Are we going to sit around a campfire and sing Lao versions of “Kumbaya, My Lord?” This thought immediately filled my mind as Mr. Alan persuaded me to attend the first Midwest Lao Camp. At first, I was hesitant to accept the offer. The idea of spending my last week of summer learning and sleeping in log cabins with complete strangers, was certainly not on my bucket list; but despite these thoughts, I agreed, and in a couple of weeks I was on my way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The second I got there, I realized I had no idea what I signed up for. I was not going to be staying in a log cabin, but in Brad and Phensy’s house with twelve other people. I was overwhelmed with nerves, shock, and regret; but all that changed after one night. I quickly became friends with my new housemates and instantly felt a sense of belonging and comfort with them. They became my second family and we would spend hours playing UNO, football, and badminton.
However, camp was not all fun and games. Every morning at 9:00, we attended classes at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. There, we learned Lao history, language, culture, dancing, and music. Although I completely dreaded waking up early for lessons, my passionate teachers kept me vividly interested during their lectures and they gave me a deeper understanding and admiration for Lao culture. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed school and made it on time to each class.
Music class, in particular, was my favorite and I would make sure to get there early. I always had a love for music; unfortunately, my lack of skill proved otherwise… My only music-related skill was singing obnoxiously in local grocery stores, car rides, and the mall. Judging by the horrific countenances’ of my audience,I realized singing was not in my cards, but perhaps playing an instrument was. At camp, I started playing the ranat ek, an instrument resembling the American xylophone and I was completely overjoyed. When the beautiful melody gently lifted off the keys, I felt a connection to my heritage and culture.
Learning to play the ranat ek, gave me a bittersweet sense of accomplishment. I grew up in America and everything I did up until now was first taught to me in English-my first words were in English and my first scribble on paper was in English; but the first instrument I learned to play was a Lao instrument. It saddens me to know that America has predominantly influenced my upbringing, but I am also glad that I now withhold pieces of my Lao culture too.
I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to go to this camp. This camp has allowed me to dig deeper into the roots of my culture whereby I also discovered lifelong friends and memories that I will cherish forever.
By Veda Kethdy, Co-President Lao Youth Leaders 2015-2016