It appears that we have arrived at the end of another year. I have no idea when that happened. Somewhere in-between the moving, unpacking, repacking and removing and reunpacking, I imagine. But here I am, with noting left to teach and a to-do list that feels increasingly more American (like “buy cute shoes this time” and “see a doctor about the rash”). Part of my to-do list, while not listed, is reflecting on this year, and what the heck just happened in the last 10 months. I mean…what just happened?
If you had told me a year ago that I’d have seen and done what I have seen and done, I would have soberly responded with a, “So I didn’t make it to year three?” But here I am, in my new house, with what feels like a new life, and I want to remember this year. Some terrible things happened, some wonderful things happened, some things that I can’t quite list just yet happened, and here we are. This blog is more for myself than it is for the casual passerby, of which there are very few, anyway. And if I were writing a blog to myself, I know that I would want it filled with neither universal nor personal truths, but memories. And so:
The things that I will remember when I look back on this year
1. Team. Every person dreams of working with a, well, dream team. Every person also hears horror stories of how their overseas team drove them to insanity and a premature throwing in of the towel. My team was the opposite. I don’t think I’d be coming back if it weren’t for them. Also, we were so much in love that they sent a film maker here to make a promo video about us. That’s love.
2. Finding out a plane carrying our friends, Joel and Angelin, had crashed in Pakse. I will never forget a Lao friend of ours showing up unannounced in the pouring rain (very un-Lao) and trying to explain what happened. I kept thinking my Lao is good enough to understand this, but it can’t be right. The following hours were covered in prayer, tears, hugs, and I love you’s, as our team agonizingly sought out accurate information and someone who knew what was going on. I will never forget sitting around our kitchen table, with nothing to do but pray and weep. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, and has forever changed my life.
3. Singing at Joel and Angelin’s funeral. My teammate, Julia, said she had a song she thought would be appropriate to play, called “Glorious Ruins”. After bawling when I heard it and knowing it was the perfect song, we performed it for the hundreds of mourners and officials coming to pay their respects, and shaky voice be darned, it was one of my life’s greatest honors to sing peace and hope over a largely hopeless crowd. I will treasure that moment and that song always.
4. Finding our new house. At one of our lowest times of the year, Lauren and I began desperately asking for a perfect house. We’d say things like, we know there isn’t a perfect house, especially in Laos. But then, one day, we were shown the most perfect house either of us could have imagined, and drove off with tears in our eyes at how amazing it was. Now I am sitting on the couch in the very same house, and could still easily tear up at how amazing a blessing this place is.
5. Singing karaoke on a boat at Fall Retreat. Karaoke is a favorite Lao past time, and doing so on a boat is even more so. At our first team event this year, we did just that, and it was one of those moments where you realized you are a part of something awesome, and that “Getting Jiggy Wit It” is a way better song than it gets credit for.
6. Christmas. I was so sad thinking about what Christmas would be like away from snow and mountains and material possessions that I still daydream about. But this year, Christmas held up. We sang carols with students, ate cinnamon rolls, watched Christmas movies, exchanged gifts, had stockings, sang the hallelujah chorus at midnight, saw Santa Claus in his pajamas, had cold weather, and I even got my annual beanie baby hanging out of my stocking, courtesy of Kenton. To top it off, I had absolutely no voice but couldn’t stop talking because, I mean, it was Christmas! It was awesome.
7. Hosting my parents. It was so cool to let them see what my life is like here, and they got to spend time with all the people I love most. We traveled to Vang Vieng, had a Q and A with my students, ate some traditional Lao food, (they) tried Beer Lao, and got a homemade meal courtesy of my Lao twin, Malavan. Best of all, they actually enjoyed it. It was awesome.
8. Riding and swimming with elephants in Luang Prabang. The video of Noah getting thrown off the elephant will never get old to me.
9. Getting matching tattoos with teammates in Chiang Mai. My students like to say, “Now you have Vientiane in your heart forever.” Yep. FYI, the tattoo is the coordinates of Vientiane in ancient Lao script, so that’s why they say that ☺
10. Spending the weekend with all of the girls from Savanakhet and having them stay at our house. One of my favorite memories was when we were all sprawled out on the bed talking about Christa having a boyfriend because we were all excited that there was even the tiniest bit of gossip in our world.
11. Sending our president an email saying why he should send someone to Laos to make a promo video about how much our team loves each other, and him responding with, “I think the idea may be gaining some traction over here.” 3 months later, I was sitting in front of a camera, being interviewed on what makes my team so great. I may consider this the greatest accomplishment of my life, and I’m dying to see the finished product!
12. My Lao tutoring time. Every Tuesday and Friday, my student would come teach me in our office. Many times, our sessions were interrupted/brightened by Matt (country director) asking questions like “How do you say ‘that exploding fart was memorable?’” which were usually met with laughter and rabbit trails from me, and an “Oh Matthew,” from my student.
13. The time I was reading miscellaneous facts during a team meeting, and I kept reading “the Unicorn is the national anthem of Scotland,” which received a bunch of what’s??? I read it over and over and got frustrated at the lack of good English in the list, as everyone knows that the “t” in “the Unicorn” should be capitalized. After reading it a 4th or 5th time, I finally realized it said, “the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland.” Without missing a beat, Kenton was up on his feet, saluting some unseen flag, singing the words “Oh Unicorn, Oh Unicorn, how lovely is your one horn.” It has since been written into a complete song, with accompanying history of the unicorn and its relation to Scotland. This is what we will be losing in Kenton.
14. Working with a group of younger, at-risk girls who were content to just sing songs together and ask if my tattoos were actually permanent, or did I draw them on every morning? They were consistently the high of my week, and I can’t wait to get back to them!
Emily, if you have just read this and are at once teary eyed with a wildly wide range of emotions, then you have remembered this year well. Because, as evidenced by this list, there was great joy, laughter, and promise, but it came in the wake of great sorrow and solemnity. You were cranky in the heat, but blissful in the cold. Your dogs got neutered after they spent a week howling for a dog in heat, whose collar teasingly read, “love me”, you found Ban Gai, you finally saw Angkor Wat, you watched your students nearly sweep the talent show with their singing, acting, and speaking, and you learned what true road rage is. The only thing I hope you remember more than these things are the people you went through them with. They were the best.