Three weeks ago, I was leisurely riding my motorbike along a dirt road to a local fishing spot along the Mekong River with a few friends when out of nowhere a rooster came gallivanting across my path. While roosters have not been my favorite animals whilst here in Laos (they often get confused by the moonlight and crow throughout the night), crushing one with my motorbike had not been on my agenda for the day. I slammed on the breaks and swerved doing my best to avoid hitting this newfound traveler. Still somewhat of a rookie motorbike driver, this maneuver was a little past my capabilities and seconds later my bike and I were both on the ground covered in dirt and dust. Before I could even react to what had happened, I swooped up by a group of Lao women and rushed into their home. Without any questions or introductions, they washed me off, cleaned up all my cuts and bruises, repaired my motorbike and gave me a new set of clean clothes to wear. After bandaging and outfitting me, they insisted I rest and join them for lunch.
One hour later I was good as new, well fed and back on my journey. I thanked them in my best Lao and tried to offer some sort of gift or compensation in return for all they had done for me. They refused all of my efforts to repay them for their immense hospitality; the only response I got was “It’s nothing but the Lao way.” .
When I finally arrived and found my friends, I recounted the tale in shock. I couldn’t believe what all these strangers had done for me, while expecting absolutely nothing in return. My Lao friends were completely unfazed; of course these strangers had taken me in, that’s exactly what any Lao person would have done. I tried to imagine what would have happened if I’d had a similar accident back in the States. I figured a passerby might have stopped to make sure I was okay, but would someone have picked me up and brought me into their home, no questions asked?
This sense of hospitality is completely ingrained into the Lao culture. If you are walking somewhere people will often stop to see if you need a ride. If you have a flat tire or run out of gas, someone will almost always stop to direct you to the nearest garage, if not to first syphon gas from their own motorbike to yours—once again no questions asked, nothing expected in return. I hope to take this sense of hospitality back with me to the US, to remember all that strangers once did for me the next time I encounter someone just as frazzled and confused as I was three weeks ago. Laos may lack many of the amenities available to us back in the US, but one thing they do not lack is a strong sense of hospitality and a willingness to help anyone, foreigner or Lao.
Oh and most importantly, the rooster escaped unscathed.