i love america

I am back in Cary, IL for the time being.  It’s been a really busy past few weeks, getting everything sorted to come back here, being offered a job in Liberia, Sean’s motorcycle accident, etc etc.  I didn’t even check my e-mail for an entire week!

Anyway, things have calmed down a bit now.  I arrived back home on Saturday, June 20th, and have been slowing trying to re-aclimatize myself to America.  It all still feels quite surreal and strange.  I am supposed to send my passport into Washington DC to get a new diplomatic one ASAP so I have decided to make a quick trip to Montreal before I do that… I’m leaving tomorrow and will be back in Illinois around July 2nd.

During this time I have quite a bit of preparation to do to get ready for my assignment in Liberia.  I have been invited to serve as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer doing library training and creating outreach activities for a library in Liberia, as part of it’s post-conflict reconstruction program.  The aim of this project is to provide additional education opportunities for people who had limited access to education during the civil war which lasted for 20 years and only ended in 2006.

It’s really exciting and an amazing opportunity to do some awesome things!!

In the meantime I have a million kinds of paperwork to take care of and other random bits and bobs to sort out in addition to trying to apply for my PhD.

As I mentioned previously, a close friend of mine was involved in a motorcycle accident.  He wasn’t wearing a helmet and suffered a subdural hematoma.  Thanks to Dr. Mark of th Australian Embassy in Vientiane, we were able to go by ambulance at 4 in the morning to Aek Udon Hospital in Udon Thani, Thailand.  It was a really overwhelming and intense experience and I’m still dealing with the effects of the accident.  He suffered a severe brain injury and may never fully recover.  It may affect his speech, behaviour, and memory.  We won’t know for some time the long-term affects of the injury.

I went to visit him in the hospital right before I left Laos and I took some pictures.  He was in a good mood and was really happy to see me, but has trouble speaking and communicating.  For the time being he’s only really repeating one phrase in Lao over an dover and can’t communicate otherwise…

sean and i in aek udon hospital
sean and i in aek udon hospital

Leaving Laos was a very hard thing to do!  I made so many wonderful friends and met so many lovely people, I miss it already.   I know that I will go back one day.

That’s all I can write for now, I have to go to the Cary Police Department to get fingerprinted to send to Washington DC, and then the bank, and a few other errands along the way….

More pictures from my final days in Laos:

http://picasaweb.google.com/baberahamlincln/LeavingLaos

These include pictures from 2 Basi ceremonies, which I will write more about later!!

in the airport with mrs. bounsalong
in the airport with mrs. bounsalong
basi in my home
basi in my home
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current events

A close friend of mine was involved in a serious motorbike accident and was taken by ambulance to Udon Thani for medical treatment late Friday night.  I went with him and have been going back and forth between Vientiane and Udon for the past few days so I haven’t had much free time.

Tham Kong Lo / Kong Lor Cave in Khammuan Province, Lao PDR

Last Thursday I realized I would have a 4 day weekend, so I decided to take a trip and see some other parts of Laos besides Vientiane.

On Saturay after I finished working, I took a bus to the Southern Bus Station, and then got on another bus going to Thakeak, about 6 hours south of Vientiane, on the Mekong river.  I arrived around 10 pm, and took a tuk-tuk to the guest house where I had made a reservation.  I hadn’t eaten dinner, so I went in search of some noodle soup.  It was about 11 pm, but the entire city was completely silent.  I saw some guys sitting around a table at a beershop and I said “Do you have food?”, and they said “Eat beer!” and tried to offer me a glass.  I said thanks and kept walking.  I came across a group of girls sitting on front of a house.   “Where can you get food around here?” I asked in Lao.  They discussed between themselves.  “Ok, I’ll show you.” one said, and then got on her motorbike.  I said “Somewhere within walking distance?”.  Again they consulted between themselves.  “No.  Come on, let’s go!” she said.  I said “Ok.” and got on the bike.  She drove me about 5 minutes away to the only shop in town still serving food.  I got a bowl of noodle soup and we had a halting conversation in my shitty Lao.  I discovered that she was 20 years old, and studying in the environmental science department at Dong Dok, and was home on holiday.  I tried to offer to buy her some soup but she said she had eaten already.  After I finished the soup she took me back to my guest house, and again I thanked her, and tried to give her some money for driving me around town, but she wouldn’t accept it.  It was a very lovely evening and it felt good to be on my own in an unfamiliar place and able to get by with my knowledge of Lao, in a situation where I’d put myself somewhere between tourist and local.

I woke up really early the next morning and some very tan guy in the bed next to mine was doing pilates.  I was so totally bewildered and confused about where I was for a few moments I had no idea what was happening.  Then I fell back asleep and when I woke up again, everyone was gone except me, even though it was only 8 am.  I went for a walk into town, and tried to stop at the tourist information centre to book a 2-day trek into the Phu Hin Boun National Protected Area, but after walking 20 minutes, I arrived at the centre to find it closed.  Not wanting to spend another day in not very interesting Thakeak, I decided to get back on a bus, go north about 1 hour to Vieng Kham, get off the bus, take another bus to Ban Na Hin (another hour west of Vieng Kham) and then the following day, go to Tham Kong Lo.

Tham Kong Lo is a cave (Tham) about 8 kms long with a river running through it, underground.  I had heard a lot about Tham Kong Lo from other people who had been there, all of whom told me how amazing it was.  I also knew that a 2-day trek from Thaekak would cost me about $100, so I ended up saving myself some money and getting to meet a lot of interesting people along the way, including randomly running into a guy I know from Vientiane on the bus to Vieng Kham.

Ban Na Hin is stunningly beautiful, completely quiet and peaceful, and full of lovely, friendly people.

lovely ban na hin, surrounded by mountains
lovely ban na hin, surrounded by mountains

I felt like I was a million miles away from the motorbikes and noise of Vientiane. Children even grown on trees there!

The next morning I went to the market to catch a bus to Kong Lor Cave, a 8 km underground river that goes through a mountain.  The bus was supposed to leave at 8, but didn’t go anywhere until 10.  Along the way we picked up a few more “falang” passengers, and eventually arrived at the boat dock around 11:30 am, and for about $12, hired a boat for 3 people to take us into the cave and then back to the bus.  We got into the boat, and took off down the river.  The bright sunshine and birdsong quickly became total darkness.  I was completely terrified.

It was unbelievable.

It was like something straight out of Harry Potter and I expected some evil zombies to come up out of the river at any moment, but some how I made it through and then back out alive.

It was really amazing and I highly recommend going, though be warned – it’s really quite far off the beaten path, and you need to be patient, flexible, and open-minded to enjoy such a trip!  Like anything in Laos… bor pen nyang!

Here’s a website about the cave:

http://www.travelfish.org/location/laos/southern_laos/khammuan/konglor_cave

the mouth of kong lor cave
the mouth of kong lor cave