Tag Archives: laos

House hunting and the powers that be

It is the season of busy (it is also the season of ash falling from the sky as they have started burning the rice field in preparation for planting, but does not make me more busy, that just makes life a bit more unpleasant).

No, the busy these last six weeks has coming from a whole bunch of different things: two sets of parents in town, little boys with big casts, two unplanned trips to Thailand, one to Vientiane, and someone who’s decided that he’s ready to eat solid food so now I have to start attending to things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner for him every day. I mean, seriously, every day, can you believe it?

And we’re moving house. The cumulative weight of child safety factors (our beautiful but dangerous spiral staircase and the unfenced pool out the front) and the ongoing noise issues with our woodworking neighbors finally pushed us over the edge. We’re moving house by April 1, then less than two weeks later we’re getting on a plane for the States to spend a month there on home leave.

Oh, and I’m publishing my book. For half a second I almost forgot the endless to-do list related to the new website (stay tuned, it’s coming soon), cover design, and launch planning. Release date still to be determined but either mid-April or June 1.

So, yeah, busy, and during the next six weeks I may occasionally re-run some old posts from the blog. This one, from last time we were house hunting here in Laos, seemed like a fitting choice for today.

House hunting and the powers that be (originally posted July 2010)

This may come as news to some of you – it did to me eight months ago – but Laos is one of the world’s few remaining communist states. The full name of the country is officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The government publishes all newspapers, including two foreign language papers. Missionary work of any flavour is regulated. And when any staff of Mike’s organization visits the field projects they must be accompanied by a government official – an official who gets paid a per diem by the NGO for their time.

Here in Laos, I have been pondering how I may be able to periodically touch on the topics of God, the policies and practices of the organization Mike works for, or the government, without treading on any toes. I haven’t come up with anything brilliant yet. So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to try using the phrase “the powers that be” to refer to the three aforementioned entities and leave it to the reader to figure out which one I might be talking about.

I apologize in advance if this proves confusing. So, too, can life be here.

During the past two weeks we have continued the house hunting that Mike began while he was here without me in April and May. There are no classifieds we can read, or website we can search. If you need to find a house in Luang Prabang you have exactly two options. You can walk the streets looking for hand-painted “house for rent” signs attached to gates and then have a Lao-speaker call the contact phone number on the sign. Or, you can go through a local agent – someone who’s job it is to find out where all the houses for rent are hiding and to negotiate on your behalf with prospective landlords.

Phet is just such an agent, and the day after we arrived I took a deep breath, put on the helmet she had borrowed for me, and climbed onto the back of her motorcycle. We saw five houses that day, and I came back excited. Two, I thought, were good options. One of those options Mike hadn’t yet seen.

I tried to describe it to him over dinner that night.

“We went over the wooden pedestrian bridge across the Khan,” I said. “Then we turned left and went down a dirt road.”

“How far?” Mike asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Not far. It was a really pretty road – all jungly and tropical. There were temples, and plants, and another wooden bridge. It was very atmospheric,” I said.

“Atmospheric,” Mike repeated, as if that may not be the most satisfactory of descriptors for an access road.

“What was the house like?” he asked.

“Oh, it was cool,” I said. “There was a big veranda on the top, and broken pool out the back, and two cute dogs. The dogs were very friendly, but they belong to the…”

“The house,” Mike reminded me.

“It had two big rooms up the top, and another room that was locked and they couldn’t find the key. So I didn’t see that one. But the stairs were good. And there were tiles on the floor. And lots of trees. And it was quiet. And I liked it.”

“What about water tanks?” Mike asked. “Was it on city water? Was there a big water heater? Was there glass on the windows, and screens? Fans? Did all the air conditioners work? Was there a phone line into the house?”

“I dunno,” I said, realizing for the first time that I may have neglected to pay attention to a couple of key attributes. “I’m pretty sure there was a phone line. I think there was glass on the windows.”

“You think,” Mike closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I hoped he was visualizing us sitting in hammocks on a tree-shaded veranda, debriefing our days over a cold drink. But I figured it was more likely that he was lodging a quick request with the powers that be for extra patience.

“OK,” he said after he opened his eyes again. “We’ll see if we can go see it together this weekend.”

We did take a truck to go see it that weekend, and by the time we’d found the vehicle bridge over the river Khan (a good deal further away from the house than the pedestrian bridge suitable for motorcycle traffic) and bumped our way down three torturously slow, bone jarring, head-banging, kilometers, I was deflated.

“Getting in and out of here on anything other than a motorcycle would be tough, wouldn’t it,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said gently. “It’d be tough. Especially when it rained. And you might end up feeling very isolated.”

My beautiful vision of us on the veranda dissolved and was replaced by a picture of motorcycling along a dirt road to do the grocery shopping during a monsoonal downpour. That was the end of our quest to acquire the jungle house – which was just as well, really, because Phet informed us later that day that the landlady had changed her mind about evicting the current tenants after all – and it was back to the drawing board.

But we’ve now seen 27 houses, and it’s beginning to get seriously demoralizing. Some houses have no air conditioners, or glass in the windows. Some have no phone lines installed (and, hence, no possibility of in-house internet). Most have no external hot water heaters. Some are nestled in between construction sites, of which there are many in Luang Prabang at present. Some are beautiful, but sit right on a main road and beside local restaurants. And where there is a local restaurant there is beerlao. And where there is beerlao there will likely be karaoke.

If you don’t count my short-lived infatuation with the jungle house, or the stunningly beautiful way-out-of-our-price-range house in the hills outside of town (a house of two pools, luscious gardens, hanging plants, shinning wooden balustrades, and an in-house bar), we’ve found exactly one house we really liked. Number 18. A wooden house perched on the banks of the Mekong.

But on Sunday afternoon (after three visits to this house, four long emails, and two extended meetings with Phet and the prospective landlord) the negotiations broke down. The landlord, you see, had suddenly decided to only offer us a contract for rent that went to the end of April 2011, and the powers that be require us to rent a house for an entire year at a time.

To complicate matters further, the powers that be require us to pay the entire years worth of rent in advance. This removes any economic incentive for landlords to make ongoing improvements to the property. This means that what we move into is probably what we will be stuck with.

To complicate matters even further, the powers that be have decreed that those on tourist visas must rent rooms in guesthouses, rather than renting houses privately. Just this week, the powers that be have been visiting houses inhabited by foreigners, checking up on them, and evicting any who hold tourist visas.

And, to complicate matters even further, the powers that be have not yet issued Mike’s work visa (although it has been in progress since February). Yet other powers that be are very eager to see us in a house, and are urging us to make a decision and just get on with it.

I am not eager to get on with it, as the leading option at the moment is the house on the main road beside the restaurant. I am also not eager to stay indefinitely in the guesthouse – that bastion of slamming doors, late-night voices, and neighborly circular saws. I am, in other words, a bit stuck.

So if any of you dear readers are in a position to have a quiet and respectful word on our behalf with the powers that be regarding these matters, please… go right ahead.

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Feeling weighed, measured, and found wanting

I did not stop to seriously consider the implications of my actions before stenciling a giant PATIENCE on Dominic’s cast.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town and it’s the tail end of the cool season here. There are thousands, literally thousands, of tourists in town. Not many of them, however, are walking around with babies, so our little trio already made an unlikely sight even before the accident. Now we’re a downright curiosity.

I watch people watching us when we’re out and about. First they see the stroller. They do a double take and search for the baby with a smile. Then they see the cast and their eyes go wide and a look of voyeuristic concern washes over their faces. Then they tilt their head sideways just a fraction as they take in the artwork adorning Dominic’s leg. Then their eyes jump up to my face.

The gaze seems confused and, sometimes, speculative.

But do you know, not a single person has asked me why on earth that word is on his leg? Plenty of people have asked me what happened to his leg, but no one has followed it up with, “so, uh, what’s the go with patience?”

I sometimes wonder if they know what I now know – that 70% of femur breaks in babies under 1 year old are the result of child abuse. I sometimes wonder if they suspect that the story about a fall down the stairs is just a convenient cover and that I needed a daily black and white reminder to reign in a vicious temper.

I would be willing to bet our first-born chi – OK, our dog – that the specter of feeling judged by strangers on these points has never entered Mike’s mind.

The difference between Mike and I in this regard was apparent long before Dominic’s accident.

Every time we go out walking with Dominic I need to build in several minutes to stop and exchange greetings with people who live on our street. There’s the friendly couple who own the small paper-supply shop and the unfriendly woman who blatantly rips us off at the fruit stand because we’re falang (foreigner) but who adores Dominic – he’s the only one of us she ever smiles at. There’s the disabled teenage boy who occasionally takes my hand when I walk past and gently kisses it. There’s the woman who sells donuts that ooze bright pink custard, and the one who sells organic vegetables from a blue tarp laid down on the sidewalk (sometimes she sells dead rats or cats, too, but let’s not go there). Then, of course, there’s anyone walking past who just wants to stop for a peek at the chubby white baby with coppery hair.

When I walk past with the stroller, none of these people hesitate to tell me when they think that Dominic is too hot or too cold, or that it might rain on us, or that he looks like he needs to sleep, or eat. When I was out with Mike one evening and the second person had stooped over my child, felt his fat little arm and then commented that it was cold and pulled up the wrap to cover him, Mike felt me tense.

“What’s the problem,” he asked as we continued on our way.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I said. “All these people telling us that we’re getting it wrong? That we’re not taking good enough care of him?”

“What?” Mike said. “That’s not how I take it at all.”

“How do you take it then?” I said, wondering how else you could possibly take a phalanx of virtual strangers telling you that you haven’t dressed your child warmly enough.

“I take it as: ‘Wow, you have a beautiful little baby. We all love babies. Let’s find some common point of discussion whereby we can connect with you as parents and demonstrate that we’re paying attention to caring for the baby’s wellbeing,’” Mike said.

“That is a much nicer way to take it,” I said, not completely convinced.

“Do you really feel like people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job as a mother?” Mike asked, amazed.

“Sometimes,” I admitted.

I wonder if this is only the beginning – whether I’m always going have to fight the instinct to take it personally whenever other people comment on what my child says and does. And I wonder where it comes from – what hidden deficit of self-esteem or deep-seated need for affirmation fuels this tendency to feel judged when others reach into the stroller and tug up my baby’s blanket.

I can tell you one thing though. If, heaven forbid, anything like this tumble down the stairs happens in the near future I won’t be adorning any casts with the words “gentleness” or “self-control”.

When have you felt judged as a parent? What helps you in those moments?

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Heading back to Laos today

The doctors at the hospital felt confident enough to discharge us yesterday … until I mentioned that Dominic had started to cough and sneeze. As it turns out, he was coming down with his first major cold.

When the hospital relayed this information to the insurance company, they strongly recommended that we stay at least one more night. In fact, they stopped just short of telling us they wouldn’t fly us home yet even if we wanted to go. So we spent our third night in the hospital last night with the poor little fellow – this time trying to figure out how to prevent him from falling asleep only to wake up two or three minutes later gagging, choking, and coughing.

Why is it that in all the parenthood stories I’ve heard so far, I’ve never heard someone talk about how scary to watch a baby struggle to breathe when they have a cold? Or maybe I’m just finding everything scary at the moment.

Anyway, Dominic is breathing easier this morning and so are we. We’re still dosing him regularly with painkillers, but he seems to be fairly resigned to the cast on his leg and we’re seeing many more smiles.

And even some flapping…

We’re being discharged today and flying home this afternoon on the 1:30 flight. Thank you all again for all your comments on the blog and via facebook, as well as your emails. We haven’t been able to reply to many of these messages of support, but they have all been read and greatly appreciated!

More from Laos,

Lisa

Dominic’s leg: The ugly, the bad, and the good.

We’re here at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok. I tried to organize this into some sort of coherent update by good, bad and ugly categories, but I not feeling coherent enough myself yet to pull that off. So, in no particular order and with no particular artistry, here’s what’s going on.

Good: Mike and I are overwhelmed by the amount of love and support people are directing our way from around the world. We are so touched and feel so loved. Dominic, of course, has no idea that so many people are thinking of him and praying for him, but we sure do.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Bad: Despite our insurer’s best efforts, it took us more than 30 hours to get Dominic to Bangkok after the break. During that time we splinted his leg using cardboard and gauze (Mike’s dad did most of that, actually) and kept him as still as possible. We slept him on the change-table mat on the floor and I fed him by kneeling over him. I also managed to feed him on the plane without taking him out of the car seat (which I think I should get some sort of acrobatics award for, and maybe an honorable mention for sacrificing dignity). During these last 48 hours there have been several times when I really wished I had not slacked off on yoga after Dominic’s birth.

Good: This is our second medevac with our medical insurance company, International SOS, and they continue to impress (and when I say “impress” I mean: I would like to kiss every single employee of that company plus anyone who sits on the board).

They made probably a dozen phone calls to Laos to keep us updated on their efforts and a doctor walked us through how to splint the leg ourselves. They flew a doctor up to Laos to escort us back to Bangkok on the flight. We were met at the gate and whisked through the diplomatic channel at immigration and customs and then met at the curb of the airport by an ambulance and two nurses.

Bad: In the ambulance the nurses and the doctor who’d travelled with us were in frequent communication with the team waiting for us at the hospital. They told me they didn’t want me to feed him after 4pm because they’d scheduled him for surgery at 8pm, and then they put the sirens on the ambulance in an effort to get us to the hospital faster so that I could feed before the deadline.

Running the ambulance sirens because the baby needed to kin nom (drink milk) would have been funny … except that it wasn’t. Also, the sirens were a nice try, but they didn’t make much of a difference in the middle of Bangkok traffic jams. We sat on the freeway within sight of the hospital for more than 30 minutes (which, if things have been dire, would have been mind-blowingly agonizing).

Good: Bumrungrad is the nicest hospital I’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure of spending time in. The place looks more like a nice hotel than a hospital and the staff seem phenomenally efficient. With one exception (see the next “ugly” point) I’ve never had a moment’s doubt that we are receiving top of the line medical care here.

Good: Dominic had been X-rayed and seen by two specialists within an hour of walking into the hospital. During the first consult they told us that they would take Dominic to surgery, set the leg under a general anesthetic, and put him in a spica cast (a both-leg rib-height body cast). Then they changed their mind. They could set the leg without surgery, they told us. This initially seemed like good news, but…

Ugly: They didn’t mention anything about a game plan for pain relief. When I strongly requested they make such a game plan the nurse went away and came back with … oral paracetamol – the same thing I’d been giving him for the previous 36 hours. I argued that they should at the very least give him paracetamol and codeine, but the doctors told me that they only ever use paracetamol or a general anesthetic – nothing in between – and they had no experience with giving codeine to infants so they just wanted to “do it natural.” As if there is anything “natural” about breaking the end off your femur. I was so angry. Mike had to be the one to take Dominic in to get the leg set. I couldn’t face it.

Ugly: The break is bad and complicated – all the way through the femur, right above the knee and in the growth plate area. For those of you who haven’t had a crash course in orthopedics lately, that’s bad news when it happens to a baby at this stage because there’s a chance that it’ll disrupt normal growth patterns. Dominic will have to be monitored annually by X-ray for the next few years (1 yr, 2 yr), then every two years (4,6,8) and then annually again up through the teens.

Good: The break was set by 6:30pm (less than 2.5 hours after our arrival at the hospital). And in the end they did not have to put Dominic in a spica cast, just a hip to toe cast, and that will probably only have to stay on for three weeks. X-rays today reveal that the set helped realign – even my untrained eyes can see the difference and the doctors seem pleased. They also told us that the specialist team met again and they think the chance of us having ongoing problems has dropped slightly. They’re not sure, but they think the break occurred just above (by 1 cm or less) the growth plate. If that’s the case, the long-term prognosis is better.

Good: Dominic slept quite well last night, all things considered, and has been relatively content today with only a couple of crying jags. We’ve even had some smiles. It is a huge relief to see him in less pain.

Good: Despite how harrowing the last two days have been, we remain acutely grateful that we have the resources and the networks that allow us to receive such excellent medical attention. These have been some of the worst days of my life, I cannot really fathom how much harder they would have been without the resources that are available to us.

So that’s some of the good the bad and the ugly from this end. To finish, here’s the “lovely”. The insurance company had flowers and a teddy bear delivered to the hospital. Dominic was a fan … of the ferns, anyway.

Love and thanks from Bangkok,

Lisa, Mike & Dominic

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Peace Like A River

Two weeks after Dominic was born, Mike announced that he was going out for a bike ride.

“Just a 50km loop,” he said. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

I nodded and told him to have a good ride, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to clutch him and beg him not to go. I wanted to demand that he tell me how I would survive if a car hit him – which happens to cyclists all the time, you know – while he was being so irresponsible as to be out riding for fun. Fun. What was he thinking to be indulging in something so very dangerous and call it fun?

I had expected my son’s birth to deliver love into my life. What I had not expected was that right alongside love would come something else, something that would assault me more often and more viciously than I had ever imagined.

Fear.

In the weeks following the miraculous trauma of Dominic’s arrival, I found myself battling fear at every turn. I would see myself dropping the baby, or accidentally smothering him while I was feeding him in bed. The thought of unintentionally stepping on his tiny hand while he was lying on the floor made me stop breathing. Whenever I left the house I visualized car accidents. I lay awake at night when I should have been getting desperately needed sleep thinking about the plane ticket that had my name on it – the ticket for the flight that would take all three of us back to Laos.

How, I wondered, am I ever going to be able to take this baby to Laos when I don’t even want to take him to the local grocery store? What if he catches dengue fever? What if he picks up a parasite that ravages his tiny insides? What if he gets meningitis and we can’t get him to a doctor in Bangkok fast enough? What if the worst happens?

What if?

One of my favorite hymns was written by a man who was living through one such horrific “what if”. After learning that all four of his children had drowned when the ship they were traveling on collided with another boat and sank, Spafford left immediately to join his grieving wife on the other side of the Atlantic. As his own ship passed near the waters where his daughters had died, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

This hymn is one of my favorites because it puzzles me. I’m awed and confused by Spafford’s ability to write these words in the face of such loss. Because of the story behind it, the song demands my respect.

Plus, I really like that image in the first line of peace like a river.

I think of this line sometimes when I’m out walking around town, for Luang Prabang is nestled between two rivers. The Mekong is a force to be reckoned with – wide, muddy, and determined. Watching the frothy drag on the longboats as they putt between banks gives you some hint of the forces at play underneath the surface. Mike likes the Mekong, but my favorite is the other river, the Khan. The Khan is much smaller and at this time of year it runs clear and green, skipping merrily over gravelly sand banks and slipping smoothly between the poles of the bamboo bridge that fords it.

I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers, but they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere. They don’t always run clear, either. But all that silt that muddies the waters of the Mekong? It ends up nourishing vegetables growing on the riverbanks.

Dominic is five months old now and the worst of the post-natal anxiety appears to have subsided. I managed to get myself to board that plane back to Laos and it no longer terrifies me to see Mike head out the door to ride his bike to work (most days, anyway). My fear of what ifs never leaves completely, though – it’s always lurking around waiting to be nurtured by my attention and amplified by my imagination.

I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t banish that fear altogether – that I never felt “perfectly” peaceful – but I don’t feel that way any more. I’m learning to greet that sort of fear respectfully without bowing before it. I’m learning to use it as a reminder to turn toward gratitude rather than worry. And I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

Peace like a river.

The Khan River, Luang Prabang, Laos

(Update: In an irony of the sort you never want to live through, the day after I posted this my mother in law slipped on our stairs here in Laos and Dominic broke his femur. We are back in Laos now, but must return to Thailand for follow up in two weeks. Continued thoughts and prayers for good healing appreciated.)

Other posts in this series:

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Follow the link to read other posts linked up at the Practices of Parenting Carnival hosted by Sarah.

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Links to laugh at and Mekong adventures

Happy Wednesday! Mike and I are spending the day flying down to Vientiane and driving into Thailand. Then we will turn around immediately, line up on the other side of the border, and come straight back into Laos.

This is long story that I don’t want to write too much about because it tempts me towards feeling frazzled and making unwise public comments about the powers that be. Instead I’ll just say that flying down to Vientiane, then crossing the Thai border, then going to to the Australian embassy to get Dominic’s four month vaccinations (on that note, happy 5 month birthday yesterday little man), and then flying back up to Luang Prabang will make tomorrow feel about as long as this sentence.

I have a number of topics I want to cover on a Writing Wednesday, but our little jaunt is making this week feel squeezed and I don’t want to shortchange any of them. I’ve received way too much sad news via email and facebook recently so, in the spirit of smiling, today I’m simply going to share a couple of links that have made me laugh and some photos of what we got up to on the weekend.

Without further ado, the links:

The 50 most brilliant, obnoxious, or delightfully sociopathic Facebook posts of 2011: This made me laugh until I almost cried during a recent 4AM feeding, and anything that can make me laugh that early is some seriously funny stuff. My favorite was the fourth last one about chicken casseroles.

2011 lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem: Loved this post over on Momastery so much I immediately subscribed to her blog: “Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen: An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh– Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”… But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me…”

Australian Tourism: Questions Answered: This is a list of real questions asked by potential tourists and the (not so serious) answers posted on the Australian Tourism website.

Now, the photos of our Saturday rock-climbing adventure on the Mekong. I hadn’t quite banked on the steep scramble up the banks while carrying Dominic in the Ergo, but I’m so glad we went. It was a great day out.


Here we are, all ready to go boating on the Mekong. More pictures in the slideshow below.

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What about you? Read anything that made you laugh out loud recently? Leave the link below.

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On Peace and Quiet

When I think of the word peace, I always think next of the word quiet.

I’ve always been someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to sound. As a student I would find myself distracted by the rhythmic clicking of a pen all the way over the other side of the lecture theater. Even now, any tapping or drumming of fingers tends to draw my attention with all the constant compulsion that magnets offer iron. Out in public I must sometimes make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact with the person I am speaking with, or I will find myself glancing around, restless as a sparrow, monitoring the source of every other sound that is playing its squeaky shrieky part in the symphony of background noise.

I crave quiet.

They say that you never fully appreciate what you have until it’s gone, but that’s not always true. I often notice and appreciate the gentle companionship of quiet. When I hear my damp bare feet meet our wooden floors after I get out of the shower at dawn, it reminds me to exhale gratitude for these brief still moments before the day really wakes up. Last year, as I stretched my way through prenatal yoga poses, I always thrilled to the heavy silence of the empty house. When I was pregnant and living at my parent’s place, I would open the bathroom window when I got up at night to listen to the slippery rustle of the breeze taunting the leaves in the tall stand of gum trees. Then I’d shut the window again, because given a choice I will always choose silence as a sleep companion even over the nocturnal music of this magical world.

Quiet for me is not just the absence of noise; it is a calming presence that prompts me to pay attention, to feel the act of breathing, to listen out for thoughts and feelings dancing hand in hand through my head. Quiet reminds me to live rather than just exist.

I am pretty good about being present where I am, but on those rare occasions when I indulge in fantasies of being elsewhere I always think of beaches, of cabins in woods, of the hushed sigh of falling snow or the grace notes that are the pop and hiss of a fire on a cold night. I think of my parents’ house. I never find myself longing for the efficient clamour of the London underground or the din and bustle of New York with its agile taxis and steaming hot dog carts and moving, throbbing energy. Those cities have their own charm, but I never find myself longing for them. I long for the still, silent places.

On the whole, Asia is not a still, silent place. Luang Prabang is by no means Jakarta or Bangkok, but it is a place of near neighbors and thin walls. It is a place of barking dogs, roosters, axes in wood, coconuts on tin roofs, motorcycles, and a cultural more that says you’re not having fun unless people in Vietnam can hear your music playing. It is a place of power tools running right outside our kitchen window.

Silence often brings me peace. This sort of peace comes easily, as a gift, but silence is not the only courier of peace. There is also peace hard won in defiance of noise, peace chosen in the face of fear, peace found in a seemingly barren wilderness of grief.

This I believe.

But sometimes that belief falters on days when I am serenaded by the shrill screech of power saws, or I think for too long about the lack of good medical care in this country, or I receive the news that a friend has lost his mortal battle with leukemia, leaving behind a much beloved wife and two little boys. Sometimes peace seems an elusive chimera indeed.

What does the word “peace” mean to you? What brings you peace?

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The exhortation of the dawn

Happy Monday morning folks. It’s 5:30am here, I’m saluting the dawn as I have almost every day for the past four months, by feeding a little one. So in honour of early morning wakings here are some beautiful words from the Quran to kick off a fresh new week:

Listen to the exhortation of the dawn.
Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities
of your existence,
the glory of action – the bliss of growth
the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.

We had a great weekend over here – the kind that make dreams of happiness. Here are a couple of pictures of what we’ve been up to recently.

What about you? How do you salute the dawn? Have you read words recently that have stirred your heart?

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T’is The Night Before (A Children’s Story)

It’s 8, and Mama Bear gives a yawn
She’s very tired, she’s been up since dawn
All day Baby Bear needed loving and feeding
Up and down he set emotions stampeding
She goes to bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, four… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 10, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Drums and cymbals and music, hark!
These are sounds she is daily dreading
The loud late strains of a Lao wedding
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, fifty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 12, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Papa Bear’s snoring sounds not like a lark
She tugs his arms down from over his head
Papa Bear sighs and rolls over instead
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three, eighty… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 1, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
This time she hears a familiar dog bark
Zulu has chased a cat up a tree
And is leaping around in a wild frenzy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, three hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 2, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
Baby Bear moans, stirs, and lets out a sqwark
Mama Bear leans over and hands him his dummy
It’s a 24-hour job, this being a mummy
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, four hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 3, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
“It’s morning! It’s morning!” the roosters remark
Mama Bear thinks about chicken pot pie
And how she wishes the roosters would die
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, five hundred… Mama Bear is asleep

It’s 4, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
She hears a buzz, the mosquito trademark
Little legs brush her cheek like lace
She swipes, misses, and hits her own face
She lies in bed, she begins to count sheep
One, two, eight hundred… [beep beep beep beep]

It’s 5, and Mama Bear wakes in the dark
It’s Baby Bear again, a wee hungry shark
She rises and reaches for her little boy
He gives a sudden, toothless, grin of joy
She picks him up, she kisses his head
She thinks, “this is almost, maybe, better than bed.”

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Around the block: The UXO Museum

So I’m starting a new theme on the blog here called “Around The Block”. Some days I get to 11am and find Dominic looking at me and I swear he’s wondering whether it would be possible for me to get any more boring. So most days we take grateful advantage of the cooler weather here at the moment and go for a walk.

Last week, as I was walking him around the block, I thought I should take a camera and give you some glimpses of things we find on these daily perambulations. Today we’re going to start with the UXO (unexploded ordinance) museum, which is just around the corner from our house.

UXO museum entrance

Some facts about UXO in Laos…

Per capita, Laos is the most heavily bombed country, in history. Despite the fact that Laos was not officially involved in the conflict, more than half a million bombing missions were conducted over Laos during the Vietnam War in an effort to disrupt the supply lines between north and south Vietnam. During these missions, the US Airforce dropping 270 million bombs on Laos.

Up to 30% of these bombs failed to detonate.

About 80 million unexploded bombs remain in the ground, and about 25% of villages in the country are contaminated with unexploded ordinance.

Most of this UXO is related to cluster bombs. A cluster bomb is pictured below. Just one of those little balls can injure or kill a person.

A cluster bomb

Most years someone is injured or killed every day in Laos by UXO. Last year, however, the number of UXO accidents dropped to one injury or death every two or three days. Most accidents happen when children pick up these little balls, or when farmers disturb them while they’re planting or harvesting.

UXO Lao employs over 1,000 people and needs on an average US$6.5 million to cover operations every year.

No funny stories to end this post, just a link to the UXO Lao donation page. You can see that they’re not exactly up to speed yet in terms of web presence or leveraging international support, so if you would like to donate to UXO Lao feel free to write to me and I’ll try to help you figure out how best to do that.