A Lao named Peter
In one of my visit, I met a retired Laotian. I was informed a Lao will not be willing to be interviewed nor photographed as they value their privacy. For the sake of his anonymity, I will name him, Peter. Our story of a Lao named Peter begins.
Peter spoke English, not very fluently, but good enough to be understood. He told me his language is Khmu, which is one of the 3rd known spoken languages in Laos. Peter told me that he worked for the American Government for 20 years. And now he is retired.
His backstory he said was a sad one as he has not seen his wife and child for a very long time. “I was young then and I ignored my parents and friend’s warning not to mess around with drugs,” Peter told me while he looks blankly on the table. “I lost my family because of drugs and messed up the way I think and I was forced to be taken to a mental institution.” Peter would often shake his head and repeats the words “I should’ve listened to them.”
“Are you better now?” I asked him. “Yes, I am taking a pill every day. I go to the doctors to have them check my condition. I have never taken drugs ever since. I am sober. I go to church every Sunday. I like to see mass in my language and meet my friends there.”
I told him, do you know what happened to your family? Do you have contact with them? Peter told me her daughter is already 27 years old and they have never seen each other since he and her wife went their separate ways. He is proud of telling me that his wife was an American. And her daughter speaks English fluently. I told him, his daughter is definitely pretty, the mixture of East and West always results to excellent genes. Peter just smiles and nod. “I’ve been single a long time, no girlfriend, but I am ok,” he adds.
He told me his mother’s uncle first came to America. “A lot of us tried to go here to escape the war. I love living here. It is sad that I wasted some of my years in the mental institution.” His smile always turns to frown everytime he mentions this past illness.
Why come to PAEP food site?
I asked him if he comes often to the food site and what makes him come back? He said to me smiling, “I like to see my friends and socialize with them. I get to buy $5.00 (five dollars) worth of vegetables. This is my food for a week.” Peter showed me the plastic bag filled with Lao eggplant, which he described to me, has a bitter taste.
“I steam it and mix it with another vegetable. It is good.” He happy explained. “Sometimes I put chilly on them, You can stir fry them or boil them, turning once so often so the other side can cook.” I can tell he likes it very much, which later I found out it tastes like “Ampalaya”, but milder, a much milder version of our Filipino’s bitter gourd. I liked it very much. I got to taste it come lunchtime when they served it as one of the main dishes.
Missing his Family
I asked him would he go back home to Laos? He said. “Next year probably, I will stay for one month and I will visit my family there. Most of them are Buddhist. My family here are already Christians. I miss my country too, but I need money to go back home so I am keeping some of my money so I can go back and see them, but I will come back here. I love living here. I like it here.”
Peter and I started talking 9:00 am and he would relate to me that he can only see a few friends on the site. Peter would call people that he considered a friend, have them come over to our table and have them meet me. Peter would translate for them as they speak little English.
I meet five of his friends and his aunt, a 68-year-old woman. He would relate to me that sometimes loneliness and problems would sip in especially for them, as he sees himself as a minority. This place (PAEP) where we meet is a solace to me. I am happy to see my friends, family and buy nutritious Lao vegetables and eat lunch with them. I am happy to see my friends.” Peter looks at me and smiles, “And now I am adding you as one.”
I pat him on the back and smile. And I to you “my friend.” Khob chai Peter!