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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I was definitely not prepared for this.
I am embarrassed to admit how unprepared I was… or… I am.
The toilet is broken. I stand there among a group of strangers in my new bedroom as they work to fix it. The shower head just hangs on the wall next to the toilet. No AC. Dust. Dust and dirt everywhere. a thin silt covering everything— re-appearring immediately after you wipe it away. There is a constant, sweaty film over your face and chest at all times accompanied by an equally charming and very persistent upper lip sweat.
Yet we still have soup for lunch. “Its good to eat the soup here in the summer. It keeps you hydrated and replenishes the salt your body is loosing.” But I put too much hot spice in mine, of course, amateur. I suffer through and eat as much as I can bear so as not to look too ignorant. My whole mouth is burning. Even the skin beneath my nose burns. Emi reads me too easy and is very polite. She tries to make me feel better. “Ah, yea, I think I’ve put too much in mine too! It kind of sits at the top, you see? Its easy to skim off.” She says as she uses her spoon to scoop off hot red clusters from her broth.
But there is something very sweet and very charming about this place. It is a beautiful town. It is not intimidating like I thought it would be. I can feel peace and relaxation quietly swirling through the air.
As I was told, the people are very polite. I make an effort to meet eyes and smile and nod to the locals I pass on the street. Most are very responsive with a kind, return of a smile and a quick “Sabaidee”.
I am still a little paralyzed with anxiety. I sat in bed all morning wondering how I would fill my day. Worried to wonder the streets, worried about looking stupid. Its something I am going to have to do. I need to learn to accept that I am a foreigner and I am clueless. Let me embrace it and continue to be open to learn. I won’t learn if I just put my head down and push along through each day. I need to be open, conscious and aware.
In front of the mirror I say “Sa bai dee, sa BAAII dee, sa bai DEEE, sabaidee…”
If such strength exists within me,
I am going to find it.
“To look for what is beautiful is it’s own reward.”
“Look at that color blue. Look at that blue sky. My mom is up there in that blue. She’s watching me. What a beautiful day. What a beautiful shade of blue. I’ve been coming here my whole life, my god parents, they never had kids, I would stay with them. I could lay here for 20 hours. This is nice, fun, talking with you… wow, what a beautiful day! Look at the blue color of the sky. So beautiful.”
“Heya! How’s it going this morning?”
“Good, great! Not a worry in the world today!
How are you?”
“Ah, yes! Good, It is a wonderful day.”