Week 10: “Khop Jai” “Bo Pen Yang”

The Lao saying “bo pen yang” has permeated all aspects of Lao culture. In short, it’s the Lao version of Swahili’s “hakuna matata” or “no worries” in English. But it’s so much more than that.

Bo pen yang is a positive affirmation that everything will work out and a way of expressing gratitude. This is paired with a go with flow, stress free attitude, that whatever will happen will happen. Bo pen yang is how people say “you’re welcome.” It’s as if whatever you’re expressing gratitude for, the action was not only easy to complete but expected.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the experiences and lessons of the past eleven weeks. One time when I felt overwhelmingly welcomed by the people around me was when the women at the VFI Human Trafficking center in Vientiane held a Baci ceremony to wish Milena, Abby, and I good luck and say thank you for helping VFI out. Baci ceremonies, a Buddhist tradition, are centered around tying bracelets to your wrists to keep the spirits tied to you and bring you good luck and health. Traditionally these ceremonies occur around major life events, weddings, births, etc. The bracelets are accompanied by small gifts of food, money, and other things to wish you a life where you have enough food and money.

Our Baci ceremony began with our coworker Souk (which literally means luck), who used to be a monk, throwing dried rice on us and adding items to the centerpiece. After saying a few blessings and chants in Lao, all of the women of the shelter began tying the Baci bracelets to our wrists. Each bracelet came with a new blessing and a piece of chocolate or fruit or hard-boiled egg or a couple kip. After the ceremony we celebrated with a meal that included the classic papaya salad (pet lai!) and noodles with fried pork blood. Today, the day of the Baci ceremony, and literally every other day this summer, I feel humbled and grateful for those around me. From the women of the shelter for hosting this ceremony, to my co-fellows who helped me navigate the non-Caroline food served, to my co-workers who instantly accepted me into the VFI family.

Living abroad, or anywhere you are familiar with, can be a rollercoaster. Not everything will go as planned. One minute you’re biking around an island and the next you’re talking to the Cambodian police and the mayor of that Lao island while watching river dolphins in the middle of Mekong river. This summer taught me to embrace the unexpected, that maybe sometimes you’re going to end up at the dress rehearsal of your coworker’s daughter’s high school production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But this summer also taught me to prepare for the unexpected, specifically context of having a base of self-care and awareness of my mental health. For me, I feel grounded when I work out and journal. This base and awareness of how I react to situations was essential when unexpected meant bad luck. There’s a Buddhist belief that when a bad thing happens, your slate is clean and only good luck is to come. Maybe that good luck comes in the form of co-fellows yelling “TREE” and other hazards so I stop running into things.

Anyway, khop jai lai lai DER (thank you with a lot of emphasis) to the Freeman Foundation, Global Research Institute, Village Focus International, Vientiane, my co-fellows, my Lao family, and everyone else I met this summer.