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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Laos

Coconut black bean ice cream and crying on buses. Little girls sticking cicada shells on their smooth faces. Warm sticky rice and lips burning from spicy papaya salad. Sweat that drips down my torso. Amy Winehouse songs, slow motion dance parties of five people. Smog-clogged air. Tummy aches. Place a flower behind your ear. Stumble through words, both native and foreign. Meditate while hugging someone. MSG-drenched noodles, caves that stretch out for an eternity. Butterflies that swarm. Incense banana boats that extinguish before they float away and melt into darkness. Malaria vaccine tablets, they look like candy. Mysterious rivers filled with magic, possibly mermaids. Don’t drink the tap water, wash your water bottle. Awaken with the sunrise. Swim through cold caves in darkness. Sunburns. Wrap-around skirts that fall off my hips. Mosquito nets. Mango smoothies, peeling the spiky skin off dragon fruit. Durian popsicles. Multi-colored painted houses. Naps after lunch. Laugh so hard, a sound won’t come out. Then sob so hard, the tears won’t stop coming out. Whisper ‘I love you’ to the river. Pray to God. Monks in phosphorescent orange pass, holding iPhones. Pumpkin custard. Sing and strum guitar on a tuk-tuk. Pass a bowl of flowers around. Stargaze. Stand for hours because there are no more seats. Play cards, write a journal entry from three days earlier. Wash the dishes, dump icy water on yourself with a bucket. Ants eat the crumbs. Dream strange dreams, wake up at 4 am. An infant water buffalo only three days old, its umbilical chord swings. Volleyball. An empty opera theater that hasn’t performed a show in years. Night markets. Seven cups of tea. Stupas that shimmer in the sunlight. A family of angry wasps. Cut your feet on limestone cliffs. Remove suffering from others, practice compassion. Finally understand.