I expected the children in Laos to resemble this idea of a poverty-stricken country. The truth is, these are the happiest children I’ve ever seen.
I found myself amongst traveling friends at a touristy bungalow covered island on the border of Laos and Cambodia. I came here expecting some tranquility from an adventurous month up north. A few beers, some quality hammock time and maybe even a flick. As my friends slipped into this lifestyle, I found myself interested in something totally different – the children.
They were shy at first but never took their eyes off me as I walked around a bustling local event. A little girl wrapped her hand around my thumb and have me a look upwards as if to say she needed a friend. I looked down at her beautiful brown hair, pulled back in a pony tail and her big brown eyes. There were other girls there on their lunch break from primary school. They wore long black skirts skirted with zagging threads of pink and yellow, various styles of white shirts and a flattered giggle any time I would talk to them.
The girls eventually surrounded me as I sat in a plastic chair next to two other travelers. The young boys circles them with the same amusement. How do you entertain a little kid that doesn’t speak English? We taught them. As hours passed, the boys laughed over thumb wars, high-fives and silly faces. We named one 6-year-old “boss man”. He was clearly the leader of the harmless hooligans. At one point he grabbed a leftover beer and swigged the last drops. I left my little girl with a ringer that slipped loosely over her thumb. She left me with a little piece of her heart.
On another day of beach lounging with friends, i quickly grew bored and waved a small group of children over from an adjacent island. They canoed over and arrived, wary at the shore. By this point, I’ve realized that high-fives are the best way to break a frown. After a little convincing I had them out of the boat playing frisbee and giggling like crazy. I didn’t know at that moment that I would be entertaining them for the next 3 hours.
The rest of the day was spent drawing pictures in the sand and teaching each other the Lao and English words for each drawing. They huddled around me as if I was their mother. I chased them until I was exhausted (and they clearly, weren’t) all over the sand pretending tto try and catch them. Twice I say down but only for a short time before they came running over and urged me to get up again and play.
As the sun set they said bye-bye, placing their hands over their heart and flashing me the universal hand sign for “I love you”. I gave what was probably my hundredth high-five and let them know they had blessed my heard forever.