My first impressions – by Shirin Ud-Din
Sabaidee Laos! Our journey started on Saturday 17th of February, when we all met at Frankfurt airport to fly to Vientiane. After 30 hours of travelling we finally arrived in Vientiane, where Lea Herrmann (one of our predecessors from Team V) and the AfC driver Mr Viengkham picked us up at the airport. 20 Minutes later we – Team VI – arrived at our new home in Ban Sikeud. I was thrilled when I saw the “villa” we were supposed to live in and I was excited about the prospect of spending the next seven weeks there. The accommodation is very beautiful, spacious and well-equipped. These luxurious conditions will make our work here even more pleasurable.
After we had moved into our rooms – one room for each volunteer – we grabbed the bicycles to visit the local market to buy ingredients for cooking our very first dinner in Laos. Lea showed us around the village we live in and where we can find the market. Before heading back to the villa, we made a stop to get to know Mrs Bouangeun Hanthavong (aka “Linda”), one of whose jobs it is to take care of our needs during our stay. She is an assistant to Madame Engel and employed by Angels for Children, like the AfC General Manager Mr Khamsing.
Back in the villa Lea and Magdalena (her helper in Sikeud Primary School for a few weeks and the daughter of a friend of the Engel family) prepared dinner for us. Both had learnt to prepare Laotian vegetables and make delicious curries during their stay in Ban Sikeud and surprised us with water spinach, also called “Morning Glory”, which I had never eaten before and which was really delicious. On top they prepared a variety of vegetables and sticky rice. They also told us to fight our jetlag and stay up as late as possible so we would be fit the next day – which worked very well.
First day at school
On Monday our team went to school by bicycle and got to know the Laotian teachers. Ms Bouangeun and Lea showed us around the school, and we tried our first “real” Lao dish in the cafeteria, which is run by Mr Khamsing’s wife Ba. The kitchen staff cooks with fresh ingredients every day, which looks very advanced in contrast to German cafeterias. At the second glance, however, one understands not many cafeterias and households own fridges and are therefore not used to the concept of storing food. We all chose noodle soup and were excited to try it. We were not disappointed and I am sure that we will visit the cafeteria for lunch more often. We put some sprinkles of chili powder on top and noticed later how the pupils heaped it on until the soup became bright red.
The teachers’ room
We received a warm welcome when we entered the teachers’ room for the first time. All of the Laotian teachers were very friendly and showed great interest in our future work. In contrast to German staff rooms this teachers’ room is very small, but all of the teachers are able to arrange themselves. The Lao teachers also made room for us so that we also have a place where we can work and enjoy our break.
The teachers’ kitchen
On the second day I was invited to join lunch in the teachers’ kitchen during the lunch break. The teachers prepared a bamboo soup, papaya salad, and green salad, which were all delicious – but also very spicy. They cook in this kitchen every day and we are welcome every day to join them. I am grateful for their hospitality, which makes me feel welcome in Laos.
First “English teacher lesson”
I held my first English lesson for teachers on Wednesday to the “non-English teachers” Ms Chanmany and Ms Khamsee, who both teach science. I had read the weekly reports of their previous English teacher Veronika and now wanted to hear for myself at which level they speak English. So we first played a conversation game in which they had to talk to each other about several topics. Both liked the game and it was fun for me to see that they had fun doing this task. After that I showed them flashcards of colors and numbers to check some basic vocabulary. Two hours later our first “teacher lesson“ was over and I was happy how well it had worked. At this point I would like to thank Veronika (Team V) for her excellent work during her two stays – I am looking forward to tying in with her work!
We figured out together what my tandem-teachers would like to focus on because they still struggle with pronunciation issues like omitting consonants at the end of syllables, and grammar issues like the formation and usage of tenses. As I have two single lessons with each tandem-teacher and two lessons with both of them together we agreed on using the time together with revision of tenses, vocabulary, and doing new conversation games as well as role plays, and the single lessons to go on with the course book.
Day trip to Vientiane
On my first weekend my colleagues and I decided to visit Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Together with Johannes Zeck (AfC/BHS project leader) and Ms Bouangeun we drove to Vientiane. Our first stop was the “Morning Market“, where one can find clothes, food, jewellery, everyday objects, and, behind the mall, an abundance of stalls selling food, fabrics, electronics, and kitchenware. The reason why we visited the Morning Market was to find fabrics for a sinh, which is a traditional Lao skirt. We wanted to have sinhs for school because every female teacher wears one and this way the pupils know that we are teachers, too. I experienced Vientiane as a lively city with lots of tourists – a contrast to Ban Sikeud, which is a small village.
After the visit to the Morning Market, Johannes Zeck and Ms Bouangeun drove back to Ban Sikeud, but we stayed on to meet our colleagues from the Lao-German Technical College to spend the afternoon together. We walked around the city, had lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant and enjoyed a massage in a spa. In the evening we decided to go to the famous “Night Market”, where we went shopping again. We arrived in the villa with lot of bags and happy faces.
I am glad that I applied for this project because already after three weeks in Laos I see the big chance that lies in working together with other teachers from Laos – not only for them, but also for me: The preparation for the lessons, the creation of worksheets and flashcards as well as using the Science Lab to do experiments are all helpful for my upcoming teacher-training after I finish my studies. On top I am able to strengthen my intercultural competence. I am excited about what will come up over the next weeks.
Text by S. Ud-Din
Photos by S. Ud-Din & I. Kämmer