Ok, ok, he’s the ex-president of Laos, but still!
On 7 December 2016, the Ex-President of Laos, Choummaly Sayasone, came to visit our dairy. How much warning do you get when a dignitary of this level comes to visit? Not much! The week before we were informed that he would be coming at the end of the next week. Great! Susie was going to Bangkok for a few days, planning to return on Wednesday, so the end of the week would be good. But difficult. Since I needed to feed him and his entourage, I needed to know how many people to make product for. My answer? 25-30 people. No problem! I can do that easily.
With Susie away for a few days, the guesthouse falls solely on my shoulders. What does that mean in terms of cheese making? Not much gets done. Most of my day is spent at the guesthouse and by the time I get home I don’t have the hours needed to make cheese before the kids get home, dinner needs to be made and kids need to be given attention to and fed.
So, let’s get a jump start on things. As I knew she was leaving soon, I did my best to make as much product in preparation as I could. But not knowing exactly when he was coming made that hard because you want everything to be as fresh as possible. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the people of Luang Prabang who want to buy the products. As people started calling and wanting to place orders I had to start warning them that they might be able to have bits and pieces but no large orders as I needed to feed the president, I just didn’t know when.
As the days passed, we all went on about our business, doing what needed to be done, and waiting patiently for the call. Steven started working to get the farm into ship shape. I made cheese and Susie ran the business. Finally came the time for Susie to leave us for a few days and go to Bangkok to work on getting some much needed equipment straightened out, and still the call hasn’t come about when our special visitor will arrive.
The not knowing can make you really nervous! The weekend has passed and Monday rolls around…. Susie is away, Steven is at the farm and I’m playing the social director of Merry 1. As I’m sitting at the desk, taking a moment to breath after breakfast service is done, guests have checked out, map tours have been given and everyone seems to have happily gone on with their day, the phone rings.
“Hey Steven, what’s up?” I say.
“Ah, well, the call has come and the ex president will be here on Wednesday,” Steven says.
“Wait, what? You mean, as in 2 days from now????? (insert many expletives here!) And Susie isn’t even here?? Do we know what time they are planning to arrive?”
“They think he will be to us between 1 and 2 pm and stay about an hour. Oh and the liaison says we should have our own photographers out there too.,” he says.
“That’s great. Susie is supposed to land around 12:40, right? She’ll barely make it for the end!! Crap! Ok, I’m leaving the guesthouse shortly and going home to cook I guess!”
Photographers??? Where do we get some of those??? Well, after a few calls around, a couple of my friends decide they will come help. Thank you Julien and Alex for being available to come join our crazy exciting chaos and take some fantastic pictures of the day for us!
So, what’s on the menu for the Ex-President? Well, we decided we would go all out. We would have tomato mozzarella slices with olive oil and pesto, yogurt, baked tomatoes stuffed with ricotta, chocolate milk shots, ricotta lime cake, cheesecake, Saffron coffee ice cream and basil ice cream. Right. Thank goodness I had done catering in Singapore! I sat down and made my lists of each item that I was going to make and exactly what utensils I would need to pack and bring with me in order to cater this for 25+ people. It’s a long list….platters, serving utensils, knives and everything else you can think of! (I can’t wait until the kitchen production facility is built and up and running so I can have everything onsite that I need!)
On top of all of this excitement, my mom is in town. So mom, wanna come meet the pres? Uh, well, yeah!
Skip ahead to the day of….. It’s a nerve-wracking day… Get the kids up and out for school and then start packing up all my utensils and all the food. It’s 11am and Alex and Julien arrive at the house along with the ever-faithful Mr. Thon, our tuk tuk driver, and we pack everything into the tuk tuk to start the day’s journey. Mom stays behind to wait for Susie to arrive and come out by car.
Once out at the farm we take a moment to survey all the hard work Steven and the team have done to get the farm as ready as possible – but that’s his story to tell so I’ll let him share that. It’s looking great though! And so much more has been built since the last time I was out – I only get out about once a month right now. Once I see where the set up will be, I get all of my stuff set so I can make my pretty platters of cheesy goodness. But, it’s too early to start putting anything together.
Hey, does anyone know if we can actually get a phone call from someone in the entourage to let us know when they will be leaving the stop before us and heading our way? We are dealing with produce that spoils here people! Well, that would be nice, but, um, no. And why you might ask? Because no one seems to have the phone number of anyone traveling with the president. How is that possible????
So, onward and upward we go. I rearrange the fridge so I can plate as much as possible but still keep it cold. Cakes are platted, mozzarella is sliced and seasoned, chocolate milk is dished out into cups, and the table is set with napkins, plates and spoon.
People start to arrive, but not from the presidents traveling party. We are graced with a high school class from the local village, some military or police type people and a variety of others. But we really have no idea who they are. But, still no Susie. It appears Susie’s flight is delayed. Oh no! What else can go wrong????
All of a sudden we notice a police escort entourage going down the road….could it be…..are they really here? It’s about 5 cars all together…..but, no. they drive right past. Steven and I debate whether or not it is them and they have just passed us because they are unsure of where they are going. But, truly, no, it is not them. (Oh silly us!!!! A 5 car entourage for the ex president???? Ha! Laughable!)
Somehow, someone calls one of the team that is here waiting for the pres to show up and we are told, he’s 10 minutes away. Nope false alarm! This happens about 4 times and all the while we are desperately calling Susie and trying to see where she is. After pushing her way off the plane, whisking her mum away and through immigration, racing home at top speed, picking up my mum and changing, Susie finally arrives (but that is her story to tell so I’ll let her embellish it herself). Thank goodness!
Now that Susie is here, Steven and I relax a bit. Well, at least with the relief that we won’t have to do all of the talking now! We get the alarm that the pres is 10 minutes away probably 5 more times and finally, his advance guard arrives. In true Laos style, the president is finally coming to see us, but about 2 and ½ hours later than we expected, which in the end is a blessing in disguise because now Susie is here for the whole thing!
The advisor to the president makes us line up in the sun at the entrance to wait for him. Susie and I have 2 beautiful bouquets of flowers to present to the pres and his wife. (While they are beautiful, they weigh about 15 pounds each!) Susie and I have spent about a ½ hour practicing how to say their names, nervous that we will mess then up when we greet them and hand the flowers over. So we wait in line, in the sun…. Nope, no president yet. Being as fair skinned as we are, Susie and I decide waiting in the sun can only make us look like lobsters and we choose to go back to the shelter to wait. Steven and some of the staff go to one of the buffalo “umbrellas” and have a seat in the shade. And everyone else generally breaks up into groups going this way and that.
We gather and retreat to shade probably 5 times as the call goes out over and over that the president is coming around the bend. Finally, the first police vehicle goes by and the president is finally here! (And it’s laughable that he would show up with the measly 5 vehicles we saw earlier!) There must be about 15 cars and what amounts to be about 60 people!!!
As I look at the crowd, I have a freak out moment; at least 60 people! I was told 25-30. I silently wrack my brain to try and figure out of I can make it all stretch. Yeah well, that’s a bit of a stretch! At this point it is what it is. Luckily, no one will eat before the president and his wife! But we are happy to see that we also have the Governor and Deputy Governor of Luang Prabang here, along with a whole bunch of media.
As Susie starts to take them on a tour of the mini farm setup, I veer off and go set up the food in what will be our new milking shed. We have a table very nicely lined up with all of the food and signs written in English and Laos with what we are serving today. And now I wait for my part. As I stand there and watch the mass of people come toward me and the food, I think it is exciting but yet a bit overwhelming.
Now it’s my turn to do the talking. I introduce our food and answer some questions. It’s interesting to watch the reactions on their faces as they try the products. One of new favorites is Basil Ice Cream, but we can see that it takes a bit of thought for them to decide whether or not they like it. The yogurt is a big hit. So big that Mrs. Sayasone actually takes a few and put them away in her purse for later.
And finally it is time to sit and have a chat with them all. Mr. Sayasone is very happy to sit with us and discuss the fact that he thinks what we are doing is going to be a wonderful thing for both the Laos people and the country as a whole. He tells us that he supports us and that he and the governor are very happy to help in any way possible to get our business up and running fully.
Well, if that isn’t a golden ticket to happiness, I don’t know what it!!!
Stay tuned for Susie and Steven’s renditions of the ex President’s visit and the days leading up to it!