I can’t believe that it’s been already more than 3 months that I am back in Laos. Time really flies, especially when you try to get back into something that is called ‘routine’. After traveling for 10 months and moving from one spot to the next one every other day I found it quite hard to settle. I still had the last week of October before my work started so I spent quite some time looking around for accommodation which turned out to be more tricky than expected. Not that there aren’t enough guesthouses or houses for rent, but finding one which was in a quiet location AND with a lot of sunlight and preferably a balcony AND which was affordable turned was not as easy as I expected. But eventually I was lucky and found the Sayo Naga Guesthouse where I ended up staying and which turned out to be a good choice. Well, at first I had my troubles with my neighbor, a persistent and very noisy rooster who didn’t quite grasp the concept of the morning call of a rooster. He starts at around 3.40 sometimes (nowhere near sunrise) then stops for a while and then starts again around 5. But after my initial plans to bribe the neighbor (the owner so to speak, not the rooster itself) to kill the rooster and buy 3 chickens instead which I would have been happy to pay for I discarded those plans and have ever since then been using earplugs as soon as he decides to do his “thing” in the middle of the night- and I am actually fine.
So my first week back I spent a lot of time with my 2 Spanish friends Aritz and Alex whom I had met in New Zealand on a mountain hut in April and who happened to travel through Luang Prabang the week I arrived here. We visited the beautiful Tad Sae Waterfall twice in a row because this is the best place to swim in crystal clear water and cool off while watching Elephants taking a bath in the ponds of the waterfall (and knocking off stupid tourists who sit on their back). We also visited the yearly light festival called Boun Ock Pansaa which was one of the nicest events I had ever attended. In preparation for this festival all novices and monks spend days and sometimes weeks decorating their temples with beautifully handmade paper stars (with a light inside like a lantern) and with building boats made out of bamboo. In the evening of the actual festival day there is a huge parade where many villages carry their handmade brightly lit and amazingly decorated boats along the main street to the Xieng Thong Temple where all 24 boats are lined up next to each other and then carried down the steps to the Mekong to float down the mighty river. A jury elects the prettiest boat and while all this is taking place hundreds of people carefully place their little “boats” (made out of banana leaves and flowers) into the Mekong – an hope for their good fortune. Because if the tiny “boat” decides to drown after you have set it into the water then this means bad luck for you for the next year. But if it stays on the surface then everything will be ok. It is hard to describe what the Mekong looks like with thousands of little floating devices, lit with candles and the bigger and brightly lit boats of the various villages drifting by. Simply magical. At the same time many people light the wonderful big round paper lanterns which rise up in the air and gently drift along the black sky until they become a tiny bright spot far far away.
In this last week of October I also went with Monk Phan and 2 novices to visit the hometown of the Monk where I had been before in summer. The majority of the 12 big boxes that I had taken with me from Austria with the donation goods went to his and another nearby village. This day will always stay in my mind because it was extremely busy, with hundreds of faces and sooo many children. Compared to Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian children the kids here are so much shyer, so when I pointed to each kid, ansking it to come forward to give him or her a piece of clothing they often had to be pushed forward by their mothers. With big (and often insecure) eyes those beautiful wonderful children stood in front of me, waiting for their present, some of them giving me a ‘Nop‘ and then quickly running off (or not moving an inch and staring at me as if I were an alien from outer space – which I actually was to them because many of the kids had never seen a Falang (foreigner) in their whole life before).
And although I was dead tired after distributing clothes for about 7 hours it was a wonderful and fulfilling experience as I felt that all the strenuous work of collecting those goods over the 5 weeks that I was back home had been worth it. Many times I had tried to picture this moment in Austria when I repacked the brown moving cartons for the 100th time, asking myself why I had gone through all that effort. And on this very day I knew that it had been worth it.
P.S. this story is dedicated to ALL the people who supported me in this donation-mania. Either with their time, with goods or with money. And of course especially to the person who supported me mentally (e.g. when the mere sight or thought of brown IKEA boxes made me want to cry or scream!:))