Friday, February 13, 2009

I smell a RAT

How many of you saw the movie Ratatouille? How many of you thought Disney made a cute rat character? Wait, keep your hands up. Look to your left and right, everyone with their hands up has never had a rat in their house.

In October of 2007 Mirinda and I moved out of the sprawling metropolis of Vientiane (pop. 600,000) and into a small village close to the University where I teach. Some of the drawbacks from this decision have been: long commutes into town, neighbors who have never seen a foreigner, dirt roads that turn into swamps during the rainy season, and rats. Lots and lots of rats. I had never dealt with a rat before moving here, even in the States all I had seen were little house mice. Observe exhibit A:

Today I want to share some of my exciting rat stories with you all. We'll start with our first rat experience. I was sitting in the living room on a vinyl couch when I heard something thumping below me. Curious, I turn the couch over and was looking through a hole that had been chewed when...bam! Flying out of the hole at my face a huge rat! I almost fell backwards and Mirinda screamed as the rat ran through the house and into the kitchen where he disappeared. After this harrowing experience we bought a pile of glue traps and have been baiting them non-stop since.

My second note-worthy experience was after we came back from a conference in Thailand. We had been gone about four weeks and the person who was taking care of our house had accidentally locked the office door. Unfortunately we didn't have a key to that door. When we finally managed to get the door open, we noticed an unusual odor, but it wasn't very strong so we ignored it. A few hours later, we thought it was getting stronger, so we let the dog in to pinpoint the source. Underneath a chair lay the rotting carcass of a long dead rat. Disturbing the body made the whole room stink worse and we were bleaching and airing it out for weeks.

Finally, when my parents where visiting this past December, Mirinda heard some activity in a closet under the stairs. I grabbed a flashlight and a broom stick, set two glue traps across the door, and went in to flush the thing out. I was pulling out boxes and making noise to get the rat to run out the door. All of a sudden I picked up a box and (again!) a rat jumped out towards my face. I almost hit my head on the ceiling, but my plan worked and the rat got caught on the trap. Unfortunately, as soon as we cleaned him up another one ran out and got away. Only 50% that night.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Two of my distinguished classmates; Aaron and Brad.

For the past three years I have been working on my Masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages). The classes have been part-time, twice a year in January and July since 2006. Usually we have 2-4 weeks where we complete around 4-8 credit hours of class. These have been some of the most stressful times of my life. One of the ways that I cope with the pressure is by talking a lot in class.
Some of you have never had a class with me, but the former statement probably doesn’t surprise you because you know that I talk a lot out of class, so why would I talk less in class? I would like to say that I only share relevant things that I think everyone can benefit from in our discussions, but the truth is, I think that I’m really smart and I like the sound of my own voice.
This past January we had a class called “Intercultural Communication.” I was practically salivating at the thought of participating in these discussions, and Dr. Moreau did not disappoint. There was another student in the class named Ben who works in China. Now Ben is not like me, because he actually is smart and the other students enjoy hearing his insights. One day a group of my friends decided to place bets on which one of us would talk more in the next day’s class. Every comment translated into a tally mark and at the end of the class, the man with the most tallies wins. I guess it was a close race, I got off to a slow start and Ben pulled ahead. Around 3/4’s into the class though I came roaring back and took the lead. We were neck and neck at the finish, with me up by one tally when...

Ben asked a final clarification question about the homework and took the crown.

I guess real life doesn’t always have happy endings.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tiger Kingdom

Remember Zoobooks? It was a magazine that came out in the early 90’s about animals.

My parents bought a subscription and so every month a new magazine would arrive packed with pictures and information. There were three issues that I looked at so many times the pages fell out. Lions, Tigers, and Big Cats. I have been obsessed with lions and tigers since childhood. And on January 18th, 2009, I got to fulfill a boyhood dream of touching a live tiger.
The location: Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai Thailand. Yes Thailand, they would never allow something like this in the U.S. The premise: there are dozens of tigers in enclosures, and because they are nocturnal creatures, visitors can pay to touch, lay on, and take pictures with these beautiful cats during the day while they are resting. I know, this is just a “When Animals Attack” episode waiting to happen, but I had to gamble on the chance I wouldn’t make the highlight reel. For fifteen dollars our group got to spend about an hour in the cages with the tigers. We spent twenty minutes with the 3-6 month olds, and forty minutes with the adult tigers.
If I had to rate the greatest days of my life so far, I think it would be: Tiger kingdom, my wedding, and then the birth of my son. If you don’t know that I’m kidding, you should stop reading now and navigate to a new site.

But it was interesting that I was smiling bigger in my “tiger” pictures then in my “newly reunited with my wife and son” pictures.

I know that you are all insanely jealous of me and wish that you had this life experience, but not everyone can be that cool...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Because Mir and I have a new baby, people everywhere feel the need to give us advice on raising him. Normally I don’t mind at all, in fact, I welcome the advice. I know I have a lot to learn about being a father and I don’t want my pride to get in the way of caring for my boy.
But it’s is a little more complicated when the advice comes from Lao people. Now, I am not saying that Lao people don’t know how to raise children, obviously thousands of children are born here every year and they go on to become happy, successful adults. But our methods definitely conflict at times.
Here are a few of our favorite nuggets of wisdom.

“Don’t put him in diapers when he’s at home. He’ll be bow-legged when he grows up. When you go out, fine, use diapers, but not at home. Just let him pee on the floor and clean it up.” (Ewww)

Referring to his cradle cap: “Lots of people from the country get this because they never bathe their babies. (Ouch!) If you just wash his head every day and use lots of Vaseline it will go away.”

“He’s too hot, take the blankets off him!”
<--------(These two happen interchangeably)
“He’s too cold, wrap him up!”

“If you hold him over your shoulder like that he’ll have a hunchback when he grows up.”

Every time he hiccups: “Give him some water to drink, don’t give him milk!”

“If you pinch his cheeks like that he won’t want to eat food.”

“You shouldn’t dress him in onesies like this, it’s too tight on his neck. He should wear loose fitting clothes.” (I swear Lao babies only wear blankets for the first year of their life.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Classroom

As an English teacher, the title of this post might be somewhat of a misnomer. I don’t mean my literal open air, blackboard, complete with chickens and goats, classroom. I mean the stage of life the Father has us in to grow us into his son’s likeness. This isn’t an original “Doug” idea, I borrowed it from our country director’s wife, Corky. I love the perspective it gives on life though.
So, what is my classroom? Right now my wife and I just started the adoption process for our son Jonathan in a country where there have been two, yes two, previous adoptions to Americans. Each adoption has been decided on a case by case basis and at any time our request might be denied by either the Lao or U.S. government.
Our visas have been expired for five days now (as of January 5, 2009) even though the paperwork has been sitting in the administration office since October. For three months there have been serious doubts about whether they would even be extended, all this at a time when we need to be in Laos more than ever to work on the adoption. But recently there has been good news that they will be processed soon, though now that our old visas have expired it becomes slightly more complicated.
Finally, our financial situation has been tenuous recently. It seems like our organization is constantly adding more expenses to our profile, and with the recession at home many people have stopped giving to our account. Couple that with a falling dollar and rising inflation and you have a very stressful situation for the “provider” of the family. At times I have wondered which would send us back to the States first, lack of visas or lack of money. All of this again becomes more complicated when we consider the unknown costs of the adoption and starting our family.
Well, as best as I can tell, my classroom is faith that the Father is in control even though my life is clearly out of control. Any one of those three events would be enough to keep a person up at night, and all three together have given me plenty of chances to worry and fret. But we are not called to worry, we are called to trust. And I cannot waste my time and energy today fretting about tomorrow. I feel blessed because every morning I can wake up and trust that everything is in the Father’s hands and he cares for me. And even if the unthinkable happens today, this life is only a vapor and soon I will be in my Father’s arms.
Lessons like these make my phonetics classes look like a joke. How about a little audience participation? See if anyone even reads these notes. What is your classroom? Try to be CG (Communication Guidelines while in Asia) friendly, follow my example as best you can.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The only thing worse...

I am on the schedule to lead song time at our foreign fellowship here in Laos. Because we all take turns I only lead every couple of months. In November we started planning the adoption and ran into problems with the family asking for money. One Sunday morning we were finally able to meet with Jonny’s birth-mom and her family and explain very clearly why we could not give them any money. It was a long and stressful day and when we came home we relaxed and didn’t go to fellowship that night.

Fast forward one week. Our service starts at 5, but because we live out of town, we need to leave between 4:30 and 4:45. I was busy getting ready to go upstairs and at 4:15, I remembered I was on the schedule to lead sometime in early November. I raced downstairs and opened my email, praying that I didn’t have to lead in 20 minutes.

Let me ask you, what is the only thing worse than finding out you are supposed to lead w-ship in 20 minutes? Give up? Finding out that you were supposed to lead w-ship the week before and you forgot. I found out later that the speaker that night stood up and asked for the leader, and when no one came forward they did music a cappella. I was so embarrassed that we decided not to go to fellowship that night. I know, I know, I should have gone and fessed up, but no one is perfect.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Dream

A few nights ago I was having a very intense dream. In my dream Jonny was screaming his head off because he had a wet diaper, and I was trying to change him and his onesy. I pulled and pulled, trying to get the onesy over his head and when it finally came off, I woke up. I found myself kneeling on the bed, with my pillow in one hand and my newly removed pillowcase in the other. I stared at both of them for a while, and decided it would be too much work to put the pillowcase back on so I went back to sleep.

The next morning Mir woke up, and her first words to me were: “What the heck did you do with your pillowcase?”