The River, the Light, the Spirits and Wishes and Prayers

My prayer got stuck on the dock. I had to waddle out
into the muck of the Mekong to set it free.
What does this predict of my luck
and my wishes for the next year?

He squats down next to an elder woman in the temple. She is working on a lantern. “Broken” she says. “We must mend it”. She does not say fix it, she says “mend it”. “Where are you from?” She asks. “France.” He replies. She smiles and begins to speak in French. They talk. I listen. I cannot wait to kiss him.

It is fun to finally begin to let go. To be free. To be light. In Laos, you have no control over anything. It is a very different way to learn to live. I am finally letting go of the things I think I want and the things I think I need. I’m letting go of insecurities, guilt, anxieties… I am not cured. I am not transformed. I am not enlightened. But there is a flame beneath me that is lifting me up and allowing me to float. I am ready to float. I am ready to latch onto a cloud and follow the breeze. I am ready to drift towards the unknown without expectation, without judgement. I politely surrender control and have faith that I will safely arrive at the next destination.

It seems that the universe has a better plan for me than the one I keep envisioning for myself anyway.

 

 

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All of a Sudden Nowhere Seems Too Far

Squinting into the sun, taking a deep breath of dust and indigo, I try to clear my mind. The days are still hot. My thighs and my back are stilled speckled with heat rash, but I can definitely feel the cooler, less humid season approaching. Or maybe I am just acclimatizing.

I turn to look at Lynnly. She beats her cotton indigo between a bamboo rod and a stone. May sits beside her, squeezing and dipping her scarf over ceramic dye pots. Baby chicks run in the mud around our feet. The village men laugh and chatter behind us.

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Navone comes to pull me away to ask me some questions about a sample we have ordered. Offering me an umbrella for sun protection, our weaver simply smiles and nods her head. I don’t have much conversational Lao yet, so we walk in silence to the other side of the village. As we approach, I see a woman sitting, flipping pink threads around tense warps. Her daughter pulls yarn off of a spinning wheel, wrapping them around bamboo bobbins and placing them next her mother. I am offered a seat and a plate of fruit. “Pet” she says as she motions to dip the strange fruit in a bowl of unknown spices. I confuse “pet” (spicy) with “sep” (delicious). The women laugh and yell! “No! Pet, pet pet!”. I quickly realize my mistake. My social anxiety spins in my head. I crave to be able to speak with them.

Sitting with the weavers as the sun goes down over the mountains, listening to them chat and laugh, I try to make out words while I admire their lifestyle.

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On the way back to the group I see the village from a new angle. I see it nestled in the jungle beneath the mountains, knowing that in the shade of the many wooden houses, there are weavers and spinners and dyers and families approaching life with a much better understanding than I can know. Will I ever know? Every day I see how the Lao live, really live, both while they work and while they play. The boundaries between are blurry and inconsistent.

It feels like I have just seen the rice being planted.
It has grown so tall since I arrived.
How tall have I grown?

My breath is shallow, taken by the view and the heat. The rice is green. It is this deep, saturated yellow green, almost neon. It glows, illuminated in the late afternoon sun. It feels like I have just seen the rice being planted. It has grown so tall since I arrived at the beginning of the season. I think of Betsy, the puppy at the shop, and how tall she has grown as well. Betsy long legs, we call her, she is a puppy no more. Hmm. How tall have I grown?

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I remember setting out on the PCT. Everyone said it would change my life. It didn’t. That experience didn’t have the big, positive impact on me that I see it had on others. And I spent a long time feeling a little broken because of that. What was wrong with me? How could the trail make some people feel so full and complete and leave me feeling like there was a bigger hole inside of me than ever?

Now, all of a sudden nowhere seems too far.
Nothing seems too big. 
There is nothing I cannot do.

I realize now that the decision to hike the trail was an important part of my life that brought me to where I am now, but it wasn’t my answer to the things I wanted. After being here in Laos for two months, I already feel forever changed. I feel like Laos will always be a part of me in the way I imagine other people feel about the PCT. That one thousand and seventeen miles will never feel like an accomplishment to me, but it was certainly a part of me that I explored, a thing that I tried and got out of my system. I learned, I moved on and I continue to discover what it is I actually want from this world.

But now, all of a sudden, after moving here to Laos, nowhere seems too far. Nothing seems too big. There is nothing I cannot do. I’ve managed to let go of all the feelings and emotions, all of the guilt, holding me back.

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There is only one thing I am having trouble getting rid of. A red thread you tied around my wrist. Some mornings I see it and I wish it would just fall off. Sometimes I wish it would show some sign of weakness, some wear, some thinning, some fray, something so that I will not have to cut it off… I wish that it would just fall away because it has reached its end. Because it was not meant to be.

At the end of the day I sit and I think, threading my needle, bringing two pieces of cloth together. Netflix plays on my computer and fills the room with a less lonely air.

I will become the person I feel growing inside of me.
She will emerge when she is ready.
I will slowly keep feeding her and following her.

I acknowledge the person becoming inside me. I don’t know if it is the laid back lifestyle of LP or the overwhelming stress I’ve felt trying to succeed in such a different and new in environment… but there is a person becoming inside of me that is tired of being shy and timid, tired of wondering if something is good or bad or if I should like it or not like it. I’m tired of being insecure and I just want to do what I want and make what I want. I’m tired of looking for guidance, I want to guide myself and inspire myself. I know I will become the person I feel growing inside of me. She will emerge when she is ready. I will slowly keep feeding her and following her.

To speak Lao, parlé Anglais or passa Falang?

2am in bed and I can’t sleep.
My heart is sore and my mind can’t decide if
it wants to speak Lao, parle Anglais
or passa Falang.

Sitting around the table of five people from different parts of the world, he says “Isn’t this great?! This is why I love travel. This is why I love Luang Prabang.” I do think it’s great, but I sit there with a small, sore hole in my chest, with a soul and a mind that want to see the world, but a heart that wants a home. Why can’t I have both? I need someone who will invite me to wander somewhere with them… and someone who can’t wait to visit me across the globe. Someone who always makes me feel like home, separate or apart, trekking in Borneo or skipping stones on the creek in the backyard.

I wander off in my mind for a good minute. He pulls me back as he continues to talk, “I think the issue is, every time you go home, you see how much you’ve changed… but everything there is basically the same. So you just have to leave again.”

I worry a little bit. Will this be me? Will anything ever be enough?

Shedding

Walking down the muddy street, in the rain, with a blown out flipflop and a broken bicycle… anywhere else in the world, or at any other previous time in my life I probably would have been annoyed. Upon realizing I “should be” bothered by the situation, I felt surprised. Is the LP lifestyle beginning to wear off on me? What pieces of my mind am I shedding? Who am I becoming?

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.