mekong flood emergency response team

The Mekong is flooding!  The Mekong is flooding!

Everyday the water has risen a bit higher and now it is dangerously close to flooding the entire city.  I live about 200m from the Mekong so, of course, I am concerned.  I went to go look at the river last night, and ran into a group of teenagers who were making sandbags and putting them along the river.  One young lady (who is actually a pretty interesting character…) approached me and invited me to help them out.  I felt like I should do something, so I accepted.

I helped the kids shovel sand into bags and then tie them closed, and helped haul them to a wheelbarrow.  I had the easy jobs, mostly just tying the bags shut, or holding them open while other people shovelled.  This went on for about an hour last night, during which time some guy on a megaphone kept yelling “Kop Chai Miss USA!  Kop Chai Miss USA!”, which eventually turned into “Thank you, Miss World! “.  The megaphone guy then insisted I take a juicebox and a little package of cookies for my work.  I tried to say “No thank you”, but they would not take no for an answer and told me that all volunteers receive some snacks.  The megaphone guy also told me he would be staying at the river all night, on watch, and would sound an alarm if the waters rose too high.

Even though I didn’t really do much, I got a round of applause from everyone present when it started to rain and I decided to leave around 11 pm.

The girl who invited me to help asked me if I wanted to see her house, which was right on the bank of the river.  She is the one in the picture standing on the sandbags.  I’m not exactly sure what her deal is.  She lives in a huge house by herself, and told me that she has a 42 year old canadian boyfriend in Vancouver.  She also told me that she really wants breast implants and her boyfriend might pay for them for her.  Maybe she’s been reading the Bangkok Post?  I think she was somewhat drunk during the entire time.  I asked her if she had a job and she said she had been a maid for a handicapped man before, but his girlfriend got jealous and made her quit in April, and she hasn’t been working since then.  She seemed really eager to be my friend, but I’m not really sure where this relationship is heading.

The library was also required to form a Mekong Flood Emergency Response Team (I have just decided to call it that, I don’t know what the actual name is for their effort), and 6 of the staff members were required to go to a certain part of the river last night at 11 pm to help sandbag, since they are technically government employees.  I haven’t seen any of the 6 around yet this morning, but I know that it started pouring rain right around 11, so it could not have been an enjoyable experience for any of them.  I hope they took the day off.

These events have resulted in some strange, almost mefloquine-like dreams.  Last night I imagined that the dam at Ban Koen (about 50 km upriver from Vientiane) had broken, and a giant tsunami wave was washing down the Mekong, sweeping all the houses away.  In my dream, in the pouring rain, somewhere Hannah E. Carmichael was playing “Mad World” on the piano, and I was shoveling sand into a military truck.

But the people at the library have assured me that while dams have broken in other countries, this could never happen in Laos and I have nothing to worry about.

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badminton in laos

For some reason, badminton is the most popular sport in Laos, followed closely by football (soccer for my American friends).

I see people playing it everywhere.  On the street, on the sidewalk, at the Wats, at the bus station, everywhere.  And I see people selling badminton nets and rackets everywhere.

The nieces and nephews of my landlord have a pretty sweet set-up in our courtyard.  They strung up the net between a coconut tree and one of the buildings, and have actually painted on the ground the outlines of the court, which it seems were measured with a very calculated precision.

I have seen the kids playing badminton in the courtyard many times, but was always too busy/sweaty/tired to join them.  Yesterday I made my debut on the badminton court, and it was a lot of fun.  Firstly, all of the 8 year-olds are far better than me, and play extremely competitively.

Though none of them speak any English, I have learned to count in Lao, so I did comprehend that my team won one game, and lost another game, though generally they play on some kind of rotation system, with team members switching in and out and game pauses to lift the net everytime a motorcycle or car comes along .  I am hoping to make playing badminton with the kids a regular activity.

Also, one of the dogs belonging to my landlord recently had puppies, so there are a bunch of cute little baby dogs running around the yard.  They all growl at me when they see me, but that has not deterred me from trying to play with them.

happy birthday, america

This was my first real weekend in Vientiane totally on my own.  I actually had completely forgotten it was the 4th of July weekend until I read an e-mail from my mom.  Around the same time, I got an e-mail from my neighbor, an Australian, who invited me to a 4th of July party held by the US Embassy at the Vientiane Swimming Pool.  I was really excited about the prospect of meeting some anglophones and celebrating my nation’s birthday so I agreed to go, even though Ariya, my neighbor, could only stay for about an hour. 

Overall, it was a dissapointement.  The whole event was a little strange.  It was mostly old white men and their younger (but still older than me) Lao wives and children.   So I didn’t really get to make any friends, but I did talk to the ambassador, who is a pretty awesome guy.  He did Peace Corps Senegal back in the 60’s, and has worked all over, Burkina Faso, Niger, Indonesia, etc.

Me & Ravick, the US Ambassador to Laos
Me & Ravick, the US Ambassador to Laos

He also read a letter, written by our current president, to Americans around the world, that included some line about America being “the greatest country in the world”, which I think I actually laughed out loud after hearing, which may or may not have alienated me from my fellow Americans present at the event.   But there was a bbq, with burgers and hot dogs!  They played the antional anthem, and we stood, which for me was the first time in I don’t know how many years.  I think the last time was probably when I went to a Sox game in 2006.  I did talk to one girl, who is just in town for a few weeks, and we’re going to have dinner tomorrow,  but surprisingly the whole affair was a lot less classy than simmilar events I attended in Benin.  The American community in Laos is actually really small, it would seem.

I love America!
I love America!

Anyway, I didn’t stick around too long after Ariya left, since I haven’t been feeling too sociable lately and there was hardly anyone between the ages of 18 and 40 present.  However, I did enjoy talking to my neighbor a lot, who was a Lao refugee who moved to Australia when he was 10, and then at 30 decided to come back to Asia.

This afternoon I went to lunch at my friend Sisavanh’s house.  She is a lady I work with, who is doing a Masters degree in TEFL, and always asks me to correct her homework.  So, I basically invited myself to her house, in a round-about way, in exchange for all of the help I give her.   I was expecting just a small lunch with her family, but it turned out to be a huge party, with her husband’s cousin from Las Vegas, and about 20 other people.  I was hoping to see some Lao cooking in action, and help out, but instead they just kept serving me drinks and chatting, but I did learn how to make sticky rice.  I asked them if they had ever eaten dog, and no one would admit to it!  But I did get them to promise to take me sometime to eat dog, and drink Lao whisky.

I actually had an extremely productive weekend, I did laundry and got a bunch of house hold goods, including: two plates, two bowls, two spoons, two forks, a tea cup, a knife, and a cutting board, and a lamp, among other things.  So my house is starting to seem more like a real house, and with the air conditioning, I hardly want to leave.  Still no stove or pots and pans, but that is next on the list.