Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Blame the Hair: Stories of Pi Mai Lao

Happy 2558! Yes you read that right. Today is the first day of the year 2558 in Lao. Though the holiday is technically only three days, the country has been celebrating Pi Mai all week long. As I mentioned the holiday is 3 days beginning April 14th through April 16th. The first day is the last day of the old year; the second is considered no day and is neither part of the old year or the new one, The last day, today, is the first day of the new year. Never have I ever celebrated so many new years since coming to Laos. First there was Hmong New year followed by Khmu. Next there was the International New Year known in Laos as countdown and then there was the bombardment of Chinese tourists celebrating their new year here in Luang Prabang (which I still don't completely understand), and finally Lao New Year. With so many New Years it's no wonder I'm still struggling to put 2015 instead of 2014 when I write the date.

Anyway, Lao New Year has been quite the interesting experience. My first taste of this water throwing festival happened a couple weeks before Pi Mai actually began when I was "attacked" by my little neighbors. 

Fortunately, the rest of the city was patient enough to wait until it was closer to the holiday to start throwing water. The water throwing really began to pick up on my birthday. I already shared about how my students and I threw our own little Pi Mai/Birthday party, but after they left my friends and I headed to the pool. On the way I was doused twice, the second time I didn't even see it coming. All of the sudden I was soaking wet, good thing I was already prepared for swimming. After the pool we headed to dinner. We were all driving one right behind the other and I was in the middle. Groups of people were throwing water all around yet somehow everyone except me managed to show up to dinner dry. Every time we passed someone they skipped my roommate who was directly in front of me, hit me, and didn't managed to fill up their buckets in time to get my friend behind us. But being the obvious falang of the group with my blonde hair sticking out of my helmet revealing my true identity as a non-native I was a sure target. "Get the Falang", they cried not realizing that my half-Asian roommate was also a falang herself. 

It stayed this way until Tuesday with just a few groups of water throwers scattered throughout town. Going out meant risking getting wet but there was still a slight chance you could make it back home as dry as you left. But once Tuesday hit it was all out madness. Music blasting from every home, trucks lined up down the street, crowds of people pushing their way through the streets, and Lao and foreigners alike dousing everyone that passes by. 

Now let me back up for a minute to Monday and tell you about a random meeting with a Lao-French family at KuangSi. Two friends were visiting us here in LP for the New Year, (Luang Prabang is known for being THE place to celebrate Pi Mai) and so I went with them to KuangSi. I've already been to KuangSi a lot so I volunteered to hang back at the bottom and watch their stuff while they made their way up the waterfall. Meanwhile I was sitting alone at a picnic table (a big no no here in Lao, the being alone part, not the sitting at a picnic table part) just people watching when this family walked up to me. "Are you alone?" "Yah, well no, i'm just waiting on my friends" "Oh, do you mind if we sit here." "No, not at all." So they sat down and we began chatting. Next thing I know my stomach is stuffed with bananas, corn, and some strange yogurt type thing. I learned that they are now living in France and left Southeast Asia as refugees. We talked until my two friends returned and they handed me their business card telling me that if I'm ever back in Paris to call them. 

On Tuesday morning, the city set up a huge market downtown. It was crazy crowded and since I hate crowds I was ready to leave quickly after arriving. But before turning to head back home my group decided to stop for coffee. While waiting in line, I saw them! The family I had met at KuangSi. In this huge crazy crowd there they were again. We laughed about how crowded it was and that it really is a "small world after all" before they went on their way into the bustling market. 

Wednesday, we once again headed downtown to watch the procession. The procession was beautiful, but this quick and final story isn't about the procession. Since being in Lao I have learned that absolutely nothing is yours. What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine. I have also found that Lao people are really touchy, and not just in a romantic way. Friends are always seen holding hands, with their arms around each other, or just leaning on each other. I will never forget when I was taking a picture with a student and she grabbed my hand. It threw me off a little, but to her it was perfectly natural. With that being said I always felt that this touchy culture was usually confined to just people you know. WRONG. So i'm sitting there watching the procession and a little Lao girl is sitting next to me. I have never met her before but as she sits and watches she feels comfortable enough to prop her elbow up on my leg. Before coming to Lao I probably would not have let some random child use me as a support but then again a random child in America would never sit close enough to a stranger to be able to prop themselves up. Nevertheless, it was adorable and I creepily snuck a picture. 

For the record you can throw water on the monks, but not the police.

Okay enough ramblings. Pi Mai was wonderful and full of water throwing battles. I say that is if its over, but in fact the music is still blaring outside my house. And the Lao people sure do enjoy having that bass up... I'm enjoying the holiday but I'm also ready to get back to school. I miss my students and it's only been a few days. Also the end of Pi Mai means my year 4 students will be back from their practice teaching!! So that kind of make me happy. 

The streets of Luang Prabang over the past couple days and probably what they still look like right now

My co-worker and his son

Home from a day of water wars

And lastly a short clip of what it's like walking through the city. Also big thanks to my LifeProof phone case for allowing me to take all these pictures without having my phone drowned.


Haley Southey said...

Wow! love your pictures and love this culture!

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