When Laos is hard

It’s Tuesday morning at 7:20am. I’m sitting in a dark kitchen with the door wide open behind me, because there’s no electricity. There hasn’t been any since 1:15am when it went off suddenly during a storm. The departure of the electricity knocked out the air conditioner but not, unfortunately, the new drip that has started recently. Somewhere, somehow, there is a leak up there onto the ceiling of our bedroom inside the house when it rains. It’s loud, it’s irregular, and it annoys the living daylights out of me.

While we’re on the topic of sound, let me tell you about yesterday.

Much to my distress, it seems the man right over the fence from us has decided to set up a little woodworking shop at his house. Yesterday he and another fellow spent all day sanding down wooden doors. Anyone who has spent much time near power tools knows they can be incredibly loud. Try to imagine spending from 8am to 6pm listening to the sound of two electric sanders about thirty feet away from you, grinding down wood (but don’t try too hard, because if you’re anything at all like me this is a hugely upsetting experience and there’s no real need for both of us to have bad days on account of the power tools outside my window).

By 5:30 I was totally unable to concentrate, so I went to wash the dishes.

As I was standing at the sink I smelled something acrid that I’ve smelled more than once before at that sink. This time, as I filled the sink with warm water I noticed the smell getting stronger. Then I noticed grey tendrils curling up behind the tap. Smoke was leaking up from around the sink. When I opened the cupboard under the sink a whole cloud of chemical-smelling smoke poured out. No fire though, I guess that’s something to be thankful for.

When Mike came home last night to find me in A State he called one of his national colleagues and asked them to come over so we could talk to the men over the back fence and find out what is going on. Sadly it seems the power tools are going to become a regular feature of our life here – maybe not every day, but whenever the man over the back fence can get business.

Maybe we should offer to pay to send him to barber school, or something.

Mike and I went out to dinner. We talked. I ate all sorts of things that are bad for me. Then we came back home and sat at the kitchen table and smelled smoke again. Not the same as the kitchen sink smoke, but undeniably smoke. We smelled all over that kitchen – each other, the bulbs in the ceiling, the power strips on the floor, the light switches on the wall… we can’t figure out what might be causing it.

“I think I’m going to take our birth certificates and some other documents into the office tomorrow,” Mike said, stuffing our important documents folder into the backpack that doubles as his briefcase.

I did not have to ask why.

We went to bed. At 1:30 this morning when the power went off and I woke up with a start.

“Have you expanded your circle of hate to include me, yet?” Mike asked as we were both lying awake in the dark, getting hot, and listening to the drip in the ceiling.

“No,” I said. “I still just hate Laos. You can come with me when I leave. Tomorrow.”

“That’s really good,” Mike said – not actually intending to convey any praise at all, “that you’re able to go from peacefully asleep to hating an entire country in under two minutes flat.”

“Well I did a fair bit of groundwork yesterday to prime that pump,” I said. “Yesterday by ten I was still only hating the men over the back fence. By noon I was hating our house. By two I was hating the neighborhood. I didn’t get to the hating Laos stage until right before you came home. But, as we’ve just witnessed, once you do the hard work of getting to that level of hatefulness you can stay in that sphere for a while and jump right back to that particular point at the slightest provocation. Not,” I finished, “that I consider water leaking into our ceiling a slight provocation.”

The rain finally stopped, and so did the dripping. The power did not come back on. Mike eventually took his pillow and went across the hall in the hopes that this would help at least one of us get back to sleep sometime before dawn.

“You might want to take a shower now,” Mike said later this morning at 6:45 when he came back in. “Water pressure’s dropping. There may be no water in the system soon.”

“I will wait,” I said, getting up. “Until the power comes back on and we have warm water.”

Downstairs here there is no coffee because the kettle is electric.

“Bye,” Mike kissed me as I sat at the kitchen table and headed out the door to his very full day.

From the driveway I heard the sound of an office vehicle trying to start, and failing.

I went outside.

“Battery’s too weak,” Mike said, getting out, looking like he was hating Laos a little now, too.

I sighed. He sighed. He turned and walked out to the road to catch a tuk tuk. I came back inside to the sound of hammering from over the fence and a finite computer battery. It could be a long day.

25 responses to “When Laos is hard

  1. Ugggghhhhhhhhhhh. That’s all I can rally say. So sorry. That and at least you got a blog post out of it! Hmmm yeeesss. Hope today is better. Much much better.

    • It was thanks. Despite the fact the electricity stayed off for 16 hours. No electricity for me meant none for the woodworkers, and the whole thing was sort of liberating. Once I ran out of computer battery I lay on the cool tile floor and read a book and drank water.

  2. I’m addicted to your blog. I guess I keep reading, waiting for when things will turn around (or for your perspective to change). I feel sorry for Mike. Not only does he have to contend with the low water pressure, lack of air conditioning, and all the inconveniences, but it’s compounded by a stressful job in which he can’t help everyone who needs it and by knowing that his wife is thoroughly unhappy because he wanted to move to Laos to fulfill what he feels is his purpose in life. It’s always harder to deal with negative situations when surrounded by negativity.

    Reading your blog, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be poor and living in Laos–having no air conditioning ever, running water, or people to call to fix things.

    I hope you find something beautiful and meaningful in being there. Try to stay positive, Lisa.

  3. Hey Lisa, so sorry to hear how difficult things are in Laos. I just got back from visiting rural Ecuador so I understand some of your frustrations but at least we were able to head back to the comfort of a hotel at night (it had hot water MOST of the time!) Hang in there and know that you and Mike are in my prayers today.

  4. When Laos is hard….you have a lot of amazing friends who love you!

  5. Ah! Sometimes living away is so frustrating. Sometimes LIFE is so frustrating! Know that we’re here pulling for you…

  6. Sitting in Canada, green (but a light shade) with envy. Absolutely nothing so interesting will happen here all day. Only order, which inspires a different type of frustration. Hope you can love hating every bit of it.

    • Yes, order brings it’s own challenges for sure. That makes me think of Donald Miller’s latest book, which I loved – I think it’s called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Have you read it?

  7. Lisa: Hang in there! I thought I had it bad here in the United States. Despite living in a nice neighborhood with HIGH taxes, we have a neighbor that mows his lawn before 7am on Saturday mornings; he has a recreational vehicle which seems to deliberately be lacking a muffler that he LOUDLY joyrides with his children around the neighborhood AND in the winter, he circles his house with his snowmobile late at night. Despite the fact that we all speak English, these neighbors and their loud children can do NO wrong in their eyes…I will pray for you and Mike!

    • Noise can be so tough, can’t it? It doesn’t seem to bother some people at all, and it drives others (like me) crazy faster than almost anything else. I just find it really hard to concentrate and focus when everything is loud. Hope this Saturday is lawn mower free for you.

  8. Fredrick Buechner wrote: “Noah’s thoughts, one imagines, were of water. The chaos of the moment was no greater than it has ever been. Only wetter. We must build our arks with love and ride out the storm with courage and know that the little sprig of green in the dove’s mouth betokens a reality beyond the storm.” Hang in there and gather the bad stuff as real life material for your next novel. Doug

    • I loved this quote and how it encourages perspective, though I must say I disagree with Beuchner on the second sentence (although not his overall point). I would wager that the chaos in that moment WAS greater than it had previously been. At least, in the felt sense.

  9. Dozer would like you to know that if he were there he would bark at that neighbor with his annoying power tools, look at you with sympathetic eyes when the rain causes weird dripping noises that drive you berserk, and he would snuggle you when weird smoke came out of your sink and worried you. He’s very supportive like that.

    • That’s cuz he’s awesome. And I wish we could timeshare him. (Not that I would have any right at all to demand to timeshare your dog even if we lived close, but I’d want to, because he’s awesome.) And so are you.

  10. Hah hah- loved it Lis. In that sense of true empathy, and much in the way, when we were first getting to know each other through our writerly voices, you made a comment that communicated that you both felt/appreciated/sympathised with my pain as I circled the abyss, and yet found yourself laughing at the same time, I laughed a lot reading this. Strange how life does loops.

    I’m glad that you’re able to use your sense of humour to communicate the frustrations and desperations of the lifestyle you’ve chosen. And I’m glad that when you leave Laos (tomorrow) you’ll still be taking Mike, and a backpack of great (if traumatic) memories with you.

    You know, as well as I do, that deep down, however much it sucks in the now, you’ll end up being glad you didn’t trade it. And that, years from now, when you’re somewhere else, you’ll look back (just as I do with PNG now), and laugh.

    And when you do, there’ll be a little piece of you that still hurts, in a very beautiful way.

    • I remember that abyss letter. I was in Arizona when I read that letter. And you’re spot on – about the trading, and the joys, and the little bit of pain. It is a wonderful (and sometimes terrible) roller coaster ride.

  11. I’ve been reading you’re blog ever since I found out you had one – I think I Googled you after reading My Hands Came Away Red (easily in my top 5 favorites, by the way). My all time favorite story is the telling of the girl bird flying into your apartment and Mike’s comment on the boy bird’s rationale on trying to help. I read that every time I need a good laugh. Anyway, I’ve been following your epic journey from packing up California to landing in Laos and all I keep thinking is, “I’m a tough, out-doorsy type girl who LIKES outdoor adventures but….THIS. I don’t know if I could handle all that you and Mike are enduring. Before I discovered central air MAYBE. But NOW? Even when I’m out camping or sweating in 95 degree weather I can always come back to a cool apartment and whatever temperature shower I want. I am simply in awe of what you guys are doing and can only hope to have the guts to shelve my comfortable amenities and do something half as brave and honorable. And really, can we send you a care package?? Or…something? I can’t very well ship you “electricity,” but maybe some homemade beef jerky and good Cadbury Chocolate? (The stuff actually made in NZ, not the faux Hershey kind!) I wish I could just fax you over something. Well, in any case, know you are touching the lives of many out here, and I will know my prayers are certainly getting to you. Cheers!

    • Hannah thank you for this beautiful encouragement. You made me smile this morning, and laugh. That bird anecdote… yes, I still laugh when I think about that conversation. Mike was making a bit of fun of me in that moment, as I have a (perhaps not great) habit of saying “don’t help me” when I get myself into a bind. Laughter is a good thing, isn’t it?

      And as for chocolate from NZ, mmmmm (do you live in NZ?). Thank you for that kind offer, but I very much fear it would be requisitioned by the powers that be before it ever reached us up here. I will just have to look forward to that treat the next time I’m in NZ, which I certainly hope is soonish because I adore that country.

      I hope you have a good week. Thanks again for your comment, and your prayers. Lisa

  12. Pingback: When criticism collides with fear | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  13. Reading your stories, your days, your laughs, Mike’s voice, etc makes me hunger to go back overseas. Thanks for sharing so readily and with such grace and humor.

  14. Pingback: When criticism collides with fear | LisaMcKayWriting

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