When in Laos…

–By Samantha McKay

I have currently said my goodbyes to my lovely traveling partners and now I am trying to utilize my layover time in Singapore by catching everyone up on the trip. Last blog I had written, I had shared with everyone my adventures in Thailand and now I wanted to reflect and share the thoughts I had written in my journal during my stay in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Luang Prabang was a quick, yet an exciting day and a half trip of freedom and exploration. We had no set plans in Luag Prabang except to enjoy ourselves and taste the culture by residing at a guest house right in the center of the city.

So I did just that. Haley and I enjoyed our spacious queen bed, mosquito net, and balcony positioned room. On our first night, we met with a woman whose has been working in Laos for a local artisan museum. We asked her to share with us some stories she has heard while staying in Luang Prabang about the treatment of women and their current status, situations both living and social, and the priveledges they have.

Unfortunetly, it was not the best of news and our team leader, Sara, posted more in The Million Girl Army blog about the information we collected. To quickly fill in everyone, many women here in Laos cannot afford schooling; therefore, they sleep with men or sell themselves to have money for their education. While a majority of women use this as a last resort, there are some that are too lazy to actual look for a job. The thought of having no options of school loans, either government or private, was sickening and the possibility of prostituting myself for my education was almost unbearable. I had a hard time digesting this information and accepting this as a reality in other cultures. The longer I have been on this trip, the more I want to sometimes scream at the top of my lungs to gather awareness around the world. However, I must remind myself – many of the issues we face are cultural and culture is not something that changes overnight.

The following day, Haley and I settled for a walk around the town, through the markets, ending with coffee/lunch on the balcony. It was an overall peaceful day and we ended the night by having one more group dinner and passing out Australian souveneirs to little ones at the market. Probably one of my favourite things about the trip! Seeing the children light up, saying thank you, and hustling back to their parents in rejoice that they received a very inexpensive yet foreign item.
In the blink of an eye, our time in Laos vanished. Our group of eight boarded the next plane with a destination landing of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had time to journal more in the airport and during the flight and I categorized five major thoughts.

Thought Number One: Each and every one of us are on these unexpected and altering paths in life. One minor twist or turn could possibly alter a future. Almost one year ago, I nervously boarded a plane and made my way to a country town in Victoria, Australia. With no idea of what my future had in store, I had this bright idea to start a blog to share with loved ones back home my adventures, experiences, and whereabouts while living abroad. During this blogging adventure, I had the silent follower named Sara. Whom only made herself more aware to me when I returned to Montana for a visit during the summer. We shared two inspirational coffee dates where we chatted endlessly about life and the amazing things it has to offer. She mentioned the start-up of a nonprofit organization The Million Girl Army. I believe we chatted about it at both coffee dates and she had asked me if I was interested. I vividly remember racing through both the pros and cons of a trip like this and clearly the pros outweighed the cons. I excitedly shared the news with my parents and Craig about this wonderful idea and opportunity Sara and I had chatted about. That friends and family is my thought number one. Plans in life alter frequently and opportunities come and go. I seized this beautiful opportunity and I am so thankful that I did because I would not be here if otherwise. So thank you Sara for letting me partake and be part of the very beginning of The Million Girl Army.

Thought Number Two: I made a beautiful friend by the nickname of Ben while on this trip. He was interested in learning about each and every member of the team. Ben is a quiet man of many stories. He is observant, gentle, and faithful to his God. I believe he speaks from the soul and often provides others with inspirational quotes or words. While boarding the plane from Laos to Cambodia, I began to cry. The others were in front and it was Ben and I at the back. Missing the first transport bus and climbing the stairs last we chatted. He praised my compassion and the beauty of my heart. He knew I had to be special because I am a teacher, a special-needs teacher at that, but when he saw me in action at the refugee camp, with the group, etc. he saw me radiate love and passion to all. (Please take this thought with care – I try not to share compliments upon myself for I am neither arrogant or conceded.) So I began to cry. He asked me where I learned these traits and I simply said my parents and I am so lucky to have them both in my life. After Thailand and Laos there were so few children with the same opportunities as mine. Especiallly the children at the refugee camp, many had only one or no parents at all. So I simply cried and said I could not wait for him to meet my mom and dad. For they are the beautiful people that helped to form their beautiful daughter.

Thought Number Three: On the second day of Laos, Haley and I settled for a foot spa. Not any type of normal foot spa, but one that involved skin-eating fish. Yes! I had heard about these fish before and I wanted to try it while here. So for $4 dollars we let small and little fish eat the dead skin off of our feet. How cool!

Now that is not the best part about the foot spa. Two middle-aged woman approached us and were curious about doing the same thing. We began talking and soon found out they were from Nevada. They were on the same type of trip for they too had started in Thailand, moved to Laos, and were finishing in Cambodia. We began sharing the purpose of our trip and our experiences thuse far. They immediately wanted our information so that they could follow the rest of our journey and donate in the future! They were amazed at what we have come to do and one of the ladies could related to our cause for she used to be a police officer that worked with children of sexual abuse. Its amazing what the power of networking can achieve even when just getting fish to eat your skin. Ha! I have learned extremely quick that you can never know too many people because I would not have gotten to this glorious place in my life without networking.

Thought Number Four: While getting to know everyone on this trip, it has come to my attention that we are such a diverse group of girls. Each of us bringing something special and unique to the team. Who are the more realists or practical thinkers vs the dreamers. After many thought-provoking discussions and debriefings, I have come to accept myself as a dreamer. For if I could heal the world with love I would do it in a single heartbeat. Especially if it meant relieving the pain from others. As a dreamer, I have learned the hard way that you can TRUST too many people and sometimes give too much (be taken advantage of). Maybe we are more prone to heartache if we are more prone to letting others permeate our shell. This is also where my partner, Craig, compliments me the most. He brings me back to reality and makes me think things through or view all possible options. Craig would be more of a realist and we feed really well off one another by doing so. I guess this thought that I am trying to word vomit out is that we have a team of very different women. A team made up of both realists and dreamers. One that can change the world when things come together. I am so lucky to be have met such beautiful and wonderful women. Well done Sara for bringing together many unique individuals!

Thought Number Five: Laos was an opportunity for me to reflect the major stages of this trip thus far. The first was how I came about being here. The second was having my parents create the daughter that wants to help others. Third was the power of networking and the fourth was dynamic team building. Now I am approaching my fifth and final thought and that is: this is not the type of trip you take to only remember the good parts but also a trip where I need to remember the difficult parts also.I won’t simply be traveling home expressing my overglowing joy of how fun EVERYTHING was because that is simply not the truth. The purpose of this first expedition was to educate ourselves and to gather infomation. While educating myself, I experienced incredibly painful emotions and helplessness encounters. However, now with both the good and bad in mind it is time to use this trip to move forward and not backward. One step at a time and eventually steps of not only 8 people but that of millions. A trip of a lifetime and a trip I will never forget. The Million Girl Army has already put that foot in the door and is now stepping together as an inspriing team with the vision of building something miraculous and changing the lives of millions.



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