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First impressions – by Lea Herrmann

…after my parents dropped me off at the airport in Frankfurt and we said goodbye for a really long time, the journey to Laos could start!

Arrival

We had been on the road for over 30 hours when we finally arrived in Vientiane. Ms Bouangeun Hanthavong (aka „Linda“) and our driver, Mr Viengkham, picked us up from the airport with the Angels for Children minivan and brought us to “the villa” in Ban Sikeud, our new home for the next two to five months, five in my case.

The villa we live in is very beautiful – and a stark contrast to the „road“ and village around it.

It is really nice to live here but at the same time it makes me reflect differently on the observation that the villagers live with so little and are so happy at the same time. Compared to the Germans, who tend to work a lot and often chase after more than they need, the Lao people seem satisfied with what they have. They always have a smile on their faces and make you feel very good, even happy. And what we, coming from a materialistic world, would call „poor“, does not apply here. The people have everything they need for everyday life and care a lot about their families and relationships. That, at least, is my very first impression. Ask me again in five months’ time!?

Our daily way to the schools is rather cumbersome at the moment. Not only the pot-holes make it hard to ride our bikes, but also the rain water which collects there after a munsoon shower. We already worked out ways to avoid these holes while not colliding with the oncoming traffic, while the oncoming traffic is doing the same coming from the opposite side. (Forget about driving on the right in the rainy season, in other words.) It is still better than driving by car because in a car you cannot go around all these craters.

This experience triggered a memory of an “Action Story” that we learnt in Prof. Martin’s lecture: “We’re go-ing on a bear hunt: Uh-oh! There’s a lake: a big blue (brown/muddy) lake! We can’t go o-ver it, we can’t go un-der it, we have to go through it! Swishy swashy swishy swashy…”

 

On the first day after our arrival we went to our schools (Ban Phan Heng and Ban Sikeud) at 8.00 a.m. after only having slept for five hours, so we were still tired. However, everybody at the schools welcomed us in such a friendly way that we completely forgot about our tiredness. Lara and I already learnt some words in the Lao language on the second day we were at the school. Donekeo taught us all the things we wanted to know and now I can say a little bit in Lao. While Donekeo told us the words Lara transcribed them in a vocabulary list. “Koi su Lea” means “my name is Lea” and „koi men nai khu dju Ban Phan Heng“ means that “I am a teacher at the Phan Heng School”. Saysamone and Donekeo helped me to say and record it:

On Wednesday, Ms Souksada and Mr Khamsing picked us up from the school. Mr Khamsing Nanthavongdouangsy is the General Manager of Angels for Children and mainly responsible for the secondary school, and his wife Ms Souksada runs the cafeteria at the school. They took us to the “Morning Market” in Vientiane, where we could choose one of many beautiful sinhs“. We were really impressed by the huge market hall “Talat Sao” (Lao: ຕະຫຼາດເຊົ້າ), in which hundreds of different fabrics were being sold. Now we can wear them as uniforms, because the Laotian teachers also have one, and everyone in- and outside of school will notice us as the group of interns and not mistake us for stray tourists.

First Hospitation

On the next day I met my tandem-teacher Ms Bounpheng and went to one of her English lessons with her. I will be observing her lessons and give her help when she needs it. Hospitation is only one of the four areas of my work – I additionally teach Ms Bounpheng in the “tandem-teacher lessons”, where we practice vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation together. In the afternoon I do the “Activity time” with the children in the yard of the school. We sing, dance, and play games in English together. My fourth task is managing the Lending Library, where the teachers can lend diverse teaching material and also books for reading in their free time.
It was really interesting to see a Lao lesson the first time because it is so different compared to a German one. The pupils are so attentive, quiet, and polite, which is a necessity since there are often more than 40 children in one class. In comparison to German classes where you can work in different social forms like group work and station work, the Lao teacher is “on the spot” 100 minutes in each lesson and sticks to frontal teaching. In our project, we are experimenting with alternative teaching scenarios, however, and they seem to be appreciated.

First time in Vientiane

We went to see our three fellow-volunteers who teach at the Lao-German Technical College in Vientiane on Saturday. We had made many plans in advance, but in the end we just had some delicious fresh smoothies and ate fried rice together because we had so many experiences we wanted to share and talk about. Veronika showed us a beautiful boutique for more special sinh fabrics which she knew from her last stay with team IV. Some of us chose another fabric to have an individual sinh made for ourselves.

Cooking with the “Non-English” teachers

In the following week on Wednesday, some of the “Non-English” teachers came to our house to cook with us. We call them “Non-English” teachers because according to our way of thinking here, “English” or “no English” is the first important category for communication, and this latter group (of teachers) did not study English at university, and they teach other subjects like the Lao language, history, or science.

We prepared the food together and had a lot of fun getting to know them better in the process. We told them what the ingredients are called in English and they told us the Lao names. “Machi’ku” means lime and “kai” means egg. It was the first time that we made spring and summer rolls from scratch and the outcome was tasty. I hope we will do it again soon and maybe next time we can cook some German food with them, like Team I (Falang-Friendship-Feast) did with their (English) tandem-teachers!
 

This week was overwhelming. I am really excited about what the next weeks hold in store for us, and I am looking forward to an amazing time here in Laos.

Text by L. Herrmann

Photos by H. Glass, V. Golla, L. Malchow, J. Porscha, I. Martin

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