Spirits and Ghosts

Trip Start Jun 27, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Savannahkhét,
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I live in a haunted house. At least that's what all of the local staff told me before I moved in. My first warning came before I left Vientiane. After finishing a discussion about my visa situation, Thavone asked, "Are you afraid of ghosts?" I responded that I am not.

“Oh, good,” she said. “There are spirits in your house in Sepon. The foreigners do not seem to mind, but they bother all of the Lao.”

She then told me that I shouldn’t be scared of the spirits, but that I should warn them of my presence when I first arrive. She suggested that I “play a lottery on them”, which I think means tell them a riddle. She said that the spirits would not want to lose face by guessing wrong so they would just go away.

Immediately after I arrived in Sepon (pronounced Say-pone, but spelled Sepone, Sepon, Xepon, or Xepone), I was warned about the spirits again by my project staff. They suggested I sleep with a knife near the bed since the spirits are scared of knives. They also insisted that I agree to have a guard for at least my first night. I am given the option of a guard every night which seems unnecessary in such a quiet town. (The word town is probably a bit of an overstatement, but it’s a bit too large to call it a village.) Unfortunately, the guard assigned to my house that night was terrified of the spirits. He’s one of HI’s full-time guards mostly stationed at our office. Appearing around 70 years old, small, and quite fragile, I’m not sure how much he can actually do to protect anyone or anything.

I tried to insist that I would be fine without a guard, but the local staff would not agree. They said I needed someone there in case I got scared. I’m not sure how much this feeble old man who only speaks Lao would be able to do for me if I were scared, especially since he would probably be more scared than I am, but I decided not to fight them on it. He was dropped off at my house around 7pm that evening by two girls in their teens or early twenties; I’m guessing they are his daughters or granddaughters. Before they left, they helped him conduct a ceremony which I later learned was to warn the spirits of his presence. The ceremony consisted of lighting incense, saying something in Lao, and giving a small offering of some juice to the spirits.

Before I arrived in Sepon, the staff had put a bed for the guard out front, but did not hang up the mosquito net. The four of us hung the net together. I was quite proud of my MacGuyver-like skills, using broomsticks to hold up the sides of the net that were further from the house.

Everything seemed to be fine that night; as far as I know the spirits didn’t bother me or him. I later learned that a previous guard at that house had dreamt that a snake was strangling him while sleeping during the night. He woke up gasping for air with his throat closed. Although he ended up being okay, he blames the spirits for strangling him in his sleep and refuses to guard this specific house ever again. It sounds like his story was also the main reason why my guard from the first night was so scared.

Since that first night I have not had a guard and have been just fine. Although the spirits have not scared me, a frog managed to make me scream and jump one night when it pounced at me as soon as I turned on the bathroom light. I’m really glad I didn’t have a guard around to come running, requiring a pantomimed explanation that it was just a frog, not an actual problem.
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