After sundown, many Lao families traveled by bribing boat owners or swam to reach the west banks of the Mekong River with hopes to find refuge in the neighboring country, Thailand. Separated, distressed and uncertain, my parents decided to escape the civil war. Amidst the chaos, their dangerous trips reunited them in Ubon, Thailand in 1980. For the next six years, long rows of thatch and plywood walls with dirt floors became home. While living in crowded UN sponsored camps, my 3 siblings and I were born as political asylum seekers -nationless- without citizenship in any country. After several interviews with immigration officers, the prolonged years of vetting finally ended. We then received news of our foreign destination, Chicago Illinois.
Living with trauma of violent memories, our family resettled, yet struggled to begin a new life. I battled between a Lao and American identity which led me to a road of self-ruin. Following decades of dead-end paths, a friend invited me to return to my roots- Laos.
I was considered by locals to be a foreigner, so I began to immerse myself into traditional foods, dances, and language. I journeyed via motorbike on mud roads exploring the lush green Annamite mountains, soaking in the views of limestone cliff waterfalls and Mekong sunsets. I was greeted with soft smiles of ever-present unknown relatives, hearing folktales of ancient kingdoms, trekking the once land of a million elephants, and breathing in aromas from generations of coffee cultivation, I realized, I’m home. The Bolaven Plateaus, A lifetime of rediscovery. KÀFÉ