“My personal highlight and lowlight” by Jana Brecht
It is quite difficult to make out one special event which is supposed to be the best one as I had so many of them.
Nevertheless, there was one moment that I kept thinking about many times.
Close to the end of our stay in Laos, Noy, one of my English tandem-teachers, asked me to join her and her family for a big party in Vang Vieng. Her older sister and her brother-in-law got a new house. As it is a tradition in Laos to celebrate this special stage of life, they invited their whole family, all their friends, and me.
When I arrived in Vang Vieng, Noy and a friend of hers picked me up at the bus station and brought me to the party location. Driving through a huge archway, I was impressed by the scenery that manifested itself right in front of me.
We arrived at an immense courtyard with a meadow. On the meadow numerous tables and chairs were arranged and white tents were pitched. I was surprised and unable to come up with a guestimate. Therefore I asked Noy how many people would come to the party. She told me that over 400 guests had been invited. I was impressed!
As there were some more organizational things to do some of the women were busy putting everything in the right spot, while the men were busy drinking their beers. When I got out of the car the men invited me to come and join them. We drank some together, and it was actually really funny because none of them was able to say a word in English. Therefore, I had to fall back on my rudimentary knowledge of the Lao language.
After a little while, the hosts and guests started to get ready for the party. I put on my Lao-skirt and felt a little bit uncomfortable because all of the women were wearing astonishing traditional Lao skirts and beautiful blouses. Compared to them, my dress just seemed so casual. I think Noy saw my desperate glances and so she asked me whether I would like to wear something from her. Before I could say anything, three women were standing in front of me and put me into an elaborate robe (unfortunately, it was quite tight).
Afterwards, Noy’s sister asked me if I would like to join the Baci. The Baci is a spiritual ceremony celebrated on significant events in an individual’s life. This Baci was organized for family members only, and being a part of this ceremony was a great honour for me. The people treated me as if I belonged to the family, and they behaved in such a cordial way. At the end of each Baci, every participant gets a handful of colourful threads that function as bracelets. Then the participants walk around in the room and put on the bracelets on the people they want to wish good luck to. It was incredible: Numerous people gathered around me, all wanting to wish me good luck for the future! I would have loved to know what all these gentle people said to me in Lao.
After the ceremony Noy took me to another room of the house and asked me to take off the robe and to sit down. Suddenly I was surrounded by several people. One woman did my hair while another did my make-up. A third woman ironed my robe. It took them nearly one hour to do my styling. Afterwards I looked in the mirror. The person I saw didn’t bear any likeness with me. I never knew that it was possible to wear so much make-up. My eyebrows were nearly black and my cheeks were red like the bottom of a little baby.
Then it was time for the party to get started. The family had arranged a huge gate of flowers for the guests to walk through. In front of the gate the family, including me, was standing in a row to welcome the guests. Noy’s brother-in-law asked me to offer a whiskey shot to each guest. Every time when a new group of guests arrived, he proudly presented his Falang (“Falang” means “long nose” in Lao, and it is used to refer to foreigners). Nearly every single one of the guests wanted to take a picture of me in front of the gate. So I was quite busy serving whiskey and having my picture taken with the guests.
After three hours my legs felt like a lead weight and I decided to sit down to eat something. I talked to many interesting people in Lao and to two Laotians who spoke English. We enjoyed our dinner, drank beer, and danced the whole night.
At three a clock I finally went to bed and fell asleep immediately. When I woke up during the night, I realized that I was sharing my bed with three other people. Laotians just don’t need so much space.
In the morning I got up at six o’ clock to help with tidying up. Imagine the dirty dishes of 400 people and only 8 women washing everything in the morning. Moreover, the whole meadow looked like a mess, and it was clear to all of us that the party had been a great success.
In the afternoon I was really tired because it took us hours to tidy everything up. After we had finished our work, Toum, a girl I had got to know the day before, took me by the hand and gave me a tour of Vang Vieng. We went to the Yang Cave, where we met some of the people from the party and their children. When the children saw me, they ran to me and pulled me all over the site, to show me everything they had explored. We had so much fun and laughed nearly the whole time.
After our short sightseeing tour, the guests who were still there had a little hangover party. We were sitting together, drinking some beer, and some of the people sung karaoke.
Unfortunately it was time to leave and to say goodbye to everyone in the evening. Noy’s brother-in-law told me that he would like me to come and visit them again in Laos because I now was part of the family.
As much as I enjoyed the weekend, I caught an intestinal bacterial infection at the party. And so I was sick for the last few days of my stay in Laos. It got even worse because I wasn’t able to enjoy our farewell and the Baci our teachers organized for us. I had to leave prematurely and couldn’t join our farewell lunch. I stayed in bed for two days because I had a fever, body pain, a gastrointestinal infection, and strong stomach cramps.
Despite everything I will never forget the beautiful days in Vang Vieng and want to say thank you to Noy and her family once again for having me as their guest! This was one of the most wonderful weekends of my life.
Text & photos by J. Brecht