On 10 July 2020, we had the wonderful opportunity to follow the invitation of Dr. Martin to come together for the 6th annual Lao-German Friendship Feast. Originally the date was set for 8 May 2020, but due to Covid-19 the feast had to be rescheduled. (In July, when the first lockdown eased off, open-air parties up to 70 people were allowed again in Germany.) Nevertheless it did not dampen the mood of the 55 guests.
The guests consisted of former members of the project from Teams III to X and the freshly-nominated members of Team XI, international students from Hongkong, China, and Pakistan, two doctoral students in the “Laos project”, also their partners and friends. Also, representatives of the International Office of the PH Karlsruhe came, and, to our special honor, His Excellency the Lao Ambassador to Germany Mr Phomma Boudthavong, his wife Ms Amphayvanh Panyanouvong, two of his employees, and their driver, who had driven to Karlsruhe from Berlin for the occasion. Ms Amphayvanh Panyanouvong and Ms Thikhamphone Phomveha, the Ambassador’s secretary, were dressed in very nice traditional Lao dresses. Also Mr Padith Phongpachith, the Vice-President of the German Lao Friendship Society (GLFS e.V.), had come from Bonn to join our celebration, as did Mr Philipp Reul, one of the doctoral students-to-be.
Thanks to the very welcoming and generous gesture of Mr Martin Schoebinger and his sister Elke Hoenig we could once again celebrate the Lao-German Friendship Feast at this gorgeous location in Durlach-Aue just outside of Karlsruhe.
After the welcoming words of Dr Martin and Ambassador Mr Phomma Boudthavong the international buffet was opened.
This wonderful international buffet consisted of hearty dishes and desserts from all over the world and were donated by the guests of the Lao-German Friendship Feast. There were Lao-style dips, many salads, a lentil Dal, muffins, melon, and chocolate mousses, just to name a few. Little surprises were also included in the international buffet for the curious guests, which Ms Amphayvanh had prepared. Very tasty sweet and savoury sticky rice fillings were wrapped in a package of banana leaves and thereby hidden from plain sight. Even though many dishes did not last very long – because they were extremely tasty – the buffet never ran out thanks to the ongoing celebration and more guests arriving all through the evening with new delicious dishes and snacks.
When most of the guests had finished their first or even second and third rounds to the buffet everyone’s attention was was drawn to the top of the barn, where the musicians had set up their equipment. The musicians Ariane Kummetz (Team V) and our two Erasmus+ students Phongsavang Xaikongkham (Don) and Chanthalakone Souydalay (Thone) from our cooperation partner university Savannakhet University (SKU) Laos presented some contemporary hits and then opened the stage to anyone who wanted to contribute to the program and entertainment. After a while even the Ambassador’s wife Ms Amphayvanh and secretary Ms Thikhamphone got on the stage and presented some authentic Lao songs together with Don and Thone.
Now the next highlight followed. More Lao music was played by our guests, but this time everyone was invited to learn and participate in traditional Lao dances. The first dance was a traditional dance, which is danced in two circles. In the inner circle all the men stood facing outside, where the women, who made up the outer circle, were standing facing the men. In very slow motion the two circles proceeded three steps before facing each other again. The steps were accompanied by very smooth and elegant hand movements, which all have their meanings. It was to our great joy that the Ambassador and his wife showed us how to dance this very complicated dance, which they made look so easy and beautiful.
More dances followed which reminded us of line dances also known in other parts of the world, such as the United States of America. In line dances the participants are set up in lines and do not have a partner. A certain amount of steps make up the choreography and then are repeated after changing direction by 90 degrees, which complicates the steps for beginners. These line dances turn to all four sides of a “room”, therefore facing each direction around and around – as long as the song lasts.
Even though our 6th annual Lao-German Friendship Feast took place in July, the weather was not perfect. Clouds were covering the sky later in the evening and a cool wind accompanied them. However, even when it started to rain in the last hours of the day, the atmosphere continued to be lovely and the spirit of the guests was not disturbed. By 11 p.m. everyone had settled for a corner to sit or stand in and partners to talk to, after moving around freely to get to know the other guests. Old friends were once reunited and new friendships started to bond. Between talking and laughing all of the guests even attempted to sing a traditional Lao song (Cham pa muong lao). Most of us probably failed to do so, but nevertheless we all tried and it contributed to the perfect evening and the individual atmosphere created by the guests and the location. This continued up until midnight, when we were able to surprise Dr Martin with a “Happy Birthday” song and little ceremony. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous evening, which would never have existed without Dr Martin and her helpers and their dedication to the project and the evening.
Text by C. O’Dell
Photos & videos by M. Bilger, R. Dengler, P. Lang, I. Martin & C. O’Dell