• Pippa

Merry Christmas from Vientiane!



Merry Christmas from Vientiane where December 25th, as in many countries in this part of the world, is just another day. Nevertheless, there are a few Christmas decorations to be spotted around town and many clothing businesses sell seasonal attire in the form of Santa outfits.


Christmas Day actually marks three months since my departure from Canada and time is really flying by. One English course has come to an end, I’m starting to feel quite at home here and then I learned the other day that all Cuso International volunteer contracts in Laos will end on March 15th because Cuso is pulling out of South East Asia. Nevertheless, I will give the best of my abilities to my teaching placement over the next three months and be grateful that I had this incredible opportunity that has taken me down the international volunteering path. Who knows where it will lead next?


On Christmas Eve, I’m on an early flight to Cambodia where I’m spending a few

days in Siem Reap. A friend from Victoria has offered me her apartment there while she’s in Bali and my Cuso volunteer colleague friend, Geetha, is flying in from the Philippines. We’re meeting up with another volunteer for Christmas lunch and then I’m co-teaching an English class that evening. The next day we’ve booked a guide for a full day of sightseeing at the temples and hopefully he’ll have an opening for another day of temple gazing before it’s time for me to return to Vientiane on December 29th . I’m back at work the next day but expecting it to be a quiet week before the next round of student placements and the start of a new course.


One of the downsides of my placement is that students leave at the end of courses and some of those students have become friends during the weeks I have worked with them. I know we’ll stay in touch thanks to social media but while I sit composing this letter I notice how quiet the halls are outside the teachers’ room. I never expected the generosity and kindness I have experienced from this group of students: the little gifts of special Lao food they leave on my desk , the invitations to their family events and to their homes, end of term presents, offers to help, birthday cakes and meals out. I asked one of my students about these gestures and he explained that teachers are revered elders in Lao culture and that I should “please” accept everything. I do and I treasure these memories.


Volunteers come and go too. My colleague Nisha from Singapore leaves Vientiane soon to go on a teacher-training course in Bangkok during January and then goes home. She’s been good company both as a colleague and friend and has invited me to visit her in Singapore before I leave these parts so that is my plan before I go back to Canada. Nisha was intrigued to learn about my grandparents’ connection to Malaya and particularly Singapore and has promised to take me sightseeing. Sonia, the Spanish volunteer teacher, returned to Colombia last week and admitted before she left that, given the violent unrest right now in her country, Laos was a more appealing place to be. I understand. There’s a serenity of being here. People are calm. If you hear a voice raised in anger it’s likely not a Lao person. Even traffic jams are quiet! But one place you will find noise here is at a party with the Beer Lao flowing, the karaoke machine switched on and people just wanting to have fun.


On that party note, I will sign off and wish you all a Happy New Year!


A note about the photograph of the poinsettias. I spotted these growing in a garden up near Vian Vieng when I was there in November.

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