Guest City Notebook: A monk in Barrow

By Kirsten Swann

Sidthisak Kaybounthome sits behind the wheel of his cab, idling in a parking lot across the street from the terminal at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.

He blasts the heat. Outside, the temperature hovers around 25 degrees below zero — not unusual for winters in Barrow, the northernmost town in the country. But Kaybounthome hasn’t seen many winters this far north.

Not too long ago he was a monk at Wat Lao, Mountain View’s Buddhist temple.

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Wat Lao, the Buddhist temple in Mountain View/Kirsten Swann photo.

He told me his story as we drove along the Arctic Ocean coast, past frozen buildings and bleached whale bones blanketed in drifting snow.

Monkhood was a calling he followed for most of his life, ever since he became a novice at age 11, he said. When he moved to Anchorage in 2000, he helped build Wat Lao into the complex it is today. His work consumed his life. When you are a monk, you give all your time to others, he said. There’s not much time for family. And that’s why he quit.

His elderly mother still lives in Laos, thousands of miles away, and he wanted to earn more to support her, he said. In 2013, he left Wat Lao and took a job at Prudhoe Bay. The oilfields weren’t for him, so he packed his bags and moved further north to Barrow to drive a cab. There’s more business there than in Anchorage, he said.

It’s not like Mountain View and it’s nothing like Laos, but he’s learning to call it home.

“I can live anywhere,” he said.

This microprofile originally appeared on Mountain View Post.