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Our personal highlight – by Anna Hajek and Tasja Reule

Unfortunately, our time in Laos passed way too fast and meanwhile we are back home in Germany, busy with our studies at the College of Education Karlsruhe again. Thinking back to our time in Laos, it is difficult to identify just one highlight. So many things happened in such a short time, we saw so many beautiful places, met so many wonderful people, and gained so many memorable experiences! Especially the last days will always remain in our minds.

A week before we started our journey back home, Svea and Tara, our successors, arrived at the LGTC. With their arrival and introduction, our farewell came closer and thus, for the first time, we realized with a shock of recognition that our time in Laos was about to end.

In our last week, the two of us, together with Svea and Tara, had a meeting with the acting director Mr Khamsavay and some of the English teachers, Ms Akina, Ms Mouk, and Mr Saythong. We introduced our successors and explained how they would continue with the classes and tandem-teaching lessons. After the formalities, Mr Khamsavay revealed to us that our beloved friends were planning to organize a Baci for us. This was a big surprise since, due to our relatively short stay, we did not expect that to happen. We were totally overwhelmed and could not hold back the tears.

A Baci is a traditional Buddhist ceremony to celebrate special occasions such as births, marriages, entering monkhood, departing, returning, beginning a new year, and welcoming, bidding, or saying goodbye. In this case, the Baci was held to thank us and send us on our way, and, at the same time, to welcome Svea and Tara at the LGTC.

On Monday, two days before we had to leave Laos, everything was set. We met at four o’clock in the afternoon and were extremely excited. Even though the Lao teachers had explained the process of the ceremony to us and our predecessors had told us about their own Baci(s), we could not imagine what exactly would happen, or what it would feel like. Many of the teachers from the Lao-German Technical College decided to join the event and even two of our students took part in the ceremony.

The meeting room in the Electric section was split into two large areas. On the left-hand side, a large, colourful carpet had been laid with a silver goblet in the middle. The right-hand side was arranged with many chairs facing a long row of tables.

Before we could start, Ms Moukdala asked each of us to choose one scarf which, to us, seemed more like a sash. She showed and helped us how to properly arrange and wear it.
When all four of us were adorned with the scarves, we were asked to sit behind the long tables next to Mr Khamsavay, facing the rows of chairs.

We were both highly emotional and nervous at the same time. All those people were coming just for us, and we felt so thankful and overwhelmed by the love and effort the teachers put into the organization.

Ms Mouk and Ms Ket gave heart-warming speeches, which still occasion gooseflesh on our skins. Especially the sentence “you are not only our teachers, but you are our friends” still rings in our ears plucking our heartstrings – because those people in the room were not only our students, either. Then Mr Khamsavay said some words about the wonderful time we had all had together and how sad it would be to let us go. Then he handed the microphone over to us.

Holding back the tears, we realised this would be one of the last days where we would have all of them together and around us, so we tried to find the right words to say “thank you”. Thank you for the unique opportunity we had received, for the kindness of the teachers, and for the friends we had made. After this, Mr Khamsavay handed us farewell gifts, which have meanwhile moved back with us into our German apartments. We were so touched by the whole festive, solemn, and caring atmosphere that it was incredibly hard not to let loose all those tears. Even now when we think back, we immediately get homesick. Because it had become a home – even in such a short time.

After this official part we gathered on the carpet. The goblet (paw kwan) had been decorated with banana leaves, lots of white cotton threads, and orange flowers (tagetes). We sat in a small circle around it, and the teachers handed us one long white thread and asked us to hold it in our folded hands. Every single one of the people present sat around us and either held the last centimetres of the thread or slightly touched us with one hand so everyone was connected to the centre.

Then the Baci began.

A man we had not known until then – he must have been a monk for a while – started chanting his prayers. The flow and the melody of his words – although we did not understand a thing – really got under our skin.
He sometimes made a pause, which the audience filled with cheering, followed by a small shower of plain rice and sweets. It felt like being in a trance.

After the prayers, the second part began.

We let go of the thread and everyone around us got up. We were handed steamed rice, chicken, sweets, fruits, and beer. Furthermore, each member of the congregation took one of the prepared white threads to tie around our wrists. These are for all bad to vanish and only good things to come. And with every knot, we received a different wish they gave us for our journey and our lives.
We were told not take off these threads for at least three days and not to cut the threads, since this would bring bad luck.

Since Lao people never miss any opportunity to celebrate, we had a little feast, of course, with lots of food, drinks, music, and dancing. They taught us how to dance in the Laotian way, which mostly consists of gracefully circling one’s fingers and hands whilst slowly moving forwards and backwards in one big circle. We can at least say now what it is roughly supposed to look like. We tried our best, like our predecessors before us.

We are still so thankful for experiencing this unique tradition within a foreign country. It is such a difference to live and work in a country instead of just being a tourist and visiting the sights. We cannot stress often enough how grateful we are for the opportunity the AfC foundation, the LGTC, and especially our project leaders Ms Martin and Mr Zeck gave to us to broaden our horizons.

Since one of our wonderful Lao friends forbade us to say “goodbye”, due to the fact that this would mean it would be final, all we will say now is

See you again!

Text by A. Hajek & T. Reule

Photos & videos by A. Hajek, T. Reule, S. Insarn & M. Keomixai

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