I am a pretty jaded expat. I have lived in South East Asia for almost 8 years and the things that once captivated and intrigued me are now commonplace. I am guilty of avoiding the very cross-cultural exchanges that I once actively sought out.
When G and I arrived in the region, armed with 6 weeks of language training and a love of Thai food, we embraced every opportunity to be part of the local community. Weddings, funerals, festivals, religious celebrations, blessing ceremonies – as the local ‘farang’ (white, western) celebrities we were lucky enough to be invited to, participate in and enjoy many such occasions (not the funerals so much, though I find it fascinating to observe how different cultures deal with death).
However, over time, and with the arrival of the children, our genuine enthusiasm gave way to reluctant cynicism. These days G is often invited simply to facilitate a financial windfall (donations are expected and gratefully accepted) rather than because there is any genuine connection.
But every now and then I am reminded why I fell in love with this region and humbled by the people who live here.
Bau, our nanny, was recently involved in a motorbike accident (you can read more about that here). According to the village traditions/laws the individual who was responsible for the accident must pay for the repairs on the vehicle and also for a ‘Baci’ ceremony. (Interestingly, medical expenses were not considered important! Though we are making sure she receives follow up treatment and rehabilitation on her injured knee).
A ‘Baci’ is a distinctly Lao ceremony that is used to celebrate a special event. A ‘Baci’ is held at a marriage, annual festivals, to celebrate a birth, a homecoming, to bless a new home, to welcome officials… any excuse will do. A senior member of the community usually performs the blessing itself. Afterwards there is always food and usually lots and lots of Beer Lao and Johnny Walker!
Based in the animistic traditions prevalent in the region, the ceremony is meant to realign the vital forces or components of the soul, restoring equilibrium, therefore, a ‘Baci’ after an illness, accident or injury is very important. (For more information about the traditions of the ‘Baci’ ceremony read this)
Bau returned to work a few days before her ‘Baci’ and asked if our family was free to attend. I have to admit that I brushed her off the first time she asked, figuring she just felt she should ask. But she mentioned it again the following day and offered to come and pick us up so we could find our way to her sister’s house. I realized that it was important to her that we come. So we graciously accepted.
Let me digress for a moment:
Bau came to work for us when baby Chilli was eight weeks old. I had never had a nanny before but with the arrival of number three, I determined to take advantage of that little expat luxury for the sake of my own sanity and, quite possibly, the lives of my family… providing I could find the right person.
I interviewed a few people, some lovely, some not so much. A friend told me she had a friend (isn’t that always how it works) whose sister was looking for work. Bau was Hmong, an ethnic minority here, so her opportunities for education had been limited but she was smart and capable and looking for a job now that her own young children had both started school.
She spoke no English (then, though in 12 months her progress is remarkable) and had no references as she had not worked before but I liked her… and so did the eight week old bundle in my arms.
It was love at first sight between Bau and Chilli. If not for the fact that my boobs were providing that child sustenance, Chilli could not have cared less if I was around or not when Bau was in the room.
Monkey and Pigeon and I soon fell in love with her too. It is impossible not to love her. She is gentle and kind, firm yet loving, smart and intuitive, fun and funny. She puts up with me and genuinely adores my crazy daughters. She radiates love.
Bau’s ‘Baci’ was presided over by her father on a Saturday morning and followed by a feast of traditional food. G, Monkey, Pigeon, Chilli and I were guests of honour. Everyone else there was family.
I find it difficult to explain how special it was to be there.
I can describe the facts: Bau is one of twelve children. All available siblings were there along with their spouses and children. Her husband’s, equally large, family were there, including her parents-in-law. Bau’s elderly mum and dad traveled almost 12 hours to attend. The house was overflowing with food, chaos, love and laughter.
I can show you some photos:
We were made to feel so welcome.
With united purpose, we all shared our love and concern for Bau.
I do not come from a large family, or a close extended family, we have no strong traditional ties. That isn’t wrong or bad, it just is. To experience, if only for a moment, what it is like to be part of such an enormous, embracing family unit was…well… fabulous.
Thanks for reading. Blessings and good health.