Hmong (pronounced “mong”) don’t know how to eat with chopsticks, but then neither do I. When I go to Kou Moua’s home for dinner, I like to make white, sticky rice balls with my hands like Kou showed me. She has lots of cousins for us to play with, but no brothers or sisters. After many days of walking and hiding from the enemy in the jungle, Kou’s family, like many Hmong families who came from Laos, escaped from their country to freedom in America.
Utah mountains have no tigers or pythons, but the Hmong were still very afraid when they first came here. They couldn’t speak English, and no one else could speak Hmong, but it wasn’t as hard as some people might think.
Our whole family worked as stake missionaries to the Salt Lake Stake Hmong Branch, and I taught Neng and Shoua and the other children how to fold their arms to pray, how to look at the pictures in Book of Mormon Stories, how to sing “I Am a Child of God.” They taught us how to say hello in Hmong—nyob zoo (knee-ah shong)—and we taught them all kinds of things, like how to turn on a light, use a pencil, or buy a chicken with money. At Christmastime generous people gave the Hmong some clothes, toys, fruit, candy, nuts, and cookies. They ate the oranges and nuts, but they threw away the candy and cookies!
The Hmong had never seen snow before, and they were really excited to learn how to tie quilts. Celebrating the New Year’s holiday with the Hmong is the most fun of all because everyone eats all the rice he wants, and they talk and play games. Chou’s and Neng’s moms made an honorary Hmong costume for me to wear for the New Year’s party. It is black with a bright blue collar and hot pink and lime green sashes, and it has a lot of embroidery, beads, and shiny decorations that tinkle when I walk.
They gave my mom some colorful cloth needlework squares called paj ntaub (pa ndao), which means flower cloth in Hmong. The squares symbolize some ancient Hmong religious beliefs. Kalu’s Grandma is teaching her how to sew the tiny cross-stitches and snail appliqués that form the flowerlike designs, and I want to learn too. Sometimes I practice tracing a design on paper or making up one and coloring it to look like a real piece of paj ntaub. The Hmong are some of my favorite friends, so I try to make my designs using their favorite colors—purple, red, blue, yellow gold, and green.