On our flight from Bangkok to Vientiane we already noticed the different landscape. No more rice fields but a lot of forest and small villages. We asked ourselves where the major cities are. Arriving at the airport (Wednesday afternoon, 14 September), we were surprised how small it actually is. However, this had the advantage that our coordinator, Johannes, found us very quickly.
Driving along the main street to Ban Sikeud, we stopped at one of the many small fruit vendors’ stalls and bought different kinds of exotic fruits we had never tasted before, e.g. Rambutan, Longan and Mangosteen.
Turning into the small street leading to our new home, the street changed extremely. Due to the rain – it’s the rainy season right now – the dusty, red dirt road, which was full of potholes and puddles, turned into the muddiest path we had ever seen.
We could not believe our eyes when at the end of the street an impressive villa showed up: our new home for the next few months!
After a chat with Prof. Martin and a refreshing shower, we rode our bicycles through the mud to meet Gerlinde Engel in Sikeud primary school. She and her assistant “Linda” (Bouangeun) welcomed us very warmly and offered some delicious, crispy rice rolls with black sesame.
At the end of the day, we cooked a red curry with vegetables bought at the village market. Having been kept busy to help us stay awake through our jetlag, we were finally “allowed” to go to bed at 8 o’clock in the evening and slept right through the noise of the outdoor Karaoke bar nearby.
The next two days were also very eventful. On Thursday, Johannes and Prof. Martin showed us around the schools at Ban Sikeud and Ban Phang Heng where we met the Lao teachers. They were very friendly, curious, and open-minded towards us and the project, and everybody including ourselves was also a little excited. We spent an entire hour taking turns introducing ourselves (we are all about the same age, in our mid-twenties), and it was just as difficult for them to pronounce our names as it was for us to pronounce theirs. It had not even been clear before to either party which of the names (typed on a list) was male or female. “How old are you? How many people are in your family? And also: “Are you single?” were the most frequent first questions.
Another highlight of the day was the first volleyball game with some teachers and some students during “Activity time” in the hot afternoon sun (35 degrees, and very humid). Straight afterwards, we had the pleasure to enjoy the Lao hospitality we had heard so much about when we were invited to join some of the teachers and school employees to go and have something to eat at one of the nearby eateries. This is also where we had our first Lao beer, of which the Lao people are extremely proud. Usually they celebrate their pride by downing their drinks.
On Friday, we accompanied Prof. Martin and Johannes on their way to Vientiane. They had an official meeting with the Head of the English Department to prepare a possible future cooperation, and we looked around campus. In the end, we did not only meet the English department but were introduced to teachers of the German department as well, by a student of German Studies, another “Linda”, who addressed us on campus because she had overheard us talking in German.
After lunch, we went to the Lao German Technical College, where Prof. Martin had arranged to meet the English teachers for the first time, for initial contact and some first conversation practice. We were invited to have one-to-one conversations with the teachers which turned out to be quite difficult but – after an hour or so – also a lot of fun so that Prof. Martin had to interrupt the conversations at the end of the lesson, which had finally begun to start flowing. Everybody was happy that it had gone so well, and the teachers said more than once that they were glad to finally be able to hear some “real” English, as they had had very little contact with speakers of this language so far.
Afterwards, we strolled along the banks of the Mekong, where we were fascinated by the radiant sunset, and then the “Night Market”: So many strong and vivid colours, sounds, and scenes – and lots and lots of interesting things to buy.
After only 24 hours in this place we felt like having spent at least 3 days here already.
Text by P. Kern, K. Petter & D. Schrep
Pictures by I. Martin, P. Kern & K. Petter