Part of my job here is to take pictures of the build process. Pencils of Promise (PoP) identifies where to build and then works with the villages to complete the school construction. We document the whole process – original school, construction, completion – for our own records and the website. With photography as my job, I am “on call” in that whenever there is a visit to a school usually I will accompany the team. It is these moments where I really love what I’m doing. I am able to get out of the office and see what everyone in Laos and NYC is working so hard behind their computers to accomplish.
This morning I went to Hat Khang, a village about an hour from Luang Prabang. Half of our drive there was on a windy dirt road but this did not present as many challenges as I would have anticipated (considering it rained all night last night). Hat Khang is our largest school to date with 6 classrooms. It is surrounded by mountains and is situated on top of a hill that overlooks the village.
As I don’t know Lao (but I did start lessons today!) my entire mindset while on these visits can be summed up by saying “go with the flow.” I never know what we’re waiting for, where we’re going or who we’re talking with. Usually I find out this information after when I ask Ya, my manager and a fluent English-speaker. My last visit was a quick one intended for photos and checking out the new structure. But on this visit to Hat Khang not only did more staff members go, but everyone was waiting around for about 15 minutes.
At first I thought they were taking in the scenery (because that is obviously what I was doing). Until I saw 2 huge pick-up trucks drive up the hill towards the school. The village leader and members of the Ministry of Education all came to check out the completed school. They all talked for a very long time and then somewhat abruptly packed up and left. And we followed.
We all wound up in the Nai Ban’s (village Chief) home. Nine men from the government, 4 men from our office, one woman from our office and I all sat around a huge table waiting for lunch to be served. First on the table was the meat which I originally thought was fish (this excited me because I really like the fish here). Then the women brought sticky rice (white rice that you roll in your hand and it serves as an edible utensil), and many bowls of a red liquid with herbs on top.
Finally after a lengthy serving process, Ya whispered to me that we were eating duck. When I asked what was in the bowls he gave the answer I was hoping for least: duck blood and intestines.
I’ll stick with sticky rice.
But Ya gestured that I try some of the meat (that was sitting in a red sauce…you can use your imagination for that one) so I took my chopsticks and picked up the smallest piece I could. “That’s a wing,” he said. Clearly, the 6-year vegetarian did not know the proper piece to pick. (Because when eating the entire duck everyone knows the wing is the last source of delicious meat.) So Ya grabbed me a different cut and I picked small pieces of meat off the bone.
Occasionally members of the government and the Nai Ban would look in my direction. They were either talking about me or checking to make sure I was content and eating. Either way, I made sure to hide my wing under the napkin.