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Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao

Happy Lao New Year! I’m a week late with that greeting, since the week-long celebration started around last Saturday, the 12th, and wrapped up Friday last week. The official holiday was from the 14th through the 16th, but most people managed to stretch it out. As I wrote in a previous post, it’s quite a water-fest, though I stayed dry every day but one. That was last Monday, and I was prepared.

The only other time I went through Pi Mai Lao was in 2006, when I visited while I was on vacation from working in Morocco. I was completely unprepared then. Near the end of the vacation, I departed Laos on the first day of the holiday, heading to Thailand to catch the overnight train from Nong Khai to Bangkok. I had my large backpack and a camera bag. Nai and I took a tuk-tuk to the border crossing, and we got soaked by all the people tossing water at us. We were sitting ducks for target practice. I was furious because my bags were also getting drenched. I hoped that the situation would be better in Nong Khai, but it was worse.

I continued to get soaked, and my appeals for leniency went unheeded. I was madder than a wet hen, and I was nearly in tears, fearing my camera and lenses would get damaged. We finally made it to a guesthouse I had used before and which let me stash my bags for several hours before the train left. Eventually, I caught that train, dried out, and made it to Bangkok.

My flight didn’t leave for a couple of days, so I decided to take another look at the festivities, which are called Songkran in Thailand. Armed with my camera safely sealed in a Ziploc baggie, I sat inconspicuously in a restaurant that had a good view of a major intersection. As I watched everyone firing off their super squirt guns and throwing buckets of water at anyone and everyone, I understood why it was supposed to be a fun time, and I regretted my overreaction earlier. But, I had been prepared in Bangkok.

I was prepared last week, too, my camera, wallet, phone and passport carefully sealed away from the buckets of water that came my way. Monday, Nai and I went to a couple of friends’ house several kilometers from The Farm. Nai has known Suwon and Noh all his life, and I’ve been friends with them since 2005. Monday was Noh’s birthday, so there were two reasons for living it up.

Along the road, people, mainly young adults, teens and children, were armed and ready every few hundred meters to relieve everyone of the heat and the dust. The first brigade, just past Nai’s house, politely asked if they could douse us with a hose. I was surprised they asked, and this turned out to be not unusual. Many parties let us pass the gauntlet untouched. We got moderately wet, but certainly not soaked. The heavy soaking would happen at Suwon’s house.

She and Noh live a few hundred meters off the main dirt road, just past a large, golden-yellow temple. There were about 20 people outside her single story, small cement house. There was plenty of food, including grilled squid and duck, spicy papaya salad, sticky rice, cow blood soup with peanuts and birthday cake, of course. Also, Beer Lao, as always, was plentiful. And lots and lots of water.

We arrived about 1:30 and stayed until around 6, helping Noh celebrate her 41st birthday and the start of the Lao New Year. Everyone got soaked to the bone, most of the adults were more than a bit tipsy, and we all had a great time. Running the gauntlet on the way back to The Farm was inconsequential.

The rest of the week was more boring than not. I think Nai has cornered the market on green onions. He’s been buying crops from the other farmers, so he’s been busy for most of the day, harvesting, cleaning and preparing the product for the market. I’ll do a post on that process a bit later.

There was another party at the family compound on Thursday, with lots of people materializing out of nowhere, it seemed. Again, there was lots of food, drink and merriment for all. Things got back to normal on Saturday, and I’m quite happy to be back at work. Watching people clean green onions all day is quite boring. I can hardly wait for the chili pepper harvest.

Below are some photos from Suwon and Noh’s shindig. They’re in no particular order. I also have some videos of the day, and I’ll try to get them up soon.

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