I’ve been hesitant to share this post, because I don’t want to cause alarm (again). Or deter you from traveling….
M3 – Part 2
First off, mothers!, I want to state if I had not been with a friend who knew the area, I would not have put myself in this situation. If I am alone, I don’t wander along dark rivers at night in city where I just recently arrived. I promise, I don’t.
Before my trip to Laos, I looked a bit at the culture of the land, but never considered looking at the politics. I’ll never make that mistake again. Laos has been and may still be a communist country, this is a short overview of that here.
After getting my visa on Thursday of last week, I went to dinner with some new friends. We’d met at Immigration, gotten along, and thought it was worth spending extra time together as we all had a few extra days before leaving Laos to return to Thailand. After dinner, two of the girls were very tired and wanted to go back to their hotel. Since i was staying near our other friend’s hotel, only a block from our restaurant, we thought we’d hang out for a bit.
As the night was quiet and beautiful, and the MeKong river nearby, we stopped at a convenience store to pick up beers, water and snacks. Then we headed to the banks of the Mekong.
An hour later, we were deep in a discussion about various vitamins and how we could change our diets, instead of taking a bunch of chemicals to balance out psychological issues.
Then, a policeman walked up. We thought maybe he was worried about what we were doing, out after dark. In deference, we stood up as he walked down the steps toward us, said our hellos and asked if we could do something for him.
“Where you from?” He asked in broken English.
Out of the the corner of my right eye, I saw a younger soldier standing at the top of the stairs – with what looked like a machine gun slung over his shoulder.
My friend said, “I am from New Zealand.”
“I am from…from, uh. From America. The United States.”
“Do we need to go?” My friend asked.
“You, no. Don’t go.”
Oh, no, Oh, no. Oh, no. Pounded in my head. As I turned to face the policeman who was now in front of us, I saw a third person arriving from along the beach. He carried a small rifle, too.
We were outnumbered, and we didn’t know why.
“We were just going back to our hotel, now.”
“We will leave. Did we stay past curfew?”
“You. Sit. Sit down. No go.”
WHAT IS GOING ON?!!? That’s three people, and I’m terrified. I thought of all the people who might miss me, but wouldn’t expect to hear from me for days. I thought of being interrogated, in his broken-angry English. Feeling guilty and wrong for – I didn’t know. The color of my skin? Being here with no purpose? Being a woman without enough deference for their culture? Everything flashed in my head, and I didn’t say a word, just letting my friend take over as I froze.
“Where, where you go?”
“We go to immigration, today.”
JOHN! I tried to whisper. “My passport – it’s back at the hotel.”
“What, you do?”
“We on holiday. Now, we go to hotel.”
“We go to hotel. We take our things….let’s just pick everything up, you have the beer bottles….i have the bag…”
“No, no take.”
(He wants us to LEAVE our trash?)
They took the bottles out of our hands, and we placed the unopened water back on the steps, along with our bag of chips.
“You, you go to Thai office.”
“Yes, we go, we go now. To office.”
We slowly turned away, bowing and nodding, trying to seem deferential and not terrified.
One of the younger, armed, soldiers made a move for our bag. Then he picked it up, and shoved it into my hands.
Leave the bottles, take the plastic?
“We go now. Good-night.”
Mmmm- keep moving.
I don’t know if that was said, or nodded, or whispered. I just knew, that’s what I was to do. We walked. We didn’t hurry. I tried not to shake.
At the top of the stares I mouthed, “WHAT THE !*#& is happening, JOHN!?”
He nodded his head, and we walked silently out of the park, to the road. Finally, we glanced back. The Policemen/soldiers were still there, backs to us, standing at attention over the steps we had vacated.
When I felt safe breathing again, I repeated, “WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?”
“Well, Laos is communist, you know.” Came the calm reply.
No, no I did not know. Here is what that incident has led me to stumble upon:
I wish I could put in my own words what communism in Laos means (if it means anything other than authoritarianism), but I barely noticed it until this incident, and it would be unfair to suggest I understand the situation of this country.