Wednesday, June 15, 2011

banh houay xai

essay #3:

Embracing My Roots

I wake up to blaring alarm clocks, Facebook, and live by what my over packed electronic calendar on my iphone tells me to do. Half way around the globe, there are people who wake up to the sound of roosters and live by what the sun and stars provide them. While I start my day complaining about having to get up for work, commuting, and running myself ragged with my kid’s extracurricular activities, these people start their day fetching water from a well, sow their fields, and walk miles to the market to sell their crops to support their families.

It’s no wonder my parents looked to Ah-may-leekah (America) in search of freedom for their future but mostly for mine. The price to pay? I have no memories. I have kept zero to little tradition. Worst yet, I have no photographs except the one shown of my childhood in Laos. But I am educated. There was never a doubt that I would be. My parents believed an education held promises for a better life.

We left Laos when I was 4 and we never lookedback. I never had any interest in embracing my culture because all I wanted to be was an American. I didn’t want to be made fun of at school for looking different, for speaking different, and “darn it! why did e-meh (mom) pack me a ball of sticky rice for my lunch while everyone else had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?” I wanted nothing to do with being Laotian until recently.

My secret desire to learn about my motherland was sparked in December 2009. I met an older Caucasian man at a holiday party. Drunk conversations can often be hilarious but never educational... he knew more about Laos than I did. He traveled thru Laos in the late 70s and fell in love with the country. He told me about Luang Prabrang, Huay Xai, Muang Sing and a bunch of other small villages. Although I wasn’t drunk, I couldn’t tell him which province I was from.

When I tell people I’m from Laos, they usually don’t have a clue where the country is so why bother with details of province and village. He told me stories of how each village was very rich in tradition, hospitality, and especially compassion for a stranger.

After the party, I declared that visiting Laos was going on my bucket list. The next day I called my parents and asked them where we lived in Laos. My mother is from Ban Huay Xai and my father is from Muang Sing. I’m not certain whether it’s a coincidence that my family is from the places that Caucasian man was telling me about.

Later in January 2010, my son’s preschool class asked me to share some traditions for their multicultural day event. One event led to another and that year I learned a bit more about Laos. One sleepless night, I was surfing the internet and stumbled upon Jai Lao Foundation (JLF). I don’t even remember googling anything on Laos but somehow one link led to another link that led me to JLF.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that all these strings of events has led me to this opportunity to be a part of JLF’s mission to build another school for the Laotian children. Each event and each link I visited got me closer to connecting with my parents and initiating a long over due and rare conversation about our culture.

Every child, no matter the culture, has heard the story of how their parents walked miles and miles to school in snow, rain, and sleet. My mom is definitely no exception. She literally walked a long distance from her village to go to school. She didn’t attend preschool or elementary school as there was none available. She was a teenager when she first attended school and she says, “I would stop by the noodle house and eat kow soy midway to school because it was that far.” As the only daughter amongst three older brothers, she had many responsibilities handed to her so she was very fortunate to receive an education even though it was very minimal. There was no time for formal education when there are other important things to worry about such as the basic survival of the family.

My intention of nominating a school for the villages of Huay Xai is to not only bring a school closer to their village or to give them an opportunity for more education, but to be the example of why it’s important to know where you are from and most importantly to not be ashamed of your culture. Building a school in the villages would be an easy thing to accomplish with the proper resources, but teaching people to look inside of them and empower them to stay grounded in their roots is a much more rewarding service.

As a yoga teacher, I am rewarded and inspired by the many students who begin to spark transformations through the practice of yoga to find their authentic self. As I commit to my practice, I realize that sometimes I struggle to find my authentic self because I’m not grounded in my roots. I’ve grown up in a place where external influences heavily taint my true self. I’ve masked myself with layers of social domestication because I wanted to fit in. These past few years, yoga has slowly helped me peel away the layers so I may get a glimpse of who my true self is. Sometimes I find things that I don’t like about me, but the process of finding that part of me helps me to grow and become what’s already inside of me and not what I should become.

Without a doubt, the villagers will be overwhelmed with gratitude for their new school. To these under-served children, a pencil, a teacher, and a classroom can bring the promise of a future with choice. This is what my parents created for me. However, as I live and grow, I can see clearly that an education alone does not promise a ticket to a better life. I’m discovering that we all have choices no matter what our socioeconomic status is. It’s a simple choice of choosing to be guided by our life’s experience and using those experiences as a platform to create future choices or be stuck in the story of “poor me... if only I had more of I could live a happier life.” My wish for these students is to bring their real life experiences into their new classrooms and use it to create possibilities.

Each village deserves to be the recipient of a very generous gift from JLF. However, I chose my mom’s village in Ban Huay Xai. If chosen, I would choose without hesitation to have my mom accompany me on my journey to Laos. It would be a dream come true for her because she tells me the house she grew up in is still standing. She has never visited the Motherland since immigrating here. Many stories would unfold from our visit and I imagine many tears would be shed.

What intrigues and scares me most at the same time is the connection I would be rebuilding with my mom. There is much mystery and opportunities to be discovered by not only my mom and I, but for those Laotian faces that are smeared rich with experience and humanity. There is no question that these little faces would educate me beyond what any classroom could provide for them. They are already rich in many ways... a classroom would just be the sacred space for them to explore their highest potential.

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