Easing into the line of scooped plastic maroon chairs at gate C7 this morning, I was sitting back-to-back with an older couple excitedly talking about Obama. I know this, because it was the only word I could understand other than the dismissive use of "McRain". I cannot stop smiling. Am I really IN Taiwan? Was that not the best 13 hour flight I'd ever ridden? Domestic U.S. travel has become an automatic and expected negative experience, but this trip was right out of a silky 1930's movie, complete with a complementary packet of "Tuna Floss".
Shuffling along, following the crowd for flight 0211 to Bangkok continuing on to Laos, I am brought to tears by how lucky I am to be alive, and absorb my nervous choice to come here. I am a vulnerable, tink speck citizen, hoping to temporarily ditch comfort for wisdom. My mind and soul feel overcooked. My body is jiggly. Over done. Like a gross hard boiled yolk.
The purpose of my month-long journey to southern Laos, besides the giant dare part, is to teach English and solar cooking in a remote village with my friend Justin and his family. Not only have I never been to Southeast Asia, I've never taught English, nor cooked anything with the sun. I'm afraid of big bugs and my own diarrhea. I have never technically been camping, and I just finished 7 years of care giving to my sweetheart father who passed from prostate cancer in April. Classic!
As I understand it, Justin's parents escaped Laos during the Vietnam war and relocated to Olympia. They continue to send Western goods, and make the three-day trip back nearly every year. I'm told there is no running water or plumbing. At Justin's Aunt's house there is a huge spider that lives in the kitchen rafters trained to kill varmints. The elderly work alongside their children in rice fields, and manage basic daily living with traditional grace. Justin, who is waiting for me tonight in Vientiane (Laos), said that they are "honored" by my visit, and rarely do tourists, let alone Americans, make the journey south. It's still mostly untraveled by foreigners compared to the northern towns like Luang Probang or neighboring Thailand.
This makes me burn with humility and embarrassment. How can I possibly teach anybody anything except maybe how to conjugate "dude" 50 ways? Should I explain the picket demonstration to "Save The Starbucks" on 15th ( down the street from Cafe Ladro, Insomnia Coffee, Victrola, and another Starbucks)? Or how my Capitol Hill neighbors that I see walking every day look at me like Barbara Streisand in "NUTS" when I say "good morning" or “hello"?
I've mailed an absentee ballot, had vaccines injected into my arms, and filled an entire rolling suitcase with school and medical supplies to leave with my kind Laotian hosts (thank you, friends and family for your donations!). I am in awe of them though I haven't met them, and can't wait to see what's in store for me.
It's 5 p.m., November 4 at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok (3 a.m. in Seattle, and still November 3). I may not know who the President is for perhaps days due to the time change. Flat-screen television monitors hang beside murals of beautiful Buddhist princesses, and Wolf Blitzer cuts to a clip of Obama speaking on CNN. People stop with their luggage and watch, some turn to look at me with beautiful friendly faces. Wait a minute. I'm an American! And for the first time, I don't feel the need to climb into a donkey suit and clip-clop away lest someone shoot me for living where George Bush lives. Thank you, Barack Hussein Obama. I'm anxious, but not as afraid.