I was up early to make the one and a half hour journey by mini bus to the village where the book party was to take place. On the bus there was me and four teachers, only one of them spoke English who was called Si. Everyone in Laos seems to have a one syllable name so I asked if their names had any meaning at all. They explained that a majority of people are named after something that happened on their birthday or on their appearance as a baby. There are many people called cloud, sun or noisy. The teachers were called Wer (big mouth), Si (dark colour), Sun (not too long) and Lee (no meaning). Obviously I found this highly amusing and was questioning the names of siblings etc.
I was expecting there to be roughly 30-50 children attending the book party but ten minutes prior to arriving I was informed that there would be 215 children. When we arrived the children were really pleased to see us and were very giddy. We were introduced to the teachers and all of the children went into their classrooms. We handed out activity books to each of them and they began to complete some of the activities in them. The Big Brother Mouse teachers then introduced the project and sang songs with the children, they all sang really loudly and cheerfully. We then played some games outside. One of the games was to listen to the teacher and put your hands somewhere on your body where they said. They would show you were to put your hands but sometimes they would say verbally to put them somewhere but physically they would put them somewhere else and that caught people out. Fortunately I realised how the game worked and obviously not being able to speak Laos I followed the actions of the children rather than the teacher. Those who put their hands in the wrong place had to cover their faces in talc which gave the rest of the children a good laugh. After the games each child was given a carton of milk and I have never seen children so pleased to receive such a small gift. All of the children were extremely polite and they were very cute when they said thank you putting their hands together to say Namaste. They all returned to the classrooms for story time, each teacher read a story suitable for the age of their class. Each child was then asked to come to the front of the classroom and choose a book to take home with them. It was lovely to see the excitement on their faces and it was obvious it was the first book that they had owned for most of them. We all congregated in the yard and it was time for us to say bye to the children. I was asked to do a speech (which I hadn't been forewarned about!) and then to present each teacher with a stack of books which was a little cringe worthy. We took some photos and said bye the children.
I was then invited to go for lunch at one of the teachers houses as two of them were from the village where the book party was held. Si's parents were lovely and his whole family had come to see him as they hadn't seen him for a few months. His dad had been paralysed down one side of his body for the past eight years and was restricted to sitting in a small area of the house which was a corner of the one room in the house with a curtain across. It was a shame to see him in this way and it did make me think that in the western world he would probably have been able to lead a better life with the help of health professionals. He was a very gentle man and he cried when I said hello to him as he had never seen a foreigner and he was so pleased to have one in his home. Si's mum had to care for his dad so their only income was the support they received from their children and other family members which emphasises the Laos family values.
The family clearly had very little but they had prepared a feast for us. Si's mum was worried about me not eating enough food being a vegetarian but I think they were secretly pleased as it meant they got to eat all the meat. They had also bought a crate of beers to be shared. Beer Laos is really nice and as I was a guest I got my own glass to drink from. In Laos culture they share a glass and take it in turns to drink a glass of beer and then the glass is refilled for the next person. I was glad I didn't have to join in with this as they drank it really fast and they would have been frustrated with me waiting for their turn whilst I tried to drink the beer as quickly as I could. Apart from soup all food is eaten with the hands. A ball of sticky rice is made in your hand which is then dipped into the shared dishes on the table. Everyone sits on the floor and most houses don't have any chairs. It made me smile that even though I couldn't understand the language most of the time I could guess what the conversation was about before it was translated to me.
After lunch we headed to Si's spring onion field to pick some spring onions to take back to the city. We didn't pick the bulb just the bottom leaf of each plant to use which is another example of how nothing is wasted. The bulb is kept and once it has grown to a large size it picked and sold at the market. It was good fun picking the spring onions especially since everyone had got a little giddy after the beer. Once we had a few bags of spring onions we headed back to the city and the Big Brother Mouse office to review the day. It was a great day and a wonderful experience and I was really happy that I was able to participate in it.