Upon arrival

It’s been about 72 hours now since I stepped off the plane in Laos after 38 hours en route from Vancouver, through LA, then Bangkok, and finally… our new home town, Luang Prabang.

I have to say, things didn’t start out all that well.

It was about 95 degrees when we stepped off the plane. The immigration queue was not what you might call efficient. No one was there to meet us at the airport. After we’d dumped our four suitcases in an untidy tumble of luggage at the Hoxieng guesthouse and spent a brief spell lying underneath the air conditioner and gasping like landed fish, we ventured out again in search of food.

Half an hour later we were sitting outside at a table for two on a platform overlooking the Mekong. The setting sun was gilding the brown river with golden glimmer. Laughing boys splashed in the shallows below us. Two monks in bright orange robes walked down a track and climbed into a long, narrow, boat. One of them overbalanced as he tried to start the engine and almost fell into the water. Out in the middle of the river a fisherman stood steady in his own slim boat with a fishing net streaming through his hands in one long line. On the far bank, green hills clambered atop one another.

It should have been undeniably charming. And I was not at all charmed.

After we made the decision to move here in February, every time I met someone who’d been to Laos and told them about our plans, they all basically said the same thing: “You lucky girl.” But sitting by the Mekong on Monday night with my skin prickling with sweat and my feet swelling out of my shoes, I didn’t feel lucky. I felt exhausted, famished, and miserable. I felt trapped. I felt utterly pathetic at the prospect of being the only person in the entire world who actually hated this place. And when I remembered that we were here to stay for two years, I felt like drowning myself in the Mekong.

I looked at the table. My hand lay opposite Mike’s with just our fingernails brushing. It was too hot to touch.

“I’m going to miss holding your hand,” I said mournfully.

Across from me Mike was mostly silent in the fog of his own fatigue.

“It’s going to be OK,” he said.

I highly doubted that. At that precise moment I also doubted that I was going to be able to get through dinner without degenerating into an inconsolable, bawling, mess. So I chewed on my cheek, stared at the muddy river, and concentrated on keeping the tears corked.

But then the food came. And with every bite of chicken sautéed with chili and ginger and basil, or fried river fish topped with crispy garlic, I felt a bit better. And when we paid the bill and stood up to wander as the sun dipped below the horizon and the heat eased just a little, I felt a bit better again. And when we walked down a shaded brick alleyway, past a temple standing silent in the dusk, and stopped to pat a puppy that was beside himself with excitement to be the recipient of attention and affection, I smiled. And when we ambled through the night market under a sky sprinkled with pink clouds and I saw that, contrary to my expectations, the market was full of gorgeous things besides elephant slippers, I felt the first tiny stirrings of excited. (By the way, if anyone out there knows why people here in the tropics have decided to specialize in making warm padded slippers, please email me).

Since then there’s been a mélange of other moments – congealed pigs blood, house hunting on the back of a motorcycle being driven one handed by a woman whose other hand was cushioning the head of the sleepy toddler strapped to her chest, monks receiving alms, lychee and mint daiquiris, a violent thunderstorm, and cheap baguettes. And I’ve started to learn my first Laos words.

But that all came after that first night and my first hesitant steps up the trail leading out of the deep emotional chasm I tumbled into on the banks of the Mekong. For by the time we crawled into bed that night under the blessed benediction of a working air conditioner, I no longer wanted to drown myself.

I guess we all have to start somewhere.


23 responses to “Upon arrival

  1. I very distinctly remember first-night-in-new-home panic/despair and beating back “What have I done?” thoughts that were marching towards me like zombies. They seem to rise from the dead every time I make a major move.

  2. I’m officially jealous. Love the update and can’t wait to hear more – Hang in there and know you are missed in southern california –

  3. Beautiful, I’m bookmarking the blog, thanks for doing this for the arm chair travelers in your life who love you and enjoy seeing the world through your wonderful eyes.

  4. How was the congealed pig’s blood?

    • Chip, I’ve decided to save a few adventures for week two, so I politely declined to actually taste it. But when I get to that stage I’ll be sure to let you know. Mike said it tastes like hot, coppery, jello. Or something to that effect.

  5. Lisa, this was a lovely bearing of your soul. Out of powerful sensations come such beautifully rich words. I want a lychee and mint daiquiri . . .

  6. If anyone can pull off this new challenge, it’s you, my friend!

    Love and hugs

  7. Hang in there Lis!
    I would be so grumpy if I moved to anywhere humid- even Brisbane is a bit much for me sometimes. I hope you start to feel more “at home” (whatever that means for wandering folk) soon. How can you be so eloquent? Looking forward to reading more. Gotta figure out this blog-following business…
    big hugs, Amy, Matt and the girls

  8. Thanks Amy. Yeah, heat not my favorite part of being here, though I do love the tropical storms it brings. Hope you four are doing well. Post more photos 🙂

  9. There’s a saying among the three of us sisters… “we don’t transition well.” I can imagine any one of us (possibly Anne excepted for now) going through exactly what you did… although instead of keeping the tears corked we might have just gone ahead and let the rivers flow. I do hope that you’re feeling less trapped, more with a sense of whatever you hoped to find there, and above else… not alone.

    Thanks for writing.

  10. You capture the “What Was I Thinking?” panic so well… that moment AFTER we’ve boldly told God, “sure, I’ll go where-ever you lead. I’m up for it.”

    I love the way you find beauty and strength in the moments… and I love hearing about your adventures. HUGS!

  11. Lisa, Your ability to combine heart-wrenching honesty, insight and humor is such a gift. I will look forward to your posts eagerly — as well as to your book on the topic of “home”, which has also long fascinated me. In spite of being rooted (born, raised and citizen) in one place, there are several places I’ve lived more briefly which feel like “home” for their deep emotional connections. Not many people understand this….

    • Thanks Anne. I got your note about the krocers and I’ll let you know when there are opportunities to connect. Right now, though, I’m sort of hoping not to get on a plane for the next couple of months!

  12. Lis, sounds wonderful, awful, scary, inspiring. I remember my big panic when i moved to Arlington, MA in the 1970’s and first realized i didn’t know where to buy chopsticks. well, we all adjust to whatever, in time. Thanks for keeping us updated. I miss you!

    • I miss you too! I’m going to write to all Headingtonites tomorrow or Tuesday saying hi. Ran out of time and energy on Thursday/Friday. Hope you’re going well and life is handing you lots to laugh about.

  13. Pingback: The belly is growing, the brain shrinking | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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