Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Distant, Tiny Villages of Laos

The easiest and quickest way to reach the distant villages of Laos from the United States is simply to burrow through the center of the earth.
Or you can take the nausea producing twenty-four hour bus rides around serpentine mountain switchbacks and then trek through steep and slick highlands fiercely guarded by malaria mosquitoes to reach them. Trust me, just buy the digging equipment.

Village #1: Midevil
Deep in Laos’s mountainous terrain, isolated, nearly inaccessible, with barely a walking path leading to them, are villages straight out of the Middle Ages, places that time has left behind. There is no running water, no electricity, their most valuable possessions are the few farm animals they subsist on.

A video of the midevil Laotian village

We arrive in the afternoon, having lunch by a large, stagnant pond, accumulated rain water with no outlet. The water is muddy-brown, and I’m surprised an animal would drink from it. The village consists of five families, the men are gone, either hunting or logging, leaving the women behind to care for the babies. They try to sell us some trinkets they have made for passing tourists. They’ll take any amount of cash you offer.
Florence Nightangale offerred trinkets
Rushmore decides whether to buy or not
 They are miles and miles away from town, or medical care. Should a baby get sick, our guide informs us the most likely treatment will be the sacrifice of an animal to the spirits.
In one year this village will no longer exist, as the government will be moving the families into town to provide the children schooling and access to some medicine, though in Laos this is spotty at best. Before you think the government benevolent, it is likely their acreage will be turned into a plantation of some kind. Such is progress here in SE Asia.

Village #2: They Have A Generator
A large clearing in the middle of the jungle, a few hours walk from the river, we get there in the evening as the sun is going down.

--Gain an appreciation for village life via this video--

Though they have few lights, and no running water, just a well and huge trash cans full of collected rainfall one throws over themselves with a small bucket (called a shower here,) they do have one diesel powered generator which supplies electricity, enabling the children to watch the rare movie, as well as a refrigerator to keep food from spoiling quickly in the jungle humidity. (at least the few hours a day the generator is on)
Amidst the kids
baby crazed Lindsey "Rushmore" Pooka pauses for an incriminating photo before making her getaway
Thatched village house and residents
Village #3: Wealthy!
Well, wealthy by Laotian standards I mean. The village is near a road, a couple of the households have cars, and several have TV's and lights. They earn money from tourists who stay with them who are trekking through the national park which they border. We were provided dinner and a beer before falling asleep on a hardwood floor covered with a blanket and a mosquito net above us.
water buffalo
 The village had last year built its first schoolhouse ever. These will be the first village children with any sort of education. The school teacher works for less than $100 a month.
The kids were very excited when we walked in, especially when I sat with them and started to play. The girls were so cute. I had a wonderful time, getting a huge roar from the crowd when I moon-walked out the door.
The thought crossed my mind to stay there and teach English, before realizing I would have to stay for years to really make a difference, as the only times the children would be using the language was when I was present. Not the best way to learn.
so cute- Laotian children
Who's the dutiful student on the right?
I'm pretending to study, but I'm really trying to hear the gossip
Look at the joy, not only on the face of my little girl, but the others around her
We had fun! Hope she's not scared of heights
Certainly I don't envy their lifestyle of living conditions, but as we tide of our species rises with our technological know-how, I hope the boat of my new friends' lifts with it.  

1 comment:

  1. Nice story. The kids are great, despite circumstances most travelers would find more than tough. Good luck with the travels...


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