Khop jai Laos

My last article and grant have been submitted. My suitcase is packed. I have said goodbye to my wonderful new friends. All that’s left is boarding the plane and returning to the US. As I look back on the past eleven weeks, I am overwhelmed with feelings of joy and gratitude. When I boarded a plane at the Dulles airport eleven weeks ago, I did not know what exactly I was getting myself into. I expected to be a bit uncomfortable, to learn a lot about development and working for an NGO, and to grow as an individual. All these expectations came to fruition—in much bigger ways than I could have imagined—and with them came about a million experiences and feelings I could never have imagined. One thing I was not prepared for is how large an impact this summer would have on how I view the world and my place in it.

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Gin khaow? Gin khaow.

In Lao, people don’t say “Time for lunch!” or “Dinner’s ready!” instead, they say “Gin khaow!” (Eat rice!) The word for the color white is also “khaow” meaning rice. The first part of the word for bread (khaowgee) is also rice. The international beer, that people drink more than water, and which practically sponsors the country, is rice beer. Pancakes are made from rice, whiskey is made from rice, you name it and rice is involved. Did you know there are over 40,000 varieties of rice? So far, my favorite is “khaow gai noi” (little chicken rice). Needless to say, I have consumed an exorbitant amount of rice in the past eleven weeks, and I have loved every grain.

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Baci Ceremony

Buddhist Baci bracelets are handmade string bracelets tied onto your wrist to keep the spirits tied to you and to bring you good luck and health. There are a variety of different bracelet colors and each represents something different such as wisdom, compassion, or spirituality. Often, long strands are blessed by monks at large ceremonies and are later turned into bracelets. People hold baci ceremonies for weddings, funerals, and other special events. At these ceremonies a short mantra is recited, dry rice and flower petals are thrown over the attendees, and then people tie bracelets to one another while giving them small gifts. The bracelets then remain tied to your wrist until they fall off. My favorite moment in Laos was last Wednesday when the women at the VFI human trafficking shelter hosted a Baci ceremony for Caroline, Milena, and I as a thank you.

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Cambodia

Last weekend I was lucky enough to take a quick trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to visit a friend from home. In three days, I saw my friend’s work creating a robot that will detonate UXO, visited the Killing Fields and S-21 Genocide museum, and saw the immense differences between Vientiane and Phnom Penh, two Southeast Asian capitals. My biggest takeaway from this trip was a reaffirmation that Southeast Asia does not receive nearly as much attention as it deserves.

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It Is Time to Address the “Secret War”

Dear USA,

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