Thursday, February 19, 2015

Back to the Island 2015


I've realized I haven't blogged about this trip yet, and it's been several weeks. I vlogged this time which is one reason why. The blog can be much more minimal with the vlog :)

For those of you who don't know, I'm a fairly intense Hanson fan. Every year since 2013 they have done a 5-day fan club getaway, and I've had the opportunity to attend all 3 of them. The first two were in Negril Jamaica, but this year it was in Cancun Mexico! As usual, it was fantastic. It was hot, I saw many of my friends from all over the world (and made some new ones!), had relaxing times with Mom, some hangout time with the band, and 6 incredible shows (and 2 other bands for a 7th show to boot).

It's hard to describe what the experience is like... I stand by what I said the first year: I believe every Hanson fan should have this experience at least once if at all possible. Yes it is a lot of money -- start saving now. If you started in 2013 you'd be set for 2016. :)

I feel kind of bad/guilty, but it's almost gotten normalized for me after three years. Like unless something super unexpected happens (like running into them by accident, which happened the first two years but not this year) then it's like "aw yeah, this is a normal thing that I do now." Like NO IT'S NOT. YOU'RE IN MEXICO WITH YOUR FAVORITE BAND OF 18 YEARS. DO NOT FORGET HOW AWESOME THIS IS. (In saying that, I did talk to Isaac briefly on the last night, but due to my voice being gone from rocking too hard, we couldn't keep talking because he literally couldn't hear me. Sad face.)

Why is BTTI "so much better" then just going to tour? It's more relaxed... you can walk down to the stage when the show is starting and be fairly close to the front. You can watch soundcheck. There are only 420 fans there. 220 in each event with Zac/Isaac. There are SOLO SHOWS. The guys are more relaxed, they'll try anything and do anything (without forethought), it's more off-the-wall then tour could ever be. ["Play Sometimes!" "Okay!... Wait this is Smile."] You meet people from everywhere. I heard it described as both Hanson Spring Break, and Hanson Summer Camp, and I think both of those descriptors fit. It's a big coming together of the most passionate fans; you're among like-minded people! It is a blast. Did I mention YOU'RE AT AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT???? WITH HANSON????

One thing that reappeared a little more aggresively this year after fading a bit the second year was fan drama... which is too bad. I stay clear of it, but I have some friends who were in the front for some of the shows, and it was not pretty. I dream of a day when we can all respect each other and just enjoy the show together. Most of us are there, but there's like 10% of the fan base that is weird/cruel/insane. Shame, really.

I don't really think I have to say anything else because it's all in the video!

Jan. 7 - Welcome to the Island
1) Can't Stop
2) I've Got Soul
3) And I Waited
4) Waiting For This
5) Where's The Love
6) Fired Up
7) A Minute Without You
8) Go
9) With You In Your Dreams
10) Love Song
11) Weird
12) Strong Enough To Break
13) Juliet
14) You Cant Stop Us
15) This Time Around
16) Tragic Symphony
17) Thinking Bout Somethin
18) Give a Little
19) Penny & Me
20) Get The Girl Back
21) Lost Without Each Other
22) MMMBop
23) Man From Milwaukee
24) Hand in Hand
25) Something Going Round
Jan. 8 - Christmas on the Island
1) Merry Christmas Baby
2) What Christmas Means To Me
3) Rockin Around The Christmas Tree
4) Run Rudolph Run
5) Everybody Knows The Claus
6) Finally Its Christmas
7) At Christmas
8) White Christmas
9) Too Much Heaven
10) Cecelia
11) Aint No Sunshine
12) In A Little While
13) Aint Too Proud To Beg
14) Never Been To Spain
15) Oh Darlin
16) Hold On I'm Coming
17) Gimme Some Lovin
18) Every Word I Say
19) Scream And Be Free
20) Crazy Beautiful
21) In The City
22) Its a Long Way To The Top
Jan. 9 - Desert Island Mix
1) Tearing It Down
2) Great Divide
3) Thinking of You
4) Musical Ride
5) Georgia
6) Get Up And Go
7) Got a Hold On Me
8) Blue Sky
9) Watch Over Me
10) On The Road
11) Wish That I Was There
12) Madeline
13) Dying To Be Alive
14) Yearbook
15) In A Way
16) On The Rocks
17) Been There Before
18) Leave the Light On
19) Already Home
20) Roller Coaster Love
21) White Collar Crime
22) If Only
23) Back To The Island
24) Rock N Roll Razorblade
Jan. 8 - Zac Solo
1) Call Out My Name
2) Get So Low
3) Wait Here For You
4) Juliet
5) On and On
6) Bittersweet
7) Fire On The Mountain
8) Musical Ride
Jan. 8 - Isaac Solo
1) River
2) A Minute Without You
3) Two Tears
4) Being Me
5) Ordinary Words
6) Deeper
7) More Than Anything
8) Someone
9) Smile
10) Best of Times
Jan. 10 - Taylor Solo
1) Be My Own
2) Believe
3) Never Let Go
4) Get Out Of My Heart
5) Sometimes (w/ Isaac)
6) Sunny Day (w/ Isaac)
7) Runaway Run
8) All I Ever Needed
9) Ive Been Down
10) Voice in the Chorus
11) Make It Out Alive

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

So Long, 2014

Alright so one of my New Years goals is to blog monthly (at least), since this if obviously one bandwagon I have fallen off of. I blame it on keeping the laptop at work and bringing just the iPad home, which is more conducive to Youtube and silly games. Anyway. I found this neat little meme I'd like to do to end off the year! If you do it as well, leave a link in the comments so I can see!


Look Back on 2014
  • What are you most proud of this year? Refining my pastoral call, developing certain skills, I think just maturing as an individual. I got myself set up a little better with a mentor and intentionally spending time with friends which has helped a lot.
  • What was the biggest risk you took? Saying no to a new opportunity to stay where I'm planted now.
  • What did you learn this year? That God calls you away as much as He calls you towards. That the only person I can control is myself. To balance being comfortable in my own skin with allowing others to help smooth out some rough edges. That sleep is incredibly important and I suffer without it. And that I thrive on expectation of the next big event (and suffer big time if there is nothing on the horizon). 
  • What did you wish you had more time for? Everyone has the same amount of time. I definitely wasted a lot of mine. I wish I re-prioritized and gave more time to reading, walking, praying.
  • Name 3 highlights this year: World Vision Trip to Laos, Hanson in Jamaica, preaching on Christmas Eve (Eve) for the first time.
Look Forward to 2015
  • What "word" do you want to define 2015? Balance.
  • Name 3 big goals for 2015: establish a healthy morning routine, blog monthly, intentionally pray with someone once a week.
  • What do you want to stop doing in 2015? Staying up past midnight!
  • What things excite you about the upcoming year? Hanson in Mexico, Disney World, various concerts/trips, how my call may shift/evolve, what I'll learn, and the relationships that I'll either create or deepen.
  • What do you want to learn in 2015? How to show emotion well. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

XTeam14 pt7 - final thoughts

Laos 2014

As I thinker (not a feeler), I never really know what to "expect" from missions trips. You hear about people who go to some part of the world, and come back and they are completely forever changed. Just thinking about it will bring tears to their eyes. And they will never be the same again.

My visit to Laos definitely changed me. It changed my perspective on what poverty is, what child sponsorship is, and how World Vision works to change lives. But I didn't have an emotional reaction or "transformation" because of the trip. But that's okay. Not everyone responds the same way.

This missions trip was very different then what many in the church define as a "missions trip". Did we build something? No. Did we tell others about Jesus? No. [If we did we'd probably end up in jail, or worse]. What did we do? Nothing. Nothing. And that is OKAY!

We went to learn. To see. To exeperience. And we went to develop a friendship with other people on the opposite side of the world in a very different culture and life than our own. Was this a waste? Absolutely not. Here's why:

  • I saw poverty with my own eyes. I saw it and smelled it and tasted it. When I look at my bank account and see $39 leave it every month to go to Kob and his Mom, I know who that is. I met them and hugged them. I played ball with Kob. I saw the school he will go to and the garden he will eat from. That changes your perspective on your own finances and what bills are most important to pay.
  • I saw World Vision in action. I saw how they use their money, how they hire people within the country who want to make a difference. I saw how a Christian organization can work in a communist Buddhist society, and without overtly evangelizing can indeed share the gospel and bring people to Christ in spite of the religious climate. I saw how a girl who grew up in poverty has chosen to use her education to help others, because of the help she received as a child. She wants to break the cycle for the generations coming behind her.
  • I saw how World Vision can change an entire community, and the lives of dozens of children, through child sponsorship, the gift catalogue, and the 30hr famine. I saw how poverty can actually be STOPPED if it is approached the right way, which I know nothing about, but the people who work in WV Laos do.
  • I learned about the importance of community, and how broken western society is in it's world of individualism. I learned that sponsoring one child with World Vision actually means helping an entire village. That every child is precious and changing a community will help all of them. I learned that generosity is most felt in the lives of those who have little. It must be more blessed to give then to receive based on what I saw in Laos!
  • I learned that soccer balls and skipping ropes are far more fun than iPads and XBox's.

I honestly learned way more than this. This is what came to me in 10min sitting at Starbucks back in Moncton. Time and again the people of Laos thanked us for coming. Thanked us for coming to meet them, to see them, to visit. They asked that more visitors would come. The ministry of presence is such a big deal! In the national office before we visited the field, Amelia and Ian explained to us that western society is so obsessed with DOING. We have to DO something or else we feel useless. Feeling. They suggested that really, one of the main reasons we are so fueled to DO is actually quite selfish. We want to feel good. We want to feel good about ourselves for doing something to help those poor people on the other side of the world. But here's the thing.... people in other parts of the world are actually quite capable of helping themselves! And in fact, doing things for them can actually worsen the cycle of poverty. You are eliminating jobs, eliminating skills being learned, eliminating the empowered spirit they need to sustain life for themselves in the years to come. It is far better to teach someone how to fish then to keep giving them one fish every 3-4 years. They assured us, and after this trip I believe even more strongly: not all mission trips are about doing. Sometimes, you need to just be. To see. To show love.

Laos was seriously an incredible experience. If you are part of TJC's Global Partnership with Xebangfai I would strongly encourage you to be a part of a future XTeam. Not because you're going to do anything. But because you'll develop a love for the people and for God's work in that country. And that will go further than anything you could ever do.


Monday, May 12, 2014

XTeam14 pt6 - Konglor Cave and travel home


Friday was our "crash day" after what was an incredible week. We got up early in Thakhek to check out of the Mekong Hotel and head to Konglor Cave... without a hotel reservation! Living life on the edge. It was a precarious drive through thin roads on mountain cliffs, and poor Stan not feeling well :(  Once we got to the Cave area we realized fairly quickly we were in a touristy area... within minutes we met a couple from Calgary! We happened upon this BEAUTIFUL newly renovated guest house to spend the night. It felt like something you'd find in the Rockies (except for the fact that the bed is about 2ft off the ground). We grabbed some food at the only restaurant we saw with English people at it. It was basically on the front porch of this family's house. If you had to go to the bathroom, you just used the family's!

Then we headed into Konglor Cave. It's a big cave that you go through on these traditional boats, with two people from there who knew what they were doing. :) I went with Dave & Luke. It was a little freaky at first, boating into total blackness.... but after a few minutes we got off the boat and walked through all these rock sculptures, lit up with pretty lights. I guess the whole way through was about 40min? The other side was GORGEOUS. We even saw a water buffalo IN water this time! We spent a few minutes on the other side before making the return trip. We somehow got way ahead of the others so we hung out on this huge rock just taking in the scenery waiting for everyone. It was very peaceful, very relaxing.

After the cave we had supper back at the same place, and had debrief in my room. This was when I started to crash. I knew we were going home the next day and I didn't want the trip to end!! There was major pressure to sleep that night since the next day would be about 42 hours long. Of course, all the animals of the cave decided to YELL all night long! Sigh.

The next morning I was greeted by coffee :D I did a dumb thing of drinking both cups for my room, and also getting tea at breakfast. I had gone this WHOLE trip without once having to use a "squatty potty", but that 5.5 hour drive back to Vientiane did me in with all that caffeine. So much to the team's celebration I finally embraced the toilets of Laos! haha.

We got back to Vientiane late afternoon and went to the market one last time. Then we went back to the WV Laos to get changed and to head to the airport. There we had a final meal with Amelia and some other WV Staff before saying goodbye and starting the flying... at 11:55pm Laos time.

We got to Seoul around 6am and I could not get to Starbucks fast enough! A taste of home even on the other side of the world :) We had a couple painful hours waiting in this airport... having already been awake for 24 hours we were already crashing. Unfortunately on the big flight I was sitting alone :( But like last time I drugged up and slept half of it.

In Toronto we had a nice little panic as more than half of us were coming up on standby. Seriously, Air Canada? SERIOUSLY?? There were also snowstorms in NB (what else is new) so at this point I was mentally prepared to stay in Toronto overnight. Thankfully after getting some Tim's (yay Canada!) all of our seats were confirmed.

Because of Moncton's storm we actually ended up flying to Fredericton. This was the point people started to crack. Wouldn't you? After an hour or so there we finally took off and took what I believe was one of the few ever flights from Fredericton to Moncton. The shortest and lowest flying flight ever (seriously... I kept cell reception the whole time. I mean..... my phone was off.....). FINALLY, around 46 hours after we woke up at Konglor Cave, we were back home!!!!! This was obviously not my favorite way to end the trip. But the important thing was we all made it home in one piece, and we were all healthy. No malaria, no weird sicknesses... we were back!

Monday, May 05, 2014

XTeam14 pt5 - Child Sponsor Party


This was our second day in the Xebangfai ADP. We began the day by visiting a village, greeted by children with bouquets of flowers for us :) We walked to a Japanese cucumber garden which is a World Vision project. The garden is HUGE and is tended by several different families. The cucumbers are a source of food but are also exported to (you guessed it) Japan. We met a lady farmer and got to ask her some questions.


On our way back into the village a lady called out to us in Laos. Our translators said she said "I'm weaving! Come and take my picture!" She was a very sweet lady :) So we went into her yard and saw her weaving, the jars of dye, the equipment she uses, etc. Then we went back to the main area to be greeted by some ladies who had woven fabric for us! We all lined up and they tied them around our waists. Super humbling and super awesome. Mark was a fast thinker and went back to the van to get the ladies maple syrup :)

Next we visited a school! I believe it was a Gr. 1-5 school. Essentially it was two buildings with a few classrooms in each. Each room had a chalkboard and 5-6 desks that sat 2 children each. We went into one room and met the students, took some pictures, and we even gave them a little Canadian geography lesson! Stan pointed out where Laos and Canada are on their map, and we asked them how many seasons Laos has (2) vs how many Canada has. One little boy answered correctly so we gave him a frisbee and taught him how to use it. We also gave a soccer ball and jump rope to the teacher. We wanted to give more but they only wanted one - so all the kids could share. Again, community > individuals.


After the school we visited another village. We were warmly welcomed by a line of people greeting us with bows and "sabaidee!" and more handwoven scarves!!! We sat at a bench/table in front of the rest of the villagers, where the head explained village life and the help that World Vision and the government has brought to the area. I actually shot a video with these wonderful people about the work of WV, but unfortunately the wind is loud and it's hard to hear :( It was a great visit.

At this point it was lunch time (yes... everything I wrote above we did IN ONE MORNING. This was definitely the marathon day, physically but also emotionally!). We got to have lunch at the Sponsor Party!! :) :)

The party took place at a school... I think. There weren't classes going on possibly because of our visit. We arrived and were greeted by more smiling children, more necklaces and bouqets of flowers :') We were all on high alert because we knew our sponsor kids were around, but before the official meetings it was lunch time. We sat and enjoyed traditional Laos food, and then the WV Staff began introducing us to our kids! I got to witness a few first meets and it was really special. The kids tended to be shy. I don't really blame them. Here's a big white adult coming at them speaking in a foreign language they don't understand. I'd be freaked out too!

I got meet Doh first, my Mom's & Dad's sponsor child, and his mother. He was very sweet and gave me a hug :) I gave him the backpack from Mom & Dad, opened the card for him to show him the singing, and the picture of my parents. Through the translator I explained that my Mom & Dad were his sponsor. His Mom told me that life has been much better for them since Doh has been sponsored, and they are extremely appreciate and grateful for my parents support. We took some pictures and then it was done, as quick as that.

Then I got to meet Kob, the little boy I sponsor, and his Mom. Kob was pretty funny - he wasn't as cuddly/forward as Doh was, and I could tell he was a bit of a squirmer :) His Mom was trying hard to keep him focussed while we chatted. I gave him his backpack and he was almost afraid to touch it at first - couldn't really believe it was his. I showed him his card and gave him his bracelet that a kid from our church made for all of them. His Mom was so appreciative and grateful for my sponsorship, and explained that it really has transformed their lives. We took some pictures, and I could tell Kob was ready to go :) Both Doh and Kob are only 4, so their engagement level wasn't the same as some of the older kids. But I kind of watched them with their Mom's afterwards and it was cute to see. Doh put his backpack on and marched around the field with it, and I caught him looking at me and smiling several times. Kob sat down with his Mom and went through his backpack, carefully looking at all the gifts. I snapped a few pictures of their time together. It was really sweet. I was so honored to be able to meet both of them and share in those few special moments together.


Most of the other sponsor meetups took longer then mine so I also had some time to take that in. Charlotte & Marlene were sitting with their little boy playing with toy cars, Dave's & Luke's boy was shy at first, but then asked to come back a second time and gave them a big hug! It was an emotional time for them, he was sooooo sweet :) Linda & Julianna showered their child Oh how to play mini sticks and chatted with his Dad. And Stan hung out with his sponsor child and was showing him videos and games on his iPod. I think their meeting was the most like two people just hanging out. It was cool :)


Once everyone was finished with their sponsor children, another dozen or so sponsored kids from The Journey Church came in so we could meet them all. Lisa's child was there too! AND she is the cousin of Stan's kid! So Linda was able to give her the special gift from Lisa. We gave each of the kids a bag full of goodies, and we posed for a picture. It is too bad that all 75 of TJC's kids couldn't be there, but as I have said, Xebangfai is an ADP encompassing 23 villages that are dozens (hundreds?) of miles apart. The financial burden of bussing them all in, and the planning that would take, would be far too great. They managed to bus in 20 of them, including all the Team's children, which I thought in and of itself was incredible.


One thing I would like to see future XTeam's do differently is gifts for kids. The longer we were there the more I realized how community-driven Laos is, and how beautiful of a thing that is. We are so stinkin individualistic in Canada - we have our own plate of food, our own school supplies, our own toys, our own everything! In Laos everything is shared. And as we were giving individual bags of goodies to TJC's 20 sponsored kids, my heart was sad for the 50 kids watching from outside who we did not have individual bags for. I think it would make more sense to bring piles of gifts for the schools and households in an area... and they would all share it because that's what they like to do! And really, that is more Christian then what most Christians do.... Acts 2:44 " And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had." I'm not sure if selfishness and greed exist here in the same way it does at home. Not from what I saw and experienced.


After our time with the TJC kids it was party time with all 70 of the kids there! We presented a wad of schoolbooks and supplies, soccer balls, jump ropes, bubbles, frisbees, and beach balls to the school, took a picture, and played! For close to two hours we played games and laughed and kicked balls and had a load of fun! Further to my previous point, I watched as children approached the table of goodies, chose one toy to play with, and went to play with others. Then they brought back the toy and placed it back on table. WHO DOES THAT?? I can't get the kids here to put balls away in the gym! haha.


I made sure to take plenty of video and photos during the party. I got a picture of myself with some children and afterwards they stayed around, so I thought I'd show them how to take a selfie :) It was so funny because they didn't know what was happening, and then when I showed them the picture after they cracked up. I tried to allow them to use my phone but they were nervous with it, so I just kept doing it :)







A little later I noticed a few kids standing to the side not doing much, and I remembered the crayons and sketchpad I brought with me (on the advice of the Laos National Director). She told us no matter what language, every kid loves to color. So I got my supplies and sat down in the dirt with them, and we started to color. Pretty soon I was swarmed! Julianna & Charlotte joined me and we quickly were overwhelmed with pictures from the kids - they were drawing them and giving them to us as gifts :) It was really awesome.

Eventually our bussed-in kids had to leave, so I said goodbye to Kob, Doh, and their Mom's as they drove away. We spent some more time playing with the school kids but then it was time to leave. What an INCREDIBLE afternoon!!!

That evening we had supper, and rode around Thakhek in a tuktuk. Just to have the experience. And then we slept our last night in Thakek!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

XTeam14 pt4 - Xebangfai ADP


Wednesday was our first of two days visiting Xebangfai, which is the ADP our church is partnered with! We have close to 80 children sponsored within this ADP, which encompasses 23 different villages. It was exciting to be there!! We started the day by meeting with the Xebangfai District Governor. We went to the government building and into the governor's office with everyone, there was probably 20 or so people there. I brought greetings from Canada and the team introduced themselves. It felt pretty formal, lots of respect, but I felt we were so welcomed and appreciated.


After some pictures we left and went to the World Vision Xebangfai ADP Office! No one was there (they were all out in the field) but we got to see where they do all their work, where our letters go that we send to our kids. Some were in mid translation! Luke and I did a little video tour of the office space. Again - the sponsorship money I give every month for Kob gets funneled through this exact building and then translates into work in the field. So awesome!!!

After our office visit we had lunch at a restaurant out on the water, which was paid for by the district government. As I think I've said earlier, because of Laos' culture/ religion/ government model World Vision cannot work in there without working with them, there is a lot of mutual respect going on. The fact that the government paid for our meal that day was a true sign of that. Many of them ate with us too which was awesome :) Mark broke out the maple syrup and had them eating it on fruit - it was fun to see their reactions to the extreme sweet!

Okay. After lunch we went to the best village in the whole world. It's called Parskenoy (I think...). In order to get there we drove on crazy dirt roads, over a tiny bridge, parked and walked down to a river, road a "boat"/metal floating thing powered by a lawn mower engine down the river, and walked up a steep embankment past a tobacco farm. When we crested the hilltop, we were greeted with dozens of villagers and school children, clapping for us, bowing to us, and putting necklaces of flowers aroud our necks! It was the most humbling, sweet, awe-inspiring thing I have ever experienced in my whole life. The children were absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!! And so polite!! Most of us were brought to tears just from that experience. We learned later that the head of this village is also a child development worker with World Vision. You could tell! When there's buy-in from leaders, it catches!












After that overwhelming moment we got to visit another garden project, and an animal bank! You know how you can buy chickens/cows/goats etc for people in the gift catalogue? They end up at these banks. While we were there the owner's family was sitting nearby, and his cute little daughter kept checking us out. :) I saw her around a lot during our visit.

Next was the village meeting, very similar to yesterday's. They had fresh coconuts that they sliced and stuck a straw in for a nice authentic local drink for us :) Then there was our second baci ceremony - a lot busier than last time - I think I got 23 strings!! We were more comfortable than last time so we were also tying strings onto our new friends :) After baci the village school did a talent show for us! There was dancing, drama, and a few opportunities for us to participate too!

When it was all over we got our picture with all those precious kids. There was so much smiling, laughter, and love, I seriously did not want to leave. We were there for probably 3 hours but it did not feel long enough! When we left the kids followed us and waved goodbye until we were out of site down the river. Ahhhh! I want to go back!!!!!! This village was definitely a trip highlight for me. Have I said that enough yet?



I felt so full yet so emotionally drained after this it was hard to know what to do with myself. It still wasn't supper time so we stopped in at a big festival thing - it felt very much like a Canada Day festival we would have here. Major difference being all the Buddhist stuff around. We saw some monks and lots of people worshipping, incense for sale, etc. One thing that struck me in Laos is how intertwined culture and religion still are. It is so separate in Canada but there it's almost one in the same. That night we had supper at the "westerners hotel" restaurant, and we debriefed and packed our presents for the sponsor party the next day! And that was day 5.



Friday, May 02, 2014

XTeam14 pt3 - Ngommalath ADP


As we awoke on Tuesday morning there was a sense of "this is it - this is why we came." We began the day at the Ngommalath ADP Office (ADP stands for Area Development Program. I'll be saying it a lot). There we learned about the Ngommalath and Xebangfai ADP's, what projects are currently underway, and what their successes and hurdles have been. After that we got to visit a village within the Ngommalath ADP (each ADP is 23 or so villages). It was pretty quiet on the van drive in. For the first time ever we were seeing with our own eyes what we've only ever seen on TV - pictures going by the window of shacks on stilts, some with satellites attached, kids running around without shoes, some kids riding bikes while texting, lots of dust and farm animals roaming around. There was nothing really to say, just lots to take in.

(We asked about the satellites/cellphones/TV's we saw... I guess traders come in from more developed areas, and sell them to people on a "payment plan" that results in paying lots of interest and essentially putting famiies into a debt they cannot repay. When you think about it, the same thing happens in the Western world - people buy beyond their means and then can't afford the basics.) 


When we got inside the village, everyone was waiting for us in a main meeting area. They had us and all the other guests (WV Laos Staff and Government Officials) sit on a raised stage in the middle. The men sat separately from the women and children. We then sat through an assembly where the head of village told us about the progress the village has made thanks to the work of World Vision and the Government. Of course, it took twice as long since it had to be translated from Laos into English. Sometimes it seemed the Laos speaker was having trouble reading... that's because in a lot of these villages the native language isn't even Laos, it's a village-specific language. So in a lot of cases there is double translation going on - from the village language to Laos to English! No wonder education is hard work - imagine going to school at 5 and being taught in Laos which you have never heard before?? Just one of the many hurdles in poverty.....


Anywho after this we were taken to visit Thong and her son, to see the garden that her household was given as part of a World Vision pilot project. She and others grow the produce, use some of it to feed their families and sell the rest. The garden was quite vibrant and was growing quickly! You could tell Thong was really proud of her work. All the seedlings, gardening tools, fencing, etc is provided by WV, through child sponsorship and also the gift catalogue you see at Christmas time! So cool to see something in real life like that!


After our garden visit we went into one of the home's for lunch! But first we participated in our first baci ceremony. This is a traditional Laos ceremony done as a way to welcome visitors and to offer blessings of good fortune. In the middle of the room there's a cooked chicken, an egg, sticky rice, and lots of white string pieces, along with some sort of drink (in this case it was Laos beer) and a floral arrangement. The head of the village takes the white string and brushes it on your arm away from you, as a symbol of asking bad fortune to leave you, then reverses direction and prays for good fortune and blessings for you. Then the string is tied around your wrist, you're given some rice and a drink, and on to the next person. It's pretty formal the first couple people but then it breaks loose into everyone tying string on everyone! Even though the religious beliefs of the people of Laos would be different then ours, the team took this opportunity to pray a blessing on our new friends in the name of Jesus. Even though we couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand us, it was such a sweet moment of friendship and exchange. A moment I will not forget for a very long time. The generosity and humility of the Laos people is incredible. At this particular ceremony the village head said "we do not have much, but what we do have we wish to give to you."


After the baci ceremony it was lunch time! Prepared by the village and WV Laos, there must have been around 30 people in this one hut for lunch, and I say enough food for double that! The Laos people usually eat using only their hands, but the WV staff brought us chopsticks (honestly sometimes hands are easier!). I basically asked our translator what in front of me wasn't spicey, and I ate all that. And it was good! Found out later one of the dishes was frogs legs ;) In this situation you don't look closely, you just eat! It was awesome to be sitting on the floor, sharing a meal with people in their culture and environment. Again, highlight. Probably the best meal of the trip for this reason.


After lunch we left the village and went for a drive up a huge mountain, saw a dam, and eventually got back to Thakek for supper. You may be thinking "What? That seems like a short day." But seriously I was DONE after that village. The emotional and mental strain experiencing something like that is truly overwhelming. Kudos to World Vision for planning the trip with the right  activity/rest ratio. Besides, this was the warm-up day... the next 2 really got crazy.