Saturday, January 19, 2008
So far in SE Asia, Laos is my favorite country. It is very beautiful with rolling mountains and rich, green vegetation. Laos is very undeveloped and most people here, especially in the villages, live a subsistence lifestyle with very little money. But still the people are very laid back, cheerful, soft spoken, and love to have fun, taking their leisure time very seriously! Fortunately, with the excellent climate and good soils (and much of the rain forest still intact!) a wide variety of good food is fairly easy to grow, giving plenty of time for afternoon siestas and late night parties. It is the type of subsistence that makes it easy to get utopian, idealistic ideas of returning to such a lifestyle. But of course, not all is as immediately meets the eye. Health care is almost non-existent, especially for those that cannot afford to go into the few towns that have clinics, schools do not seem to be very widespread, and opportunities for getting ahead are pretty slim. And of course, everyone wants money! In some villages the people flat out ask for it, and for pens and bon bons, while in others people try to sell handicrafts of various qualities from seed jewelry to nicely embroidered traditional style hats. There are also a few old women who will pull bags of hashish and maybe even opium (I never saw this) out of their shirts for sale as well. Some villages are better off than others, and one I visited was full of children all clothed in the exact same stained, torn up shirts, obviously a long ago donation, and no pants either.
While here, I spent four days in a bungalow about 8 km from Muan Sing in the North of Laos and surrounded by several small villages. During this time, I made friends with several of the children from the neighboring village, who I don't think go to school but spent their time helping with the animals, hauling water and wood, and of course, playing around and trying to sell their seed bracelets to any foreigners around. The children with whom I made friends toured me throughout their village, taking me into their homes, and giving me gifts such as seed bracelets, peanuts, and flowers with a sweet smell, which they climbed the trees to pick. After a while they also encouraged me to photograph freely, rather than the normal refrain "photo, money, photo, money."
On my third day they took me throughout the village on another sort of tour, a tour of the sick and injured, and considering that most of these maladies are left untreated except by various herbal remedies, it was another reminder to me of the blessings of the modern lifestyle I have at home. There was a girl who had fallen out of a tree and had probably broken bones in her shoulder or arm, a boy who had fallen off of a motor bike and was missing a two inch square hunk of flesh (this village has a few motor bikes and being near the road is a little better off than some), and a baby with a welt like rash spread across her body. It was sad for me, knowing that there was not much I could do. This village is only 8 km from a medical clinic, but still the people do not go, even though transport is available here, presumably preferring to spend what little money they do have on other things and necessities of life.
I tried to show a couple of these girls where I am from on the world map I carry, but they stared at it blankly and uninterestedly, making me believe that they have never actually seen a map of the world; pretty shocking in this day and age! It made me think that us westerners and where we come from must be really a mystery to them, especially in the areas off the road without television. We just show up in their villages with our strange looks, strange clothing, tons of money (at least to them), and cameras, snapping shots as if we were strolling through a human zoo. It must be very frustrating for them. Still, I think we could learn a lot from the people here about having a more laid back and less stressful lifestyle. I really envy them that!
The children in this village near Luang Namtha are lucky to have a village school. (Also photo above)
Booba, my favorite of the village children, is very pretty and shy.
The kids all unload the pickup and restock the village store
Homes in the villages are built on stilts out of bamboo and other plentiful woods
Animals such as pigs, dogs, and chickens roam freely around the village
Another village near Luang Namtha
The villagers run towards us with bracelets hammered from old coins to sell. The kids often run around without pants and also come to ask for pens and bon bons. I honestly do not think it is cute to teach children to beg for candy, even if it is in French!
Ahka woman with baby on her back
A small boy rides the ox home every evening
Most things are carried on peoples backs
A Yao women removing the kernels from the corn. The Yao women have long, covered hair like the Yao in China, but they dress differently, in black coats with big red collars.
Monks riding their bicycles near Muan Sing
The early morning market in Muag Sing. by 10:00 it is closed down and people are back to their farms or other jobs