• Tara B. Vasi

Day 25: Float along the Mekong River, Cooper, Homestay, Cherry cough syrup 11/8/19

Bryony and I wake up in the Treasure hotel. All of our belongings are safe and right where we left them and there has been no word of another break in. We head to breakfast where I make a scrambled egg sandwich and wrap in paper to save for later. I forget its there and half way through the day, throw it away.

We take a tuk tuk to the river where we board our boat. We are asked to take our shoes off and leave our big bags by the front entrance. It is extremely long and narrow. There are tables for eating and beds for sleeping. There are many blankets provided in case we get cold. There are plastic curtains to roll down when it rains. There are two western style bathrooms that come equipped with large sandals to wear inside so that your feet don’t get wet from the bowl of water that you need to pour over your urine to simulate a flush.

I lay down and let the boat rock my to sleep. Cooper visits me in my dreams and I kiss him on the nose and call him a Good Boy. In the dream, we are on a boat and I am following him somewhere. I turn around for a second and he is gone. I walk around the boat looking for him, but I cannot find him anywhere. I wish heaven had specific visiting hours.

Sochea wakes me up for lunch around 11:30am. They are serving rice, stir fried vegetables, veggie spring rolls, and vegetable tempura. They also have chicken dishes, but I do not oblige. I eat a little bowl of vegetables and lay back down, hoping I can enter the same dream and find Cooper so I can give him more hugs and kisses and tell him that I miss him.

I sleep until 4:30pm and wake up when I hear Sochea tell us all that we will be arriving at the homestay in a half hour. In my dreams, Cooper came back to me on the boat and we laid and slept together just like we used to. Within the dream I remember knowing that it was a dream, and that Cooper had passed in my reality. I didn’t want to wake up though, and go back to my world without him. No matter how magnificent my world was, it would never be the same.

I pull myself up from the bed and I see a dead pig float by. How did no one else just see that? We dock the boat in a place that seems random, no actual dock at all, or houses or people.

We hike up and down hills and arrive to a small village. I feel disrespectful taking photos of peoples homes with them out front, so I don’t. It felt like taking photos at a zoo or something, like look at these caged animals, don’t they look lonely, or like, look how these people live, that must be hard. Instead, I just observed and found gratitude for all that I had in my life. Also to note, these people were not poor. This was the way they lived and they were extremely content.

We enter the community center and are told to drop our bags so that we can walk to the elementary school. A little girl grabs Keavy’s hand and walks along with her. Keavy loves it but is worried, wondering if the girl is walking too far from home.

We pass two momma pigs and piglets running about. One of the mommas is tied up by her back foot and we can see they must have switched the rope because her other ankle is torn up and bloody. She is trying to reach her babies and in doing so pulls the rope tighter around her ankle. She has so much milk ready to share with her babies and I do not understand why she is tied up. One baby eventually makes it to her.

There are many baby chickens and ducks as well. Babies everywhere! We get to the School. It is tiny and has around 70 students a year with 0% dropout rate. We take turns singing our national anthems. I feel ill and hide behind a pole.

We get back to the community center and are told we will be participating in a ceremony with the towns elders. We all sit close and touch the alter. If someone cannot reach the alter then they can touch the shoulder of someone touching the alter, so the energy will be passed through them. Like, reiki. We bow our heads and close our eyes and listen to our blessings of good luck and good health. We take turns visiting with each elder and they tie a cotton strand around each wrist like a bracelet and bless us individually.

One everyone has received their cotton strands, we pass around a bowl of hardboiled eggs and take a piece of coconut rice cake that has the consistency of gelatin. We are offered shots of Happy Water, or clear whisky made from rice. I decline the shot but take a sniff and it smells strong like rubbing alcohol. The woman offering us the shots takes a shot in between each person she offers one too and I am certain she will become quite happy soon. That was my tactic getting through a bartending shift at the VPB, one for you, one for me, the best of friends we’ll ever be…

We are served dinner at the community center. The vegetarians sit at one table and the “normal” people sit at the other. It’s almost 50/50 in our group. We are served sticky rice, red curry with carrots and potato, bamboo shoots, and sautéed morning glory.

We are on a porch area and the neighborhood kids peak in between the beams and giggle as we eat. We play hide and seek with them and give them our hardboiled eggs from the blessing. I eat a small bowl of curry, but have hard time keeping my eyes open. I am not sure why I am so fatigued, but I need to lay down immediately. Malaria? I know that’s not funny...

They have beds set up with mosquito nets and I choose one for myself. I am hot and sweating even though its not very warm out. The rest of the group is playing cards and I can hear them laughing and arguing, until the owners of the homestay come and the group divides into different houses for the night.

A few of the girls and the guides stay at the community center with me. I know this from the sound of their voices, as they get ready for sleep. Bryony abandoned me and I vow to never forgive her.

Even though the weight of my body seems ten fold, I rise to use the bathroom. I run into Emma and she offers me some cough syrup. I don’t exactly have a cough, but am worried about the quality of my nights sleep because I spent most of the day sleeping already. And hey, it couldn’t hurt.

The cough syrup is cherry flavored. I have avoided Cherry coughs syrup my entire adult life, but I take it anyway. The flavor, the stickiness, and the scent takes me back in time to a not so great childhood memory. I was in elementary school and we were rushing to get out of the house, as we typically did in the morning time. I was wearing my sweet teal, purple, and pink windbreaker. I was sick. My face was held in place, and a tablespoon of Cherry cough syrup was forced in my mouth. I squirmed to get away and the medicine poured down my chin and neck and all over the collar of my jacket. The next thing I remember is an open hand swiping for my face and the sting of the contact radiating throughout the left side of my head. I am filled with shock and fear and then pushed out the door towards the bus stop. The neighborhood kids pointed and laughEd at me as I arrive to the meeting spot, RED. My eyes and face are swollen red and my neck and jacket are red covered with medicine. I get on the bus and hide in my seat by the window. I sit and look at my reflection. I can see the handprint on the left side of my face, tears stream down my cheeks. I am embarrassed, fearful, sick, and alone.

My jacket stays sticky and smelling like cough syrup for weeks because I am too scared to mention it.

Maybe the next time I have cherry cough syrup, instead of remembering the not so great childhood experience, I will instead remember this new experience, staying at the Homestay in Laos along the Mekong River. Maybe that’s how we move forward. The trauma isnt our fault, but healing is our responsibility.


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