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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

The Don Donh Diaries

Sa bai dee!

I hope you’ve been enjoying the many Yaks from Baan Don Donh. Over the past two weeks, we’ve all had the time of our lives making this island our home. Of course, with every homestay comes funny homestay stories, and with every batch of funny homestay stories comes a Yak. Therefore, on behalf of the group, I present your favorite and mine, the Don Donh Diaries!

My family has quite the entrepreneurial spirit. When their rice fields aren’t ready to be harvested, they operate a sandwich stand, a sort of sundry station, and a small snack shack, depending on the day. Interestingly, they also run the village “pharmacy.” This “store” isn’t much more than a glass case of pills and such next to an external window. Typically, a villager will come up to the window and relay their symptoms, and the family member that’s available at the moment will pass a pill or two over the window, pharmacist licensing be damned. Much to my surprise, I came home one day to find my grandma administering an IV. She repeatedly stuck a needle in an ailing woman’s arm, and when she was satisfied by the position, she taped it up. The woman briskly walked home, holding the needle arm straight out and the IV bag of fluids above her head. I guess this entrepreneurial spirit is how my family got one of the rare sitting toilets in the village.

I’ve wanted to cook during a homestay this whole trip, but whenever I offer to help, I’m told a firm “No.” In English, too. By our second night in Ban Don Donh, I finally knew enough Lao to ask, “Would you please teach me to cook?” That made my homestay mom smile. The next morning, I was reading in a hammock when my homestay mom called to me, “Het kgeen! Het kgeen!” Cook! Cook! So I went to the kitchen, and we started working on some omelettes. My homestay mom reached down to get some materials, them showed me what she’d grabbed. She was holding a humongous live cricket by the legs. “Eat,” she said in Lao as the creature flailed in her hands. “No eat! No eat!” I responded. She laughed at me and proceeded to rip off two of the creature’s legs. She then set it squirming on its back. A few minutes later, my homestay dad came into the kitchen, stabbed the cricket with a stick, roasted it over the coals, and ate it.

Ariel and Chris:
We were walking back to our homestay houses together when a little puppy darted out onto the road. It ran up and seemed intent on greeting us. Tempted by the cuteness, Chris reached out his hand to pet the puppy. But before his hand had barely started moving, the puppy vomited.

I don’t think anyone in my host family has seen a tampon before. While the three of them were helping me clear the ants out of my belongings, they came across my stash. My host father grabbed them up and laughed, motioning to his stomach. I nodded along uncomfortably (yes, I guess they go in your stomach in the sense that they enter your body) until he motioned to his mouth and stomach. I realized they thought the tampons were for consumption and promptly shook my head, taking them back before anything disastrous could happen.

Around four days into the the homestay, I was disappointed that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to harvest rice, so I decided that afternoon to walk to the fields and see if I could assist the family. Sure enough, they were busy gathering the stalks from their field onto a few large tarps. My host mother saw me, noticed my short-sleeve shirt, and pantomimed sleeves. I figured she was overreacting; after all, the entire family shouts “No!” whenever my fork approaches spicy food. So what if the leaves itched a little? I could handle it! I smiled, said “bor pen nyang” (meaning “no problem”), and picked up several large bundles of stalks, carrying them to the tarps. My host mother, laughing, picked the splinters out of my arms.

One day, my host family’s dog was barking wildly, so my host brother and I went to see what was bothering it. We quickly realized that the target of the barking was an enormous scorpion. My host brother went to get toilet paper and a machete, using the blade to push the scorpion onto the paper. He was having difficulty wrapping the scorpion, so he eventually used the machete to lop off the stinger, wrapping the rest with ease. I figured he was simply going to toss the carcass into the jungle. Instead, he took out a match, lit it, and set the dead scorpion ablaze.

It’s no secret that my host dad is the most athletic guy in town. He doesn’t smoke or drink (which is VERY uncommon for guys of his age here), and when he’s not in his rice field, he’s playing volleyball or working out in his makeshift gym. That being said, he absolutely knows it. On the first night, while we were exchanging photos of our families and homes, he puts two photos in my hand and says, “For you!” One of the photos is of him mid-rep with a homemade barbell, shirt off, intensely concentrated, and muscles popping. The other is of him running on the river-bank, Baywatch style, with a big grin and sparkle in his eye. He even offered to sign them!

The night after celebrating All Saints’ Day, my homestay sister was teaching me a card game, despite the language barrier. When I looked up, I saw three people getting on a motorcycle through the open front door. While on the motorbike, the driver and passengers were offered a beer. The driver chugged his beer, and the person at the back took it as if it were a shot of vodka. The girl in the middle coudn’t even sit up straight because she was already so drunk, to the point where the person on the back of the bike had to hold her upright in addition to staying on herself. Seconds after they downed their beers, they drove off (very quickly) into the night.

On our first day of the homestay, I entered my family’s home with no idea what to expect. I prepared myself for the possibility of sleeping on a bamboo mat on the floor. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised when my homestay mother and I entered the room and I found a real bed. However, I was completely shocked when I saw the room’s decoration.
Plastered to the walls were posters of semi-naked and fully naked couples kissing, captioned with the phrase “deep cordiality.” My host mother paid them no mind as she opened my shutters and set up the mosquito net. I later found out from Som that last year they only had one of the posters, so apparently they have been adding to the collection.

Last night at dinner, a dish was brought out after we had been eating for a little while. It looked like a soup with vegetables and meat. My host brother pointed at all his family members and said “can eat.” Then, he pointed at me and said “cannot eat.” I was a little confused and slightly offended about why I am the only one who cannot eat that particular dish. I asked “An ni men nyang?”, one of the most useful and used phrases from my Lao dictionary, meaning “What is this?”
Upon hearing the question, my host brother and his children took turns imitating the animal in the soup, but I just couldn’t get what it could be. So I took out my journal for them to draw. Seconds later, a long-tailed rat appeared in my journal. My host brother went on to draw a square with multiple lines crossing inside: the rice field, where the rat lives. My host brother asked me, “Can eat?” I answered, “Cannot eat.”

Once again, a huge thanks to the Yak’s contributors (I really do nothing more than compile the tales), as well as to the village of Baan Don Donh for its amazing hospitality. La gorn!

(Deeply?) Cordially,