Donating School Supplies

So here’s the story. I went with a big group of slow boat tourists to Kouang Si waterfall, a beautiful state park-like area where you can jump and swim in clear mountain pools. And I’m at the bear sanctuary watching the bear antics, when I start chatting with a couple of Americans, Ben and Christine, who happen to be from St. Louis. Not only that, but Christine and I actually went to high school together, with her graduating only the year before me! And then she went to Webster U., where a ton of my friends go. Somehow we never knew each other, though.

So the three of us hit it off, and they invite me to come with them the next day to donate some school supplies to a rural school that Ben goes to every year. It turned out to be a great experience that go me off the tourist-beaten path. The school is pretty far out there and doesn’t have much. We bought pens, colored pencils, notebooks and textbooks from the market for about 300,000 kip — less than US$40.

Afterward we were given a ba-see community blessing — a ritual in which people tie little white strings around our wrists to wish us good look and long life. I had experienced this ritual a couple times on my first trip to Thailand three years ago, but still I found the press of bodies and the tug of so many hands rather overwhelming. The ceremony was followed by a delicious meal of sticky rice, veggies and beef salad.

While we were there, we went to a local wedding. We missed the actual marriage part, and just showed up for the drinking and dancing. Like all weddings I have been to in Asia, this one was a curious mix of the innocent and the profane. And the awkward. For one, the point of Lao dancing seems to be to move as slowly as possible, avoid all eye contact with your partner and look completely bored. I’m not even joking about this. And when the music stops, they bow and run off the dance floor as quick as they can. Then there are all the little alcohol-fueled dramas playing out around us: the pervy drunk desperate for a kiss from the one white girl at the party (an Asian wedding staple!), a middle-aged woman laughingly forcing more and more beer down the throat of her already dangerously intoxicated husband. Lao and Thai weddings take place in the morning, and afterward they basically drink all day, with a comfy room set up for people to take turns passing out in.

Anyways, it was a great day, and here are some pictures of the school kids we delivered the supplies to.

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