Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Luang Prabang

So here I am, a week into the new year, 2013, in Luang Prabang, Laos at a baby naming. Conveniently, my guide's best friend had his second child a month ago and today is the day the little boy is named. His father has no idea what to call him, so he asks his guests to write impressions and suggestions in a spiral notebook about what he'd like his baby's name to convey and what he'd like it portend. These people are Buddhists with a very strong sense of ancestral worship and all around animism, heavy on tradition despite the satellite dish and the microwave. How ironic that I should be in a place where babies aren't named for a month until their parents are relatively sure they're going to live at least until the next year.

A special monk is called upon to chant incantations of long life, prosperity, health, happiness, success, you know the routine. But first the baby is washed, outdoors, a golden necklace is crowned upon his little head and cooked egg and white rice are placed strategically  on his chest and face, to ensure a golden countenance. He is dressed in new clothes and his parents gaze lovingly at him as he is formally introduced into the community.

His mother has been isolated for nineteen days near an open wood burning oven, drinking special warm soup and being cossetted for fear she won't have enough milk to nourish the babe. She has recovered her size 2 figure and is made up like Ms. Laos. The doting mom.

Sounds very different from what we do in our country but I am struck by how alike we all are in this ever shrinking world.  As parents we ask for healthy children, whose life will be easier than our own, living in a world of peace with all the necessities to thrive. Community rallies and everyone pitches in to support the young family, bringing food and making sure the big sister isn't overlooked. Prayers are offered and so are presents, mostly money to help ease the burdens of the added expenses incurred with the birth of a new child.

I am struck with the atmosphere of friendship and responsibility. The feeling of joy and hesitation. The expectancy of things to come. We are alike even in our differences. It is so important to continue the routines and rituals that make us individuals in this crazy world. Strengths that time can't weaken as we raise our families with hope and faith.

Later, I am invited to a special ceremony honoring guests to Luang Prabang. Not much change from the naming ceremony. Chants by the local monk and sweet treats and white cotton strings tied around my wrists to wish me good luck and special blessings to keep the nagas at bay. Dancing and singing and overt expressions of a spirit of goodwill. How special the people of Laos are to me. Again I am reminded how privileged I am to be able to visit all the peoples of the world, noticing differences that make us just the same.