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My passport, wallet, and cell phone were gone; stolen that night, out of the cute little basket in the front of my rental bike. It had a cute little bell on it too. Shit really does happen.

That day I made it back to the capital of Laos-Vientiane.That’s where the US embassy is.  I remember the first night alone I wondered how many people may have noticed there was an American girl staying alone in RM 504. I slept with this beer bottle I got from downstairs under my pillow. I practiced in my mind all the ways I would defend myself with it. I never had to use it.

I woke up the next morning. It’s very grey in Vientiane. It seemed grey even when it was sunny. I looked out of my window, and there was this building across the street. Squares where windows used to be, broken glass, a stillness that was so loud. I’ve never had a view make me feel so far away from anything I knew, or even thought I knew. I was full of a lot of fear. Some men had AK-47’s strapped on their backs, and men stared at me a lot. I looked foreign, and I looked very alone-because I was. I was sitting at this small table outside that day. I couldn’t do much but wait for a money order, and legal documents to get a new passport. So, I sat and watched. I noticed how often people stopped and took selfies, asked their friends to take a picture of just them. It must have been a famous road or something. People walked past so swiftly. They all had these important plans for the day; prearranged itineraries.

I sat there with my sandwich and my beer. I watched the Laos children play on the sidewalk. I watched the woman on the sidewalk corner cook out of her food cart. I watched the tourists come and go. Take their selfies; eat their food. Smile and laugh, right in front of that eerie grey building. When the sun started going down, I saw the woman clean the cart and sidewalk with a water hose and bucket. She pushed the cart into the building. The kids ran inside. They never came back out. I remember realizing in that moment that building was their home.

I had no money, no ID, and no set date when I’d be able to leave this country. Something felt special, felt important. I was standing still. I was able to see them that day. See their faces, their eyes, who they were after the tourists would walk way. I wasn’t caught up in me. I was just there. With them. With that little family on the corner of that eerie grey building. With my sandwich and my beer. Free. Sometimes, I’ll pretend I’m that girl again; sitting at that small table with nowhere to be.

 It’s a nice feeling to have nothing sometimes.”  

Written by: Julia Michael

Valeria Alvarez