After the arrival of some more of us (11) volunteers, which almost completed the group, unfortunately, Prof. Martin had to leave in order to pick up her work in Germany again. Due to the fact that we had met our Lao teachers only in school up to this time, we decided to bring all these events together and, following the tradition initiated by Team I, to celebrate our first “Falang Friendship Feast“. Ms Gerlinde Engel invited all the Lao and German English and natural sciences teachers – from Ban Sikeud, Ban Phang Heng, the Lao-German Technical College and from the Sunshine School – to Ban Sikeud Primary School to have a festive lunch together. As we had arrived in the rainy season, the table was not set outside like the last two times when Team I and II had had their Feast. When it starts raining in Laos, there is only a short forewarning, and after just a minute or two of wind and grey clouds the torrent begins. No chance to clear a big table.
At the beginning of the day there was a lot to prepare.
When everything was set up, Ms Engel welcomed her guests and wished everyone “Guten Appetit”. We sat down together at a huge table in the dancing-hall and enjoyed typical Lao food such as noodle salad, mixed salad, laap, mushroom soup, grilled chicken, and baked banana.
However, because of us “Falangs” (Thai: ฝรั่ง [faràŋ], in colloquial speech often “falang” = white foreigners), the usually huge amount of spicy chilies was set aside for individual seasoning. For more coolness, there was cucumber salad and tomato salad to relish.
During the meal, we enjoyed our first private Lao language lessons and, amongst other things, learnt to count to ten – which was not as easy as it sounds ;-)! Lao works on a tonal system, English and German are stress-based languages. The question whether we are capable of learning to perceive a new sound system well enough to reproduce “simple” things such as numbers or names (with tone rather than stress) therefore remains open for the time being. This is why many Asians adopt an English first name – the “Falangs” just can’t pronounce or remember theirs.
Gerlinde Engel then showed us a rare treasure after the meal: One of the first scriptures in the Lao language. She went on to share some of her incredible stories of her life and work in Laos with us. We wonder when she will finally agree to write a book!
After lunch, we played pantomime together. During that game we experienced some cultural differences. To give an example, we had suggested the word “clown” and then realised that an explanation of this concept was needed.
In the end, we tidied up together, but the washing-up was done by Teo, Memon, and Kanthong as usual in their own special fashion.
Thanks to Ms Engel, we all had a delicious lunch (and a taste of Lao beer) and a fun afternoon that helped us to break the ice and get to know each other better, which is also very important for our didactic work in the classroom. We are the same age as our Lao teacher-students and will no doubt learn a lot from each other!
Text by I. Martin, K. Petter & S. Schäfer
Photos by I. Martin & D. Burkhardt