A Lao Baci Ceremony experience…
You have to wear a sin, a Lao skirt.
You have to wear a scarf or some piece of fabric over your left shoulder.
There has to be a monk or a holy man.
He prays generally, then specifically, then generally again.
You eat food and drink Beer Lao.
I wore my sin and went to my friend P’s house. His mother-in-law or mother or aunt—relationships are difficult to specify here—had had a stroke recently and “couldn’t move her knee.” The family had had some bad luck recently. A bassi would turn it around. It was small—only his extended family and people from his work.
A holy man (who happened to be the father of one of P’s colleagues), his wife, and some elders from their village came to P’s house. A mat covered the floor. I was given a scarf to drape over my left shoulder, like the other women. (I may have been given the last spare scarf; P’s wife was draped with a limp grey towel.) We knelt around a large wicker plate on a stand covered with a pink scarf, with a pyramid in the center draped with marigolds. Long bits of wicker wrapped with string stuck out of the sides of it, and bowls of little rice cake deserts were placed along the bottom. We knelt and touched the plate with one hand while the holy man prayed in Lao or Pali or who knows what
After the general prayer, the tying of strings began. The holy man, the elders, and then anyone else who wanted to give a blessing tied strings around our wrists. You hold out one hand and hold the other up straight, as though you’re praying with one hand. The person tying the string says a prayer for you while tying it. There are different traditions—some just pray, tie, and ask for your other hand. Some grab hold of your hand and shake it afterward. Some rub the string up and down your arm before turning and tying it. After each person ties it, you press your palms together and bow your head. You can be casual with your peers, but for the holy man or the elders you must move more slowly and bow your head more deeply.
After you’ve crawled around the mat on your knees and submitted to each person who wants to wish you well, you gather around the plate again. Again, you touch the plate with one hand. The holy man prays. When he finishes praying, he hands you one of the sweets underneath. You take a piece, eat it, and put the rest back on the plate. There’s another quick prayer. Then everyone grabs for the treats and, munching, wanders outside to tables set with food and beer.
Then, as always in Laos, you drink, eat, and, if you’re unlucky, get roped into some line dancing. What a country.