When people move into a new house in Laos they have a Buddhist ceremony – blessing by monks and novices to chase away the bad spirits and invite the good spirits to protect the house.
2 weeks after I had moved into the house (and had exterminated the first couple of thousands of ants, flying ants, cockroaches, gotten rid of rats and God or Buddha knows what other creepy crawlies) I had invited all my students from my temple to my house to give it a blessing. All but 2 novices who were busy said during class that they would come so the next morning at 9.45 am 13 novices and 1 monk silently (and quite shyly) entered the house and sat down on the floor mats that I had prepared. I have to admit that I was quite nervous that morning as I had talked with Monk Phan the night before about what was needed for the ceremony and all of a sudden things like flower arrangements with incense sticks and candles and also those quirky superlong superthin candles that I had seen in many shops but had never quite understood what they were for were all of a sudden on the you-need-list. At 8 pm, with shops about to be closed soon. My Swiss friend Jutta helped me to get as many things as possible that night and as we arrived at one of the shops selling those long candles the vendor stormed right away into my direction and wrapped (!) the long candle around my head and cut off the length of my head’s diameter. I was absolutely taken by this procedure and silently mumbled to Jutta “what the heck is this about”? I mean the monk had already mentioned something like wrapping the candle around your head but that was all too confusing to understand so I simply paid for the candles and thought “let’s wait and see until tomorrow!”.
So after all of them had sat down on the floor in a circle I put a bowl with flowers on a little table and poured “wholly water” (or water that was going to become “wholly water”) into the bowl. Then I had to wrap the long candle around my head (which still make me feel looking a bit stupid and like Winnetou), twist it on the back of my head and give it to the monk -who then twisted the whole length of the candle until it looked like one of those red and pink candy canes. The next step was to unwind a ball of white wool and fastening it around the pillars in the living room and around all of us sitting in a circle. This white thread is to keep the bad spirits out of the house and to give protection. My friends Jutta and Christine whom had invited to participate in the ceremony and I then all started with the sermon and repeated the words of the monk in Pali Sanskrit (which would probably be the equivalent of the Latin language to our religion). After the sermon the novices and monks chanted for the house and its new inhabitant. It was a very beautiful and special experience for me. Although I was a bit nervous throughout the whole ceremony I was very happy and touched by the fact that FINALLY my students whom I have taught for almost 5 months for once came to MY house and not only the other way round.
After the chanting some of the wholly water was sprayed on our heads and the woolen thread was unspun from the room, convolved and then passed on to me. With this wool I was told I could make the wristbands as they are used in BACI ceremonies for my friends. The wholly water was then given back to me and I learned that I should pour it some place around my house for protection.
After the “official” part of the ceremony it is custom that that the novices and monks are invited for lunch in the house. And as I figured that they normally get the usual Lao food (i.e. sticky rice with some vegetables and some soup) I decided to go for the more unconventional food. So next to a hearty starter of noodle soup with pork French baguette with cheese and salami was offered as a starter (the cheese didn’t seem to find too many admirers as milk products are generally totally uncommon in Laos and many parts of Asia). A few minutes later a loud “haaaaaallo”, followed by a deeelicious smell, entered the house. Andrea, an Italian expat who is a master Pizza chef delivered 5 fresh out-of-the-oven pizzas to us – much to the delight of my students whose eyes became very big they saw the cartons and then the content. When I watched them all munching away on the different food I had another one of those truly-happy moments. Those boys mean so much to me and I was so happy seeing them have a good time and enjoy a bit of a change in their everyday food. The desert was fruit, chocolate (Ritter Sport, and M&M’s) and cakes and after this feast they were dead tired and some of them almost fell asleep sitting on the couch (this reminded me again of how heavy our food is). I gave them a little tour of my house and shortly after 11.30 am they had to return to their temple and I knew that many of them (including me!) would have liked to spend more time together-but that is unfortunately one of the many restrictions which go hand in hand with living in a temple.
After my students and my friends had left I later took my bowl with the wholly water, kneeled down in my garden and poured it over a plant – peacefully and quietly making my wish for this house and my life in it.
P.S: this blog posting is dedicated to my lovely students from Wat Taohai temple. Thank you for being in my life! Ai chua yuu nai Wat Taohai: Kop Jai lai lai sam lap bpen muu kong koi!