Languid Laos - 2007

THE BACI CEREMONY On our last night in the country, Kay and I enjoyed a very moving ceremony (even if it had been arranged and paid for by our guide) at a community center in downtown Luang Prabang. Micki and Dan had already participated in a similar ceremony and decided to stay at the hotel. We were driven downtown and walked about two blocks off the main street and entered a typical stilt house to find about 30 Laotian people sitting cross-legged on the floor around a beautifully constructed conical flower arrangement with all sorts of interesting looking food trays laid out beneath it. There were three musicians playing native instruments against one wall. None of the folks present, except our guide Kemphet, spoke any English. As soon as we were introduced and sat down, the ceremony began. The oldest person in the room, a 60ish distinguished gentleman, began the singing. All the other folks, men and women, of all ages probably down to about 30 joined in, following his lead. The musicians accompanied them and it was quite lovely and different from other national music we have heard. When they had completed four songs, they invited us to eat from the trays and to drink the local wine. It was quite strong but tasty and the dainties were delicious, some sweet and some savory. Kemphet told us a little about the people and their civic club that was dedicated to bettering the lives of the people in their community. At one point, the little clubhouse lost its electricity but it was clear that this outage was not atypical nor was it confined to this building. There was much timorous giggling and tittering until the lights returned. The last part of the ceremony was the “leave-taking blessing.” Kemphet explained that it is the Laotian custom to give travelers a send-off to help keep them safe during their travels. This is done for anyone traveling, not just for tourists. As the singing began again, about 15 of the people approached Kay and I, one by one, to tie a white cotton string around our right wrists. They each said a short prayer as they fastened the string. In the end, we had a bracelet of 15 strings around our wrists and had had 15 safe travel prayers said on our behalf. It was really touching to be included in such a ceremony and to finally see some smiling and friendly faces on Laotian people. We were really glad that we had decided to go with Kemphet to meet these lovely and gentle people. It was a very touching farewell to this beautiful but very poor country which is still so primitive and backward in its economy, but not in its civilized behavior towards visitors.

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