Gabriel Shaya
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Scratch the Surface

September 17, 2009 @ 11:04 PM | Permalink

I’ve known Phone for 9 months, and would say I’ve been close to him for about 5 of those months.  He always told me his family was poor, but I never quite knew how poor until this past weekend, when he invited me to visit his home.  

His family lived in Muang Ngoi for the last 5 years, a small town about 6 hours north of Luang Prabang by boat, before moving here a couple months ago.  Phone, on the other hand, moved here a few years before that, in order to ordain as a novice monk.  His mother is a schoolteacher, and the government has relocated his family several times as they have needed her skills in different districts.  However, whenever they have moved her, they have never provided her with housing.  They have left it up to her to find that on her own.  While the school she teaches at is just outside of town, the only affordable land she and her husband could find is about 5 kilometers away.  Well, it's about 5 kilometers to where you turn off the main road, and then almost another kilometer onto the most difficult hilly and muddy path I have ever driven on.  On Phone's motorbike, we almost fell over four or five times.  It's so bad that Phone cannot even drive all the way to his house, he has to park his motorbike at someone else's home and walk the last part of the way.  I'll point out that Phone stops work every day at 11:30pm.  He must drive this treacherous road each night with only the dim headlights from his motorbike. 

The house is just one small room, raised on stilts.  He shares it with his mother and father, and two younger brothers.  They have no electricity, but they do have about a dozen chickens.  They built the house from discarded wood when they arrived in Luang Prabang.  It's certainly simple, but sturdy in its own right.  There are large cracks in the walls that let in the mosquitoes and the weather.  His younger brothers share a wobbly bike to get around.  When I met them, the 7-year old had a rifle slung over his back as he was going out to hunt birds.


We sat on the porch in front of his house and chatted- there was little more to do than that, which is always fine by me.  Phone knew someone in the registrar's office at the only university in Luang Prabang.  This man promised to help him get into university should he not pass the entrance exam.  Phone recounted the story of how, last week, his mother was teaching at her elementary school when she got a call from this man.  He told her that by his own merit, Phone was accepted into university.  He had passed the exam.  She was incredibly proud, as was Phone.  So proud, in fact, that Phone and I stopped by the university on the way home, just so he could see his name on the posted list one more time.  With his hands on his hips, he grinned as he looked out at the big, somewhat imposing, institution from its front gates.  Now if he only had some way of paying the tuition.  


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Gabe, When I see you next, can we drink beer with ice, and can we line dance, the whole time twirling our hands? I miss you very much. Love, Mafalda

Mafalda Marrocco on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-02

This is so cool. You are the greatest. Keep up the good work . The world needs more people like you. Enjoy your journey. Julie Nguyen, Potomac, MD

Julie Nguyen on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-04

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