Pilgrims, Sandals, and Bananas / by Joshua P Jacks

Last night was the start of a new Jacks family.  The man we are working under told us as we were getting ready to move here that this is the start of a pilgrimage.  From now on we will never be fully American, and we will never be fully Lao.  We are pilgrims.  In being pilgrims, we are doing our best to be part of the culture we live in.  This proves to be difficult in some ways.  We came from a culture where it was considered normal to live in the same neighborhood for many years and never associate with some of your neighbors.  Just polite smiles and waves as you see each other outside is all some of Americans want from their neighbors.  There is normally sufficient room between houses allowing you to have your “personal space”.  Sometimes you don’t even know what some of your neighbors look like.  I remember moving from our house in Pensacola, we had realized that we didn’t even know what our neighbor looked like up close.  We also felt we missed some great relationships with our neighbor right next door. In the Lao culture it is very different.  Open door policy is considered the normal.  Although I knew many people with open door policies in America, Josh and I ourselves tried to carry the same policy ourselves.  There were still times when it was considered normal to just have “family time”. 

As I talk with my fellow teachers and just see how the Lovely Lao live, I realize there is much work to be done in my perspective.  I have realized although I desire to say bye to all selfishness, I still cling to parts of my selfishness.  I am starting, just barely starting to understand what it means to “die daily”.  It is painful but yet so insightful, and I wonder how I would have ever seen some of my selfishness if it weren’t for our big move to Asia. 

Now back to last night. The previous renters of our house were also teachers here.  They did a great job of connecting with our neighbors.  obviously, Josh and I want to do the same.  I had found myself saying “Sabaidee” from afar (means hello), but never fully thinking I am ready to invite them in.  My fear and intimidation from the language barrier would get the best of me and I would shut down.  But last night started a stretching that needs to happen, whether I am ready or not.

Duang and I were just sitting and talking in my living room when one of my neighbors just walked in to my house…. (very different from states).  She sat down, she and Duang talked for about ten minutes and then she picked Noah up and left!  Haha.  I explained to Duang the American side of my anxiety as my child disappeared from my sight.  She just laughed and I told her I needed to become more Lao.  (in this culture it is considered very normal for people to just take your child and then after awhile bring them back.  Kidnapping isn’t a big problem here, and if I were to withhold my child from them and not let them hold Noah, I would ruin any chance of getting close to them. I am basically telling them they cannot be trusted by withholding my child).  So as Duang and I laughed on how different we were from each other, I was able to have a sigh of relief when I saw our neighbor walking back with Noah.

This time when returning, she brought her daughter with her.  We once again sat and talked (I actually just smiled and looked at Duang everytime I thought my neighbor was saying something to me).  Then I thought ok this was a great ice breaker and way of just meeting a neighbor.  But, as the lady left her daughter stayed behind to play with Noah.  After ten minutes, another young girl came over and so now there were two young girls playing with Noah, and then there were three…… Haha.  Also during this time my neighbor brought over some banana’s (which are Noah’s absolute favorite!)  He ate both of them really fast (they are half the size they are in the states.)  She left, and returned a few minutes later with two more.  She left and returned yet again with two more bananas! 

The night ended with Noah’s belly full of banana’s his face full of smiles from the fun he had with his new friends, and them saying bye just in time for me to give Noah a bath and put him to bed.

The next morning as soon as Duang came over, the young girl followed her in to play with Noah, around 8 am.  Josh said when he returned from Lao Language, there were two kids over playing with Noah. 

So starts our journey of finding our Lao family, where a normal will be many small sandals outside my front door, many laughs and giggles coming from Noah’s room, and times of sitting and smiling at my neighbors since right now it is the only way to say “I care”.

Please be thinking about us often as we adjust.  Since it is different from the states, sometimes it is easy for our selfishness to get in the way of what is more important.  We are so thankful we have so many friends and family members stateside that are walking with us on our journey.  We love you and think of you often!