The people here are really nice. The thing I fear the most is getting hit by a vehicle. Nothing is off limits. Walking down the sidewalk, I have people honk at me. No, not people from the street. It’s the people on motorbikes who got tired of waiting in traffic and decided to take a “shortcut”, which means nearly running me over on the sidewalk. I really did almost get hit though. By a van. While I was crossing the road. It was a very near miss. I didn’t see my whole life flash before my eyes, but I saw the highlight reel.
One lesson it does you well to learn early in life: be nice to people. Because for the most part, they will be nice back. And also because being nice to people sometimes has benefits. Call it sucking up, call it teacher’s pet, or climbing the ladder, for better or for worse, it works. A smile and a kind word can do wonders.
In the security line at the airport, they took out my tweezers and my fingernail clippers from my bag. I thought they were going to take them. But a smile and a nice exchange and he gave them right back to me. See, it works.
At the visa line, smiling gets you through more easily. In Laos, I was the last one because the 4 workers at passport control were teaching me Lao phrases to use, after I spoke the little I already knew to them. How nice!
But, sometimes people are just nice to you for no reason. As we were loading on the boat to go across the Mekong to visit a village, some health officials from the Public Health Office came with us and happened to be on our boat. One of the ladies seemed really concerned with me. She would look at me, smile, pat my leg. She took pictures of me and kept saying daughter. Then, when we were unloading on the other side of the river, she grabbed onto my arm. And we walked up the river bank together.
I figured she just needed someone to hold onto because it was a steep climb. But, as we were walking, she said Mama Lao, Mama Lao and pointed to herself. So, she had decided I was her daughter for the day and she was my Mama Lao. Which was fine by me.
When we got to the top of the riverbank, she let go of my arm and took my hand instead. So, we held hands as she led us to the village. The rest of the group was straggling behind us, so it was one white girl plus a bunch of Lao ladies leading the pack. She told me about her daughter who is the same age as me and taught me some new Lao phrases as we went along.
Once we got to the village, she introduced me to the tribal chief, then let me go to look around while she directed everyone else. I wandered around the school we were at, taking pictures of the kids and talking to them. A little while later, my Mama Lao came over to me with a cold water and said drink.
Now, I have to do an aside: cold drinks are hard to come by here. Even in restaurants, it’s likely you’ll get something lukewarm, maybe cool if you’re lucky. But cold, not too often. So, to have a cold drink out in a village (in 100 degree weather, mind you) is a major luxury.
So, I thought it was strange and special that they had cold drinks for our group. A few minutes later, one of our other ladies came over and said: where’d you get a cold drink?! I looked around and realized I was the only one with a cold drink. Everyone else had regular bottles of water. Except for one person. I spotted her across the way: Mama Lao, with her bottle also condensating in the heat.
Looks like I scored rank. And the benefits are pretty nice.