This past summer, I met up with my brother in Southeast Asia to do some traveling. We spent time in Luang Prabang, Laos, one of the poorest places on Earth. Aside from the best egg sandwiches you’ll ever taste, Laos is also home to some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. This is from a journal entry I made after one such meeting…
We woke up the next day and made our way to the Luang Prabang Library, where they were taking volunteers to spend a couple of hours teaching English to some local kids. I was paired with a 17-year-old novice monk, named Giarry. Bright and extremely dedicated, Giarry would make an hour long trek (on foot and in sandals) from his Temple to the library, just for the chance to practice English for a couple hours with foreigners. (He would make the journey everyday, not knowing if any foreigners were even in town). I was immediately struck by his extreme eagerness to learn. Not something that I see to often here in the States, especially in myself. It was inspiring.
Giarry brought with him a list of English words that he wanted to know the meaning of. Not sure where he got them, but it was a difficult list of words and I found that clearly articulating the simple definition of words (“imperial,” “willingness,” “Phoenix”) isn’t all that easy.
He and I also just sat and conversed, taking turns telling each other about our very different lives. Good practice comes from simply doing, and Giarry knew this. He relished the opportunity to practice the language. He had left home to live in the Temple because it was the only way he’d be able to go to school (the monks pay for their education), plus with five other siblings, it was hard to find time “for study” at home. I also found out that the monks had recently left the Temple, leaving the novices to fend for themselves. Giarry, along with the other unsupervised, teenage novices, gets up at 4 every morning to pray. They cook their own meals, maintain the Temple grounds and take care of each other. All on top of his daily treks into Luang Prabang to practice his English. When I was 17, I had to be coaxed into taking out the trash.
His dream is to go to University, to study English like his big sister, and then possibly become an actor.
I told Giarry that I’d never walked that far for anything in my life. He smiled and shrugged it off. “I just really want to learn English.”