In the first days after our arrival in Laos, we were flooded by many new impressions. It started with the bright mud-red ground and square rice fields shining in the sun from our plane window. Once we touched down, we immediately swapped our sneakers for thongs, due to the warm weather.
Mme Gerlinde Engel, her assistant Ms Bouangeun Hanthavong (aka “Linda”), and general manager Mr Khamsing Nathavongdouangsy picked us up from the airport and brought us to “the villa”, our new home for the next eight weeks.
The villa impressed us very much: It is spacious and the comfortable common room is now our favourite place to work together and prepare lessons. The garden is laid out beautifully with both flowers and palm trees. It is the perfect spot for resting your body & soul after a long and hot working-day.
Ban Sikeud is a village located a 30-minute drive away from the capital Vientiane, about 14 km outside of town to the north-east.
The main street in Sikeud is fascinating to ride through. Many different street stalls and markets are situated along the way. The houses and shops are small, only have three walls, and the fourth wall (usually shutters) is always open during the day. The shutters are only closed at night – and it surprised us when we realized that this is also the place where the Lao shop-keepers live.
The market is where we buy ingredients for our daily dinner. It’s amazing to see the many different fruits and vegetables they have to offer for affordable prices. Some of the market foods we already tried are fried bananas, freshly-pressed sugar beet juice, and the most delicious mango and dragon fruit in the world. Hot meals are cooked on coal stoves outside – even in our villa there is no stove inside.
The people greet you happily whenever you go by. They seem to be delighted to see us “falangs” (engl. “long-nose”, slang for “Western foreigner”), just as we are to see them. This is very different to Germany where such openness towards strangers is uncommon. This kind of friendliness helps us a lot to get used to the Lao way of life.
The ride to school is a bumpy one because of the many potholes on the dusty street. These many potholes are formed during the monsoon in the rainy season.
During rush hour the traffic is bustling and you have to be careful, especially if you are riding a scooter. Crossing the main street is a precarious issue because there are no lights and nobody lets you pass. But in the morning there is always a police officer who regulates the busy traffic for the people who are trying to get to work.
Our first day at school was quite overwhelming. Everyone welcomed us very warmly. We were introduced to our four tandem-teachers, who were excited to meet us: Tanja will work with the English teachers Leud and Souvanh and Laura with the English teachers Souk and Donekeo at the Phang Heng Secondary school. All the pupils were also thrilled when they got the chance to get to know us. They smiled at us, folded their hands together in greeting and constantly asked us for our names.
Teachers are treated very respectfully in Laos. The whole school climate is very positive and both teachers and pupils always have smiles on their faces. One reason for that could be their Buddhist religion or the Lao culture.
On our first day at school, the traditional Lao ceremony Baci (ບາສີ) was held to bid Anika and Silja goodbye and thank them and to welcome us. The ceremony includes a ritual in which strings are tied around your wrists to chase evil spirits out and let positive energy in. We got very emotional when so many people wished us good luck.
With these many well-wishes given, we felt that we had the best start possible and we now look forward to working here in Laos.
Text by L. Jakob & T. Wintrich
Photos by R. Dengler & A. Reiling