I’d like to start off by apologizing for my absence from the blog. After my last post things have been hectic and chaotic in the best way possible. I’ve been involved in numerous programs and been on several trips that I am excited to fill you in on. I haven’t had a weekend to relax and write a post in over a month, so I am scrambling to put one out during a school day. With a little more than two months left in my grant I am trying to accomplish as much as possible with my remaining time.
Let’s begin at the end of July. July was the month of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from sun up until sun down. This includes food, water, smoking, or anything else that enters the mouth. To be completely honest, this was the hardest month of the entire grant. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for breakfast and lunch for 30 straight days. My students were constantly exhausted which made teaching more difficult. I had to eat and drink water in secret at school to respect the fasting of my fellow teachers and the students. At the end of every day no restaurants would be open, only the Ramadan market, called ‘Bazaar Ramadan’ which offered the same options for food night after night. The purpose of Ramadan is to show your devotion to Allah, gain favor by not engaging in any negative practices, and increase your time reading the Quran since it was during this month that Allah transmitted his message to Muhammad to be written as the holy book of Islam. I shared some great meals with my students as they broke their fast at the end of the day and was grateful to have them share this process with me. As a non-Muslim in this society, however, my roommate and I struggled during this time.
At the end of Ramadan is the most significant holiday in the religion of Islam, known in Malaysia as Hari Raya. There are endless feasts, colorful outfits, and traditional foods only seen during this time. I didn’t think food could be any more important than it already was but I was in for a surprise. We had about 10 days off of school during this point and I celebrated the end of Ramadan by traveling to Laos with three of my friends. Laos, in my opinion, is a very underrated country. It doesn’t offer the same ‘touristy’ accommodations, sites, and cleanliness that other SE Asia countries do, but its authenticity and atmosphere were unique and refreshing. During our stay in Laos we visited four different places in the northern part of the country. They were Vientiane (the capital), Van Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Phonsavan. Vientiane was home to a famous ‘golden’ stupa that was a stunning sight against the plain color of the city. It also had some of the best food I’ve tried during the last 8 months. Fun fact—we ate at the same restaurant in Vientiane four times over the course of three days. Van Vieng is a tourist town, but for all the right reasons. It offers tubing on a river crowded with bars, against a backdrop of looming, green limestone karsts. My friend Miller and I also rented ATVs for a day and went exploring. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, littered with temples and a jumping off point for treks and trips to the more undiscovered parts of northern Laos. Phonsavan is home to the Plain of Jars where there are urns from over a thousand years old grouped together in a grassy plain with views for miles. It remains a scientific mystery how the jars got there and even if in fact they were used as urns. Laos far exceeded my expectations. Even with the long bus rides from place to place there was always a view to be seen. The laid-back culture and raw, untouched beauty of the landscape were two of many great qualities of this place.
More photos from Laos: Here