Tuesday, June 14, 2011

banh pherk

here is essay #2 from the Jai Lao foundation's contest. see my previous posts below for details. please like Jai Lao on facebook and then vote for an essay!


First of all, I would like to Thank you all for giving everyone an opportunity to submit this essay.

I would like to share my childhood memory with you of a small remote village by the name of Ban Pherk. This village is about 40 minutes drive out skirt from Vientiane. As a kid, I remembered walking on the red dirt road for 5 or 10 minutes to the village school as a first grader. The school bench was made out of logs that has been cut in halves and not stained. Students shared desk with other classmates in a classroom with no electricity or bathroom. Every morning before starting class, we all stood in front of the school and sang the Lao Anthem song. The school exist of 1st to 4th grade only. After that, students has to go to another village name Elai which is about 20 minutes driving distance. Most of the people in this village do not own cars, so the education stops at the 4th grade level. Ban Pherk is not a village that I was born in, but it was the last village that I can remember as a kid living in Laos. I consider this village my childhood hometown village. As I remember there is only 1 school there. The village has no playground anywhere not even at the school. I believe in higher education for every children in the world, and I would like this village to have that opportunity as well. If there is an opportunity in the future, I would like to explore this village with the Jai Lao Boards to build a Secondary school. With an educated children in the village, they will be able to provide and contribute to their community as well as to Laos and the World outside of Laos. This would be an opportunity of a lifetime for me and this village to have a Secondary School build within walking distance for the children to attend. I would be able to visit my parents homeland and reconnect with people in the village in helping Jai Lao Foundation build a school, if Ban Pherk is chosen.

Since both of my parents has passed now, I do not know too much about where my parents raised us as a kid in Laos. Most of my relatives are back in Laos. Our dad passed away 1 month after we arrived in the US and my mother was in her early 30's with 5 young children. My mother passed at the age of 50 losing her final life battle to cancer. After my father passed, my mother had to learn to drive and work to support her children. We didn't do much family events together because mom always had to work to support us. I didn't understand why she had 2 or maybe even 3 jobs back then. Now I understand all the sacrifices that she had made to provide for her children. The one promise that my dad requested from my mom before he passed was to make sure his children all attend college for higher education. My mother worked and show us her strength and ambition for us children to further our education not only for ourselves but to make our hard working mother proud and have pride in her children. At each graduation ceremony, my mom would cry nonstop and I used to be so embarrassed. But now I understand her feelings of joy and accomplishment of the promise she made to her late husband. I like to learn more about Ban Pherk and have more compassion for the people of the village. This will show me where my parents came from as well as where I came from and where I would be if my mother did not make the decision to escape Laos to meet up with my dad who escaped the War and was already in Thailand waiting for his family.

It's very difficult for me to take my mind back to the past because there was a lot of sad memories. I look forward everyday for a brighter and better day. As immigrants, we all have the same kind of story but every story is different and unique for that family. I remember going back and forth hiding in 2 of our Aunt's house in Vientiane before escaping to Thailand. My mother sewed gold jewelry inside the Sinh that I was wearing. We rode in a boat to cross the Mekong River with my mom, 1 brother and 2 sisters and a cousin who was about 15 years old who was very beautiful with long wavy hair. I remember the only light lighting the way in the Mekong River was the cigarette light from the man who was rowing the boat. I stared at the glowing embers of the fire, observing the smoke fly away and gradually fade to nothingness. I heard several gunshots along the way and even saw a dead body floating in the river. My mother covered my mouth before I can even scream in terror. We walked up from the boat to the Thailand soil that dark morning. We saw 2 Thai Officials carrying guns. Before they took us to the Nongkai Camp in Thailand, there was a bribery between the 2 Thai Officials and my 15 years old cousin. I remembered they took her somewhere and brought her back later with her white shirts missing buttons. I don't know much about time back then, but the wait to see her face was so still and silent. The only noise I heard was my mom cries in anger the whole time until my beautiful cousin came back with the 2 Thai officials. I kept thinking in my mind the whole time, what is happening to my beautiful cousin and where did they take her, and when will I see her again??? She came back looking so upset with anger and fear. She non stop cried nonstop in tears until she sat in silent. As I got older, I made an educated guess what happened to my cousin. I think the 2 Thai Officials violated her soul to pay for our ways to the Nongkai Camp in Thailand. I never asked my mom about it, but I'm pretty sure that was what happened. Maybe my mom though we were too young to even know what was happening and hope that we did not remember this past. It's something that we never discussed or talk about ever again. With this is my mind as a child, it made me a stronger person and to believe in the ability of attaining a higher education and maybe one day go back in the past to the village my parents once lived and see how I can help this village. Taking the effort to write this essay is my first step in trying to help my fellow classmates and Lao citizens back home who did not take the opportunity to escape Laos and experience the life in America. If my parents can bring us to the America so their children can have a higher education and fight the many obstacles along the way, there is no reason why anyone of the village kids should not attend school or have the opportunity to do so if the secondary school is built in this town. I would even like to tell the village people our family struggle and experiences to the US, just to motivate parents to allow their children to attend school. Our family is one of the very few that left the town.

In 2009, I made my first journey back to Laos and visited Ban Pherk for a brief 30 minutes. My last memory about Ban Pherk, it was one of those rare morning that the sun manages to peek out from the thick, ominous clouds that have disappeared for many days, revealing the vivid bright sky and the warmth of the bright sunlight seeping through my face as we walk out of this village. At that very moment, I felt and saw a brighter light somewhere else in the future or place as if we were following the rainbow to search for the pot of gold. Many years has passed by in the blink of an eye and I came back to Ban Pherk and everything still looked the same with very little changes in the village. I did not have the opportunity to explore the village, but it looked very small. I remember as a kid the house we lived in had more land. I was told the land was sold out. My parents used to farm rice field and that was sold out too by relatives. When I went back to the house we used to live in, i had very few recollection of the house. To my surprise, my brother remembers every land and lot that belonged to my late grandmother. The fondest memory I had was having lunch with my parents on a hut in the rice field while my brother was fishing. While visiting the Village's Wat, I was looked for my grandmother's Tombstone which was no where to be found. I discovered that the day of her funeral, it rained so hard and her ashes were never collected. Grandmother's Tombstone was never built. I felt so hurt by this discovery, my eyes was draining tears as if I was trying to fill up the water in the Mekong River. When I returned to the US, I told my siblings about the story and we built a Tombstone to honor my grandmother at the Wat. The most precious thing that my aunt in Laos gave me that belonged to her only brother were spoons that she found at the house we left behind. She gave me 2 of the spoons which I feel very honored to have since this is the only belongings that I have from my late father. In meeting and learning about Jai Lao Foundation, it gave me the courage to travel back in time to my past which I remember in Ban Pherk. In that travel, I learned more of where my life started, the struggles my parents took, the life of my parents, and who I am and who I could have been if I was still living in Ban Pherk now.

Seeing the innocent people at the Wat who are now all strangers to me, but could have once been my parents friends, made me want to explore more about the town to learn more where I came from and where my parents came from. After going back to Laos, I realize the painful memories I fear was now in the past. We all make choices and our parents made choices for our future. It was not an easy struggle and there were sacrifices along the way to the land of freedom and opportunity. Parents in Laos have this opportunity to support their children to attend school and children have the decision for their future. If they understand our immigrant struggles, then maybe education will be a priority for our Lao people too. An educated person will have an educated choice in life and a brighter future no matter where they reside. By building schools and giving educations to the hundreds and later thousands of children in Laos, Jai Lao Foundation is giving the best gift anyone can give to a child. I would like to nominate Ban Pherk to have this opportunity for a secondary education for the children of this village. This is the best life time opportunity that I can do help the people of this village is to share knowledge. Education is not up to the mark at Ban Pherk due to lack of institutions. The lack of proper infrastructure or school are the main drawback which directly effects the growth of the development in this village. Agriculture is the main occupation of the villagers. The cultural and social life of the villagers are simple and comfortable. They seem to be contented with what they have because it's what they know. If a Secondary School is build at Ban Pherk, Most if not all kids in the village, and maybe other villages will be entering the school to acquire the knowledge they need and further help with the development of their village in the future to come.

Thank your for reading my life memory which started in BAN PHERK, a small remote village in Laos. Please considerate your VOTE for BAN PHERK for Jai Lao Foundation to build a Secondary School to give the children of this village an opportunity to higher education than just a 4th grader.

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