No really, slow the @!#$*% down!

“check your emails…” said the ominous text from Mari to Theresa and I one random Friday evening in November. 

My apprehension in completing said task was validated when I saw the email she was talking about. Our permission to ride motorbikes, the embassy informed us, had been revoked immediately, thanks to the dangers of driving in Laos. This rule had previously been standard for all US Embassy employees in Laos, but the Fulbrighters and ELFs had been exempt. Word from the Ambassador, however, had changed that and the motorbikes we had already purchased were now unridable. Furthermore, under the new rules we weren’t allowed to ride on a motorbike driven by anyone else. 
“ughhhhhhhh.” We vented to each other and rightfully so. Before buying a motorbike, I spent a week walking to school. The hike was nearly an hour each way in the hot sun which relentlessly beat down on me. No one walks more than a few minutes in Savannakhet aside from cows, goats, and dogs, so amidst that company, concerned students and locals would sometimes pull up next to me to make sure I was okay and offer me rides. I’d taken up a few teachers I knew once or twice on that offer, but was still pretty reluctant to hop on a motorbike with a stranger. This meant, I’d reach school dripping in sweat, wiping my brow furiously as I taught and hoping the damp stains on my shirt weren’t too obvious or distracting. I’d reach home exhausted and have little motivation to be social. The only upside was that I got through a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. 
But everything changed when I got a motorbike. My commute cut short and energy conserved, I was more energetic in the classroom, went to the gym almost every day, and developed a bit of a social routine, meeting friends for beer, movies, or reality TV on a regular basis. Though old and a little beat up, my cherry-red motorbike represented liberation and gave me the autonomy I needed to settle into life in Savannakhet. Gone were the days of feeling chained and drained by a lack of transportation and, thus, self-agency. In losing my motorbike privileges, I was not only losing a means of getting around, but also my freedom and independence. 
Our contacts at the Embassy were empathetic to our struggles, but firm in upholding this rule. Upon threat of our contracts being terminated and being sent back home, the Savannakhet gang decided straight away that it just wasn’t worth the risk to keep riding our motorbikes. The chances of anyone reporting back were slim, but in case anything happened, it wasn’t worth the risk. While we were all comfortable on our bikes, driving in Savannakhet can be challenging because of other drivers on the road. There doesn’t seem to be much of a discerinble requirement for having a motorbike and children that seem way too young are often seen zooming around town. 
Furthermore, while I’ve seen some crazy traffic in India, driving in Laos is almost worst in some ways because most drivers seem to lack any sense of self-preservation. Once, on a major road, I had been signaling to turn left, had been on the left-most side of the lane, and was just starting to turn as two boys passed me on the left, speeding by at the last possible moment. I was mere inches away from turning into them and by pure luck managed to brake, nearly falling over myself. The boys seemed amused though, letting out an “Oooooh” and laughing as we almost collided. They seemed unfazed by the possibility that had the timing been slightly different, we’d all be injured and sprawled out along the road. 
This lack of fear of mortality combined with drunk driving is an especially terrifying combination. Just a few weeks ago a teacher in our faculty came into school limping and covered in cuts. When we asked what happened, he said something about visiting his mother in Vientiane, going out to drink with some buddies, and getting into an accident while driving back. “Eh. I almost die,” he said, cavalierly. Yet accidents are commonplace enough that most people seem to have a casual attitude about them. 
We had found out that our colleague in Vientiane, Dani, had gotten hit by a drunk driver in a truck and while she was bruised and (understandably) unhappy, she was going to be alright. This, along with the existing policy that full-time Embassy employees weren’t allowed motorbikes was the last straw in the matter. At the time of the new rule, we were grumpy and argued with one another how the new motorbike rule was unfair because Vientiane has more traffic and Savannakhet is comparably safer. But looking back, the Embassy’s decision is understandable. 
This still left the burden of finding an alternative means of getting to and from school. Empathetic, the Embassy promised us a stipend to offset this additional cost, and asked the school to help us find a solution. The school, as shocked as us by this new rule, offered few options. We could get a tuktuk to drive us to and from school, they suggested, but we were less than thrilled. Theresa, Mari, and I had very different schedules and to get a daily driver, we’d need to go to school and return at the same time. With only a tuktuk we wouldn’t be able to go to the gym or any social events or even into town to get dinner. Lastly, this option would be expensive, even with the promised stipend. 
Ultimately, we decided to invest in bicycles. A simple market bike would run around $50-75, new, but lacked gears and was generally uncomfortable. We set our sights on some nicer bikes that would set us back about $350 – almost 3 times the cost of my motorbike ($125). This would still be cheaper than tuktuking everywhere and would have the added benefit of offering independence and the ability to go and come as we chose. We grumbled a bit at this decision, as the Embassy had deemed bicycles to be acceptable even though motorcycles were banned, citing the lower speeds as justification. I still disagree to some extent, given that I don’t bike much slower than I would motorbike and drive on the road and amongst traffic just as a motorbike would. Yet, for all three of us, this has proven to be a satisfactory decision and in some ways actually better than a motorbike. I enjoy biking the 15 minutes to and from school and town and taking longer rides into the countryside on weekends as a way to explore my surroundings and get some exercise. It also ended up being a great way to train for the bike race I did in early December (more on that to come in a later post!). 
In the end, this decision that seemed so devastating initially was resolved quite happily and underscored the necessity for and relative ease of adaptability. One of the most important characteristics for Fulbrighters (and humans in general) is to be adaptable – from adjusting to cultural differences to figuring out how to get around town, being flexible and open to change is crucial in surviving the year physically and mentally intact. It’s a great reminder that things generally work themselves out, so getting frustrated or anxious about most things just isn’t worth the effort. “check your emails…” said the ominous text from Mari to Theresa and I one random Friday evening in November. 
My apprehension in completing said task was validated when I saw the email she was talking about. Our permission to ride motorbikes, the embassy informed us, had been revoked immediately, thanks to the dangers of driving in Laos. This rule had previously been standard for all US Embassy employees in Laos, but the Fulbrighters and ELFs had been exempt. Word from the Ambassador, however, had changed that and the motorbikes we had already purchased were now unridable. Furthermore, under the new rules we weren’t allowed to ride on a motorbike driven by anyone else. 
“ughhhhhhhh.” We vented to each other and rightfully so. Before buying a motorbike, I spent a week walking to school. The hike was nearly an hour each way in the hot sun which relentlessly beat down on me. No one walks more than a few minutes in Savannakhet aside from cows, goats, and dogs, so amidst that company, concerned students and locals would sometimes pull up next to me to make sure I was okay and offer me rides. I’d taken up a few teachers I knew once or twice on that offer, but was still pretty reluctant to hop on a motorbike with a stranger. This meant, I’d reach school dripping in sweat, wiping my brow furiously as I taught and hoping the damp stains on my shirt weren’t too obvious or distracting. I’d reach home exhausted and have little motivation to be social. The only upside was that I got through a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. 
But everything changed when I got a motorbike. My commute cut short and energy conserved, I was more energetic in the classroom, went to the gym almost every day, and developed a bit of a social routine, meeting friends for beer, movies, or reality TV on a regular basis. Though old and a little beat up, my cherry-red motorbike represented liberation and gave me the autonomy I needed to settle into life in Savannakhet. Gone were the days of feeling chained and drained by a lack of transportation and, thus, self-agency. In losing my motorbike privileges, I was not only losing a means of getting around, but also my freedom and independence. 
Our contacts at the Embassy were empathetic to our struggles, but firm in upholding this rule. Upon threat of our contracts being terminated and being sent back home, the Savannakhet gang decided straight away that it just wasn’t worth the risk to keep riding our motorbikes. The chances of anyone reporting back were slim, but in case anything happened, it wasn’t worth the risk. While we were all comfortable on our bikes, driving in Savannakhet can be challenging because of other drivers on the road. There doesn’t seem to be much of a discerinble requirement for having a motorbike and children that seem way too young are often seen zooming around town. 
Furthermore, while I’ve seen some crazy traffic in India, driving in Laos is almost worst in some ways because most drivers seem to lack any sense of self-preservation. Once, on a major road, I had been signaling to turn left, had been on the left-most side of the lane, and was just starting to turn as two boys passed me on the left, speeding by at the last possible moment. I was mere inches away from turning into them and by pure luck managed to brake, nearly falling over myself. The boys seemed amused though, letting out an “Oooooh” and laughing as we almost collided. They seemed unfazed by the possibility that had the timing been slightly different, we’d all be injured and sprawled out along the road. 
This lack of fear of mortality combined with drunk driving is an especially terrifying combination. Just a few weeks ago a teacher in our faculty came into school limping and covered in cuts. When we asked what happened, he said something about visiting his mother in Vientiane, going out to drink with some buddies, and getting into an accident while driving back. “Eh. I almost die,” he said, cavalierly. Yet accidents are commonplace enough that most people seem to have a casual attitude about them. 
We had found out that our colleague in Vientiane, Dani, had gotten hit by a drunk driver in a truck and while she was bruised and (understandably) unhappy, she was going to be alright. This, along with the existing policy that full-time Embassy employees weren’t allowed motorbikes was the last straw in the matter. At the time of the new rule, we were grumpy and argued with one another how the new motorbike rule was unfair because Vientiane has more traffic and Savannakhet is comparably safer. But looking back, the Embassy’s decision is understandable. 
This still left the burden of finding an alternative means of getting to and from school. Empathetic, the Embassy promised us a stipend to offset this additional cost, and asked the school to help us find a solution. The school, as shocked as us by this new rule, offered few options. We could get a tuktuk to drive us to and from school, they suggested, but we were less than thrilled. Theresa, Mari, and I had very different schedules and to get a daily driver, we’d need to go to school and return at the same time. With only a tuktuk we wouldn’t be able to go to the gym or any social events or even into town to get dinner. Lastly, this option would be expensive, even with the promised stipend. 
Ultimately, we decided to invest in bicycles. A simple market bike would run around $50-75, new, but lacked gears and was generally uncomfortable. We set our sights on some nicer bikes that would set us back about $350 – almost 3 times the cost of my motorbike ($125). This would still be cheaper than tuktuking everywhere and would have the added benefit of offering independence and the ability to go and come as we chose. We grumbled a bit at this decision, as the Embassy had deemed bicycles to be acceptable even though motorcycles were banned, citing the lower speeds as justification. I still disagree to some extent, given that I don’t bike much slower than I would motorbike and drive on the road and amongst traffic just as a motorbike would. Yet, for all three of us, this has proven to be a satisfactory decision and in some ways actually better than a motorbike. I enjoy biking the 15 minutes to and from school and town and taking longer rides into the countryside on weekends as a way to explore my surroundings and get some exercise. It also ended up being a great way to train for the bike race I did in early December (more on that to come in a later post!). 
In the end, this decision that seemed so devastating initially was resolved quite happily and underscored the necessity for and relative ease of adaptability. One of the most important characteristics for Fulbrighters (and humans in general) is to be adaptable – from adjusting to cultural differences to figuring out how to get around town, being flexible and open to change is crucial in surviving the year physically and mentally intact. It’s a great reminder that things generally work themselves out, so getting frustrated or anxious about most things just isn’t worth the effort. 

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