The day the monster arrived
Meeting the in-laws is a nerve recking experience no matter your culture or creed. I was no different as I crossed the Mekong River leaving Luang Prabang in my wake. The sputtering ferry seemed to take an age as my beautiful fiancé brushed my hand with hers.
She asked If I was ok. I said yes. I wasn’t.
I am certainly someone who suffers from some form of deep routed anxiety, but I don’t have the attention span or will to analyse that particular rabbit hole. So, I smiled and tried to hide my sharp intakes of breath. I knew she would look after me but the idea of meeting my future wife’s parents for the first time was, to put it bluntly, scaring me shitless.
My fiancé is Lao. From a tiny village about one hours drive from the historic city of Luang Prabang. Her village is poor, and her family are the poorest family in the village. Her ability to speak fluent English is somewhat a miracle given her roots and testament to her drive, ambition and intelligence. Anyway, my adoration was interrupted by a Lao chap with a perfectly square head asking for 8000 kip to cross the river. Not to sound overly dramatic but we’d crossed to the other side.
Her motorbike gasped as we drove away from the river with my six-foot Mancunian frame clutching her like a discombobulated tortoise shell. My stomach was churning as we passed through the beautiful countryside. Undulating mountains one way and wide-eyed locals another. We were a long way off the tourist track by now.
I won’t delve into the full hour journey because you’d stop reading this and probably not follow me. Which is a fate worse than death. I’ll just touch on the moment we very nearly smacked headlong into a meandering buffalo. Apart from that it was uneventful as we left the Chinese built tarmac rode and hit the dirt track.
We climbed and climbed, higher into the mountains passing glorious, tiered rice fields and more bananas than you could shake a stick at. The unapologetic smell of newly cut rubber trees drifted down the mountain as we arrived amidst a clutch of houses perched precariously on stilts.
Now, I am a privately educated middle class twenty-three-year-old guy from the UK. I have flown first class, eaten afternoon tea in the most expensive hotel in the world and have a Smythson writing set I stole from my mum (Google it). I say this not to boast but to try and let you see through my eyes. The bamboo huts and children clad in ill-fitting ripped garb were a million miles away from everything I knew.
I won’t be a sanctimonious white person writing about the “incredible happiness of the people, despite having nothing” (eye role) because anyone who has actually spent a minute in a place like this knows that sentence is horse shit. Life for these people is hard, really hard. Death is common, everyone is hungry, and unemployment is inevitable. Do we have to much stuff in Manchester, yes. Do these people need more stuff, yes. Both are true. If you are expecting me to talk about finding myself in the Lao mountains you are heading down the wrong dirt track my friends.
Anyway, let’s leave that slightly philosophic and incredibly wise thought behind and dismount the motorbike.
The first child that saw me cried.
The second child that saw me only had one eye and that eye was full of absolute terror.
The third child that saw me shit themselves. This is purely speculation but let me lay down some facts. There was a smell. There was a pungent smell. There was a guilty expression. Enough to convict? I think so.
It was like a monster had arrived. A big white hairy monster with a nervous disposition. I was not offended; these children have never seen anyone who looked like me. I am blessed now my fiancées nieces and nephews are so comfortable with me I am known (I hope affectionately) as uncle stupid. Don’t worry soon they will see my genius.
As I stood surrounded by cries of horror and filled pants I thought about inequity. It truly felt like I was on a different planet. Pray tell how Bill Gates can have more money than everyone in Laos combined. A lot more. Not to zero in on Bill but he’s in my head given the divorce, anyone else shaken by that news? What a plot twist.
I walked through the village trying to take everything in. My fiancé is Khmu a discriminated against ethnic minority in Laos. Descended from slaves to the former kings they are some of the poorest people in the country. They have their own distinct language and culture. Another reason for my growing “meet the parents” dread was the staggeringly unscalable language barrier.
This meeting had to wait as we now began to journey on foot. I was informed all of the family were waiting for us on their farm about forty-five minutes’ walk from the village. I was also informed that we would be celebrating my arrival with a delicious meal.
Was it chicken, I hear you shout? No.
Was it a scrumptious bit of grilled Pork? No.
Was it the family dog? Oh god yes.
As I walked past the gently swaying coconut trees I mulled over my options. I wanted to make a great first impression, but I really didn’t want to eat a dog.
What do you think I did? Given the title of my blog I think the mystery is pretty well solved.
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