During one of our English lessons Mit told me that there would be no school the next day. When I asked for the reason, she told me about a big monk ceremony in a big temple near our village. She informed me that all teachers from the surrounding schools would attend this ceremony, the Sikeud and Phang Heng schools, too. After telling the others, we decided to join them and become part of this event. Souphaphone, the principle of Sikeud, even invited some of us to have lunch at her place beforehand. Never miss out on such an opportunity as Laos never becomes more authentic as at people´s homes.
And so next day we were sitting at Souphaphone´s opulent lunch table: Bamboo soup, papaya salad, grilled fish, noodles, vegetables, dips, sticky rice, and soft drinks. No need to mention that it was finger-licking good. When our bellies were full we went on to another teacher’s house from Sikeud. Recently, she had given birth to her first child and everyone was curious to see the new-born. To my great surprise I was allowed to hold the baby, too. As with many other cultural traditions, childbed culture is very different in Laos, too, as is the entire medical system (few people have sickness insurance and are used to relying on healers). Modern health care is one of the big development areas, like education.
After that, we jumped on our motorbikes and rode to the temple. The ceremony had already started and we quietly sat down at the back rows. The monk ceremony was serene and colourful, spiced up with humourous patches (people laughed), but of course we understood little else. Noy tried to translate some of what the monks said: The teachers were blessed for their work and told to be good teachers and role models for their students and to follow the right path in life. The monks also talked about the importance of education. Towards the end, the teachers could ask questions, which the monks answered. This whole event took three hours.
The only way to receive education for children in remote areas in Laos where there are no schools is to become a monk by joining a temple for a number of years, which is not unusual mostly for boys in their teens and in young adulthood.
In this temple, one of us who had sneaked out after an hour to go exploring saw some female monks for the first time (they don’t seem to be visible elsewhere, i.e. in village or city life) and was allowed to watch their “house”work outside and their preparations of food. Later she spoke with some male monks who lingered outside and were glad to practice their smattering of English. One of them will visit North America soon to teach Buddhism and asked whether Germany was possibly close by.
Thinking of the immanent temperature change, Prof. Martin asked whether he had any plans to get warm clothing in preparation for the stay abroad, but the concept of socks and boots or coats and hats was either alien or unworthy of contemplation. Right next to him stood another monk whose shoulder symmetrically displayed parts of a tattoo of a temple. He had been a body-guard, a tuktuk driver, a teacher, and a security officer before.
After the ceremony we lingered at the temple a bit longer before we followed the last invitation of the day and headed off to Bounmee´s house, to have delicious food, some drinks, and some fun. After dark, she dropped us off in Sikeud.
Text by T. Mayer & I. Martin
Photos by T. Mayer