Why would I leave familiarity behind to live in a country with an unfamiliar language, less conveniences, and lower quality infrastructure? Why put myself through the challenge of trying to understand different traffic laws, learning how to do what used to be simple tasks like shopping for household supplies, or having to learn new tasks like how to get jugs of water delivered to my place? Furthermore, there’s the difficulty in trying to understand a different way of communication, what to do when invited to a wedding, how to respond to questions or behavior considered rude in my home country, and the important lesson of how to appropriately interact with people of the opposite sex!
When people find out I live in Laos, they often ask what country it’s in, unaware that it exists as a sovereign nation. The follow-up question people ask is, “Why Laos?” It’s dusty in the dry season, muddy during the rainy season, and has a thermostat set on “oppressively hot and humid” most of the year. Ants outnumber people and all other living things 10,000 to 1.
Every country I’ve been to has its own beautiful scenery and geographical features. With its rustic backgrounds, jagged mountains that stick haphazardly out of the ground, mighty and majestic waterfalls and swimming holes, and enormous caves seem unexplored as you venture further and further into utter darkness, Laos is certainly no different. You’ll see many breath-taking scenes while traveling in Laos.
But that’s not why I came.
Every country has its own special food, and enjoying sticky rice with chili sauce, grilled fish, papaya salad, laab (minced meat salad), and a wide assortment of mouth-watering fruit makes a visit to Laos a delicious – and sometimes adventurous – eating experience. “Kin khaw” – which I roughly translate as “Eat!”- has become one of my favorite phrases to hear.
But I didn’t stay for the local diet.
Lao traditional dancing in all its elegance, accompanied by the sounds of the traditional flutes and Lao instruments, enraptures the soul with delight, but it’s not why I stay.
Corruption and bribery are cited as major problems plaguing the government and society. (Of course, Laos is far from being the lone country in that category). Yet the government is also full of leaders striving to help their nation graduate from among the least developed nations, and there’s an excitement in joining them in that struggle.
I came, came back, and finally remained because I was inspired. Inspired by the Lao people I met who had a passion for transforming communities and the entire nation. They welcome assistance but have a heart and strategy to lead the way in lifting their people out of poverty, guiding the youth away from drug and alcohol abuse, and building each other up to prosper. They are kind and relationship-oriented, always ready to invite you to join them for a meal if you haven’t eaten yet.
Yes, there are growing pains in development. Like a teenage growth spurt, rapid change can be exciting but also clumsy. A male adolescent could mope around in misery over his voice-cracking embarrassment, or he can delight in the process of becoming a mature, sophisticated man. I may have just compared a nation to an awkward and hormonally imbalanced male, but I hope you get the metaphor.
Laos will prosper. One day, Laos will no longer lack the means to grow and process their own food. One day soon, a large proportion of currently malnourished children will no longer suffer irreversible brain damage or stunted growth due to a lack of nutrients. The internet, for goodness sake, will one day be reliable and consistently fast!
Partnering with the Lao people in whatever way I can to see their nation become a shining example is my dream and why I believe God put it in my heart to make Laos my home. There are great opportunities here.
I’m not here to show them a Western way of operating but to collaborate in order to make the Lao nation abundantly prosper – the Lao way and with the Lao heart. And for now, I cannot leave; God has tied my heart to this place. But I won’t object.