is.