My Savannakhet Family: Day 1

My Savannakhet Family: Day 1

20131020_174412After waking up suddenly on the sleeper bus, I realized we were at the bus station in Savannakhet.  I quickly grabbed my things and woke up Kristy and Rosie.  It was about 4:30 in the morning and it was still dark and misty outside.  We stumbled off the bus and told the sole tuk-tuk driver “Leena Guesthouse”.  We piled in, along with some locals, and after a short drive we pulled up to a locked gate.  The tuk-tuk driver honked for a while until someone came to unlock it.  An elderly man welcomed us and gave us keys to two rooms, since the triples were full.  Kristy and I shared a room and Rosie took the single.  I was so grateful that they allowed us to check in at five in the morning.  We all slept for a few hours then showered and prepared to explore the town.  I had read about a small place in town called Lin’s Cafe.  It has incredible food, coffee, and provides tourists with information about Savannakhet and the surrounding areas.  We went there and ordered breakfast and very yummy coffees.  After chatting a bit and relaxing, we agreed to check out the tourist center to inquire about day treks we could do the next day.  We also needed to look into when and where we would take the bus to Pakse on Monday.


As we walked away from Lin’s Cafe, towards the tourist center, we passed a home with music playing very loudly.  There were young women dancing on a floor mat and others sitting around clapping and laughing.  This was not an unusual sight, I smiled to myself and walked past.  Suddenly we heard calls and shouts.  They were calling us to their home.  We all looked at each other, I shrugged and said “Come on.”  And this is how we met Short, Ping, Meow, and their children, siblings, parents, husbands, and friends.  We removed our shoes and stepped into their home.


From this moment on, we were treated as their friends… their family, until our teary goodbye only the next evening.  Quickly we were all handed small cups filled with ice and Beer Lao.  In Laos, they chug beer, or as Kristy says “skull.”  Every time one of the women clinked glasses with us, they waited expectantly for us to finish the glass.  We partook in the merriment and laughter.  We danced and danced.  After a few songs, we exchanged names and laughed at their nicknames; I was not surprised that they were all in their early twenties.  The two girls were very shy, hiding in corners, but enjoying us by taking videos and photos on their mothers’ phones.


As time passed, we were introduced to more family and friends.  Everyone was extremely kind and it did not matter that we could hardly communicate in spoken language.  Instead we communicated with smiles, cheers, and music.  Short loved to hear me whistle to Flo-Rida’s “Whistle” and I loved watching her do “Gangnam Style.” The most English we all spoke was to say “Happy, Happy.”  After we all had shared a few bottles of beers, we realized they went to the store to buy more.  We felt badly and offered money, which they initially refused, but as the night went on they accepted.  At this time, the young girls had warmed up to us and we played ball outside.  I had such a fun time with them, and of course they loved using my phone to take “selfies” and to play Candy Crush.


20131019_165320 20131019_175426We moved outside as they brought out some food for us to eat.  The dancing and drinking continued until the sun began to set.  At this time we had worked out the relationship between most of them: the women were sisters and the girls were their children.  We were in their parents’ home, where some of them lived.  The reason for all the celebration was because this weekend was a festival.  By this time there were crates full of empty Beer Laos and we were all a bit “ting tong” as Lao people call it.

1384348_747999168548655_1402707978_n20131019_165310At one point, I stepped inside and saw young guys creating small boats out of banana leaves, pins, and the truck of a banana tree.  I settled in next to some of them and gestured to the materials laying on the mat.  They nodded and I started to make my own… well I tried to make my own.  One of the little girls sat with me and giggled every time I rolled one of the leaves.  I thought they looked exactly like hers, but apparently something was not right.


She and the boys helped me create my own float.  After some research, the festival we were participating in was either called Lai Heua Fai or Loi Krathong.  Loi Krathong is typically celebrated during the full moon in November in Thailand, so I did not think it was this festival.  I found out online that they are quite similar in the way that they are celebrated.  Either way, it was magical!  Once my boat was done, I went out to catch back up with Short, Meow, and Ping. Kristy and Rosie also had boats the guys had given them.  We asked if we could go down to the river to put them in, they of course said yes.  We set off down the road, hand in hand.  I literally could not stop smiling.  I was so lucky to be experiencing this with such an amazing group of people.IMG_1395Before we knew it, we were outside of a home.  Our new friends greeted some women, then gestured for us to go inside.  An elderly man was lying in a reclined seat getting a massage and we walked past him to a back room.  I started to wonder where they had taken us and what was expected of us now, were we meant to get massages?  Little did I know they brought us to dinner!  Huddled on the floor around a pot settled upon hot coals sat a group of Laotians.  They welcomed us with open arms, plates full of food, and cups full of beer.  We feasted on buffalo, buffalo fat, gee lor (an insect), greens, and eggs!  I was so hungry I ate everything they put in front of me and was shocked at how much I liked it all, especially the gee lor!  I ate nearly a whole bowl full!20131019_192226_9W20131019_195000 20131019_194837

We made more friends, exchanged names and ages, and shared a wonderful meal together.  Again, I could not believe how fortunate I was to be welcomed into their family’s and friends’ homes.  After all our bellies were full and most of us were quite done drinking, we set off towards the Mekong river.  We held hands as our long train of people maneuvered through the crowd.  Short’s husband led us to an opening and helped us down a ledge towards the river.  There Numnueng (one of the daughters) started to grab a piece of my hair, she then started to bite off one of her nails and gestured for me to do the same.  She put the strand of hair and fingernail onto my boat.  20131019_211525Short’s husband lit the candle and three incense sticks on my boat.  I watched as Meow held her boat and closed her eyes.  I gathered I should meditate on it for a moment and make a wish before letting it off into the water.  I did and then opened my eyes to a wonderful site of many lit boats floating off down the river.  We all stood together as we watched others put their boats in the river and listened to the sounds around us.  Kristy and I looked at the time, even though it was only 9:30, we knew we should get home before we were encouraged to stay out drinking for longer with them.  We trekked back up to the crowds and played a few street games to win the kids some stuffed animals.  Well Kristy and Short played, I watched.  Then we said our goodbyes with promises to meet again the next day at noon.  I went to bed with sore cheeks from smiling, a full stomach, and a lifetime’s worth of memories.


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