It is the third day in Laos and I am finally in Pakse. It has been a long journey from Vientiane on the bus with little sleep for me. The only thought that kept me going is to see the face of my Grand-Mama for the first time. The bus driver was kind enough to make a stop for us only a few meters from my aunt’s house. Since we all sat in the front row I was the third person to get off the bus, helping my aunt K to the side of the road. I saw four or five guys waiting for us and were ready to help with our bags.
We walked a few meters to a side road and came to a white brick house with brown roof. There were four children sitting on the front porche playing. From the gate I can see an old lady sitting on the floor in the livingroom. She looks so old and frail and was staring at the street, probaly waiting for us to arrive. When the four of us got inside the house I noticed there were quite a few people, all walking around and busy with various tasks.
I said “sabaidee Yaa” and gave her the proper greeting, the Lao nop. She said “oh you are here my grand-daughter” and asked about my journey and whether or not I was tired. Then she told me to go take a nap with my cousin Bay. I told her I was not tired and that I want to visit with her. My two other aunts told me in unison to go take a shower. One thing I have noticed is that my relatives tend to ask me whether I want to take a shower or have I taken a shower yet through out the day. It must be a Lao thing since I hardly do anything for the most part, except to just sit there, watch TV and eat.
I went to take a shower and came back to sit down next to my Grand-Mama. She was caring for my aunt Kian who was still suffering from motion sickness. My Grand-Mama said something that is so typical of a mother. She said to my aunt Kian, “I don’t understand why you are not like me. I never get sick from taking a plane, a bus, or a car. Why can’t you be more like me?”
I asked my Grand-Mama if I can have a moment with her. I took a look at her knees and asked her various questions. She told me how she fell down about eight months ago while coming back from the bathroom. She fell on the kitchen floor and being a stubborn person that she is, Grand-Mama tried to get up again and fell for the second time, giving herself more injuries.
What I found very disturbing is the fact that not all her children took the time to check on her. Grand-Mama currently has eight children, four men and four women. All of her sons are living in the US. She told me how some of them have not contacted her for years. Now some of them are in contact with her since the passing of my Grand-Papa. Grand-Mama said that she is very happy to have known about my existence. She has not seen me since I was about eight years old. At that time I had no idea she was the mother of my Papa. Both Grand-Papa and Grand-Mama were in Vientiane for the funeral of my sister. The only recollection I have of her was this old lady who won’t stop crying and kept touching my head and brushing my hair with her fingers.
After the cremation of my sister I was taken to a house along the Mekong River. I slept with Grand-Mama and with two other ladies. I had no idea who they were. Now I know there are my two aunts, aunt Kian and aunt Phet.
Grand-Mama said it is a pity that I am not able to see my Grand-Papa. I told her that it was not meant to be and that I am fortunate to have spent a few years with Grand-Papa as a little girl, even though I had no idea he was my blood relative. I told her that I was on the way back to the Netherlands when I found out about his passing and would have been there at his funeral if I could. She told me that it is okay. She couldn’t have been there herself since she fell down a few months before his death.
I found out that Grand-Mama was the first wife of Grand-Papa and for better or worse she has been good to him. In fact she wanted his soul to be at a better place and decided to have Boun Loy Vanh for Grand-Papa. When Papa told her that he found me, she was so excited of the news. Then I called her and told her that I would make it a priority to come see her and help her with Boun Loy Vanh. Grand-Mama thought she was having a dream. None of her children from the US attended Grand-Papa’s funeral. She thought I was kidding her about attending Boun Loy Vanh.
Grand-Mama gave me some information about her relationship with her sons in the US. I wanted to ask her so many things because I was confused as to how and why there is so little contact between her and her children. How could anyone forget about his or her mother? Grand-Mama has lived a harsh life and at 87 years old she is getting by thanks to her daughters and grandchildren who are feeding her and taking care of her the best they could.
The screw on her left knee has been pushing through her skin for the last couple of months. She has endured so much pain, through the surgeries and through the healing process. I told Grand-Mama that once we finished with Boun Loy Vanh and the Morning Alms Giving, we will take her to see a doctor. She said she wanted to walk again and is ready to have the screw out. She was afraid that it might damage the nerve and will prevent her from walking again. Grand-Mama said she would rather die than to live as a cripple and not be able to walk normally. I told her that she will walk and not to say such thing.
After my talk with Grand-Mama I went outside to greet other relatives and to look around. When I saw this orchid hanging from a tree it gave me a hopeful feeling for the future of my Grand-Mama.