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Our first impressions of a whole new world – by Silja Schäfer and Thorsten Feldmann

It had been several months since our graduation from the University of Education Karlsruhe and we were very excited to start our journey halfway around the globe to Laos. In several meetings we prepared ourselves with the help of Prof. Martin (English Department PH Karlsruhe) and Johannes Zeck (Angels for Children Foundation) for our stay in a whole new world. Eventually, we boarded the plane on the 19th of September in Frankfurt/Main looking forward to the new impressions and adventures to come.

16 hours and one change of plane later we arrived at Wattay Airport, Vientiane. We encountered the first warm welcome on a poster by the local brewery.

We passed the immigration counter and, with new visas in our pockets, were met by Prof. Martin and Johannes Zeck, who  picked us up to bring us to our new home.

But before we left the airport, we had our first encounter with a Lao ATM (cash machine). It turned out as a big surprise. 2 million maximum!? Within a minute we were happy millionaires. But appearances can be deceptive:

Reaching our final destination Ban Sikeud, we were astounded by the impressive house in which we were going to spend the next few months.

Just as impressive as our house at the end of the village was the road that leads up to it. Every morning and afternoon we were confronted with new and surprising adventures in our attempts to reach our schools. Passing a puddle the size of a small lake – it’s the rainy season – made it hard to reach our destinations clean, but see for yourself.

On our first weekend, some of the Lao teachers suggested that we could go swimming in a nearby waterfall. Happily we accepted the offer and started the Sunday on the back seats of their motorbikes with which they had picked us up in the morning for a lovely day trip. It turned out to be very exciting, because it was our first time on the back seat of a motorbike on dusty and bumpy Lao roads. 40 minutes later we arrived at a beautiful resort with a lot of bamboo huts spreading along a river. The waterfall was not really the size we expected, but still very beautiful.

We conquered one of the huts and made ourselves comfortable. At first, the conversation was a bit stiff because we didn’t really know each other, but as the minutes flew by the stiffness went and we enjoyed a fun round of cards together.

Our new Lao friends rented a paddleboat and we took turns pedalling, exploring the river and making first contact with the river as “accidentally” some of us dropped out of the boat.

Already wet, we decided to go for a swim fully dressed, as is the custom in Laos. We were told that they swim in clothes because it is too cold in swimsuits or shorts (34°C!!). We were surprised by the fact that some of them never learned to swim and therefore we took the chance to offer swimming lessons. In return they showed us how to perform a proper somersault. Our first tries were quite amusing.

Back in the hut our new friends bought some traditional Lao snacks for us. We had our first exotic fruits, delicious “sticky rice” in bamboo sticks, and corn. Just before a heavy rain came down, we left the river on the motorbikes and drove home to have dinner in a restaurant near our villa. Here our company ordered their favourite traditional Lao food such as papaya salad, ginger chicken and Tom Yum soup, which gave us a first authentic taste of Laos. Accompanying the food came some bottles of Beerlao, which gave us – once again – a warm welcome.

We are very happy to have found so many new friends in such a short time here and feel very welcome. The next few months with them are likely to turn into a beautiful time.

 

Text and photos by T. Feldmann & S. Schäfer
Video & photo by I. Martin

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