We came upon a nice spot where the Nam Sai River turned into an elbow shape, making a sandy beach inside the elbow water bank. This place was similar to the one we slept the night before as it had an abundance of firewood and banana trees.
Like the night before, we had just enough time to gather firewood and banana leaves before dark. Schools of fish swam up and down and were clearly visible in the crystal clear water. The clean sandy beach, smooth pebbles, and shallow clear water could have made the place perfect for enjoyment if it were three years earlier. The situation had changed the life we once had enjoyed. My parents were only concerned about what they would do next to keep our family alive. And that was clearly visible on their sad faces.
The fire burned warmly and it looked as if we were having a campfire. None of the adults, including Grandma, was in the mood to tell stories like they used to when we spent nights in our farm huts as recent as eight months ago.
The transition from the world of childhood to the world of adulthood, from the world of a student to the world of a teacher, and from the world of a receiver to the world of a giver and contributor presented new perspectives and challenges.
Starting September 1, 1971, as students looked for another year of learning and accomplishment, I began my new responsibility and accountability, which would be measured by my students’ accomplishments. The students would come with different strengths, talents, and weaknesses. Despite the fact that students and teachers had a mutual goal and interest, the war was always against us.
In my two years of training in the Sam Thong Teacher Training Institute, I had the opportunity to learn different teaching approaches documented in textbooks and had accepted the teaching styles of good professors while being a critic of the teaching styles of others from whom I did not benefit much as a student.
In my application, where I was asked to choose three locations to which I wished to be assigned, I chose Bouam Loung—the least-wanted place—as my first choice. I was assigned to Bouam Loung, my old school— the most dangerous and isolated village deep in enemy territory—where many children did not have a choice. It could only be reached by Air America transport planes. It was a choice I had selected out of other places I would have preferred.
As a man, I had taken for granted the culture in which a girl was perceived as an asset loss in her family and an asset gain in the family of her husband. She told me how much it hurt seeing students standing around the flagpole and singing the national anthem. Every time she would freeze for a few minutes after the song had ended or even after the students had been dismissed into the classrooms.
Although she didn’t know exactly what education would entail, she had always wondered if education was a secret path to a different world. She had seen the inequality between her world of girls and the world of boys. She did not completely understand the reason. She could not prevent herself from being carried away by thousands of thoughts going through her mind that had frequently caused her to be a daydreamer. Her mother had often yelled at her when she did not hear her talk.
“Hello!” her mother would yell and throw her a small rock. “What are you thinking? Dummy! Your head is not with you?”
“Sorry, Mom, I didn’t hear you,” she would say as she turned around.
Youa had wondered why boys and girls, and men and women, were treated differently as if they lived in different worlds. She helplessly felt engulfed by those thoughts for a few moments and was only awaken by her mother’s loud calls.
Born in the remote Phoukeu village on the hill of a mountain, located northwest of the Royal capital of Luang Phrabang in northern Laos, she had the luxury of mountain views, clean air, and surrounding green vegetation—the world that many had believed was better than every other place on the planet. She vaguely remembered the dirt-barren village where her grandmother brought her some baked sweet yams every day. Her grandmother cried and told sad stories of her bitter life as a woman being forced to marry someone, even to become a second wife. Her grandmother’s stories echoed in her mind nearly every moment and reminded her of how vulnerable she was. She told me how scared she had been listening to her grandmother’s stories in a society where decisions were mercilessly made by men.