Tag Archives: Phonxai

Dead cats, working elephants, new schools, and other tidbits from Laos

It’s a public holiday here in Laos, so Mike and I are celebrating by working together at the kitchen table. Yeah, we really know how to do public holidays in style.

Actually, one of us does, anyway. Mike let me sleep in until nearly eight this morning and then woke me up with a tray loaded with cheesy scrambled eggs, grilled tomato, mango, dragonfruit, and half a cup of coffee (I’m just easing back into coffee after going off it overnight the minute I was afflicted with pregnancy nausea). So we had breakfast in bed together before we set up our two laptops downstairs and started typing away like disciplined little nerds.

Though if I really were a die hard nerd I’d be working on my consultancy, drafting the next chapter for this distance learning course instead of having spent the last hour perusing my email and google reader, looking at photos we’ve taken this last week, and now writing a blog post.

But this next chapter, you see, is on Wellbeing Economics (how and whether governments and managers should be paying attention to improving their citizens and employees wellbeing) and I feel clueless. So since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I should put off the hard work of getting less clueless until after lunch when I’ll be hot, and sleepy, and cranky because my back (which decided yesterday for no apparent reason that it wanted to really start hurting) is getting worse and worse throughout the day.

Yup, I’m a smart one all right.

But, today, instead of doing the smart thing I’m going to do the fun one and show you some of the things we’ve seen here in Laos this past week. I really wish I had a photo of what I saw yesterday afternoon but, alas, I was without camera when I took Zulu down the street to buy some Japanese eggplants from the woman who sells vegetables from a tarp on the sidewalk.

She had eggplants all right, and right beside the eggplants was a basket with two dead cats in it. The cats were crawling with flies, which the woman helpfully waved off with a coconut fond when she saw how interested I was in the cats. The flies rose up in a thick, dark, cloud, then promptly settled over all of the vegetables. I made sure to wash the eggplants thoroughly.

That was a first for me. I regularly see this woman selling birds (that’s what Zulu’s so interested in in the photo above), rats (sometimes dead, sometimes live), and occasionally dead bats tied in handy bunches. But I’ve never seen whole kitties for sale before.

So here are some images we did take this week of life here in Laos:

Palm tree at sunset from the deck of our house

Zulu, doing his new favourite thing (bringing a big clump of dirt into the house and chewing it to bits)

What Zulu lacks in leg length, he makes up for in ear size

Mike at a cafe on the Mekong on his birthday

Lanterns hanging above the Mekong

Checking out the construction around town on Saturday morning

Building roads and drains, the hard way

Burning rubbish around town – it’s going to get smokier and smokier throughout March as the farmers burn the rice fields after harvest

Rice fields on the way out to Phonxai

The brand new school that we went to see in progress together just two weeks ago – finished now and standing proudly beside the old school

The village surrounding the school

A working elephant alongside the road out to Phonxai

Is International Woman’s Day a holiday where you are? How have you celebrated it? And what cool things have you seen in the past week?

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Lessons learned about Laos, parenting, and development work, in Phonxai

On Monday, Mike and I plus the friends we have in town at the moment (Mum, Dad, and three little boys aged six, three, and 8 months) traveled up to Phonxai so that Mike could inspect a school in progress. This was an all day endeavor that involved renting a landrover and spending more than six hours traveling – about five of them on dirt roads.

As always when I travel up to the villages here in Laos, it was illuminating. In no particular order, here is a summary of things I learned or relearned on Monday.

1. Northern Laos is lush with mountains and winding dirt roads dug into the side of steep slopes.

2. Water is life – the rivers paint the valleys a vivid green, even when the hills are a dusty and parched brown.

3. In Lao, X is pronounced S (Phonxai is pronounced “Ponsigh”)

4. If you spend five hours in a landrover on dirt roads when you are four months pregnant you’ll end up feeling well frothed on the inside. Also, you should not drink a great deal in advance of this trip, and you should definitely wear a sports bra.

5. British kids will find even the cool season here in Laos uncomfortably hot.

6. Boys who are three and six years old have an incredible capacity to repeat the same observation or question numerous times (e.g., “gosh, it’s very bumpy, isn’t it?” and “are we nearly there yet?” and “why not?”)

7. If you let these same two little boys sit in the back-bench seats of the landrover together (even with two adults back there as well) trouble will erupt roughly every thirty seconds as long as they are both awake. You will find yourself repeatedly saying things like:

  • “I said, bottom on the seat! If you can’t stay sitting down you’ll have to come sit in the middle seat with mum.”
  • “Leave your brother alone! Don’t touch him! Not even one finger!”
  • “Stop singing that song! I mean it, you have until the count of five!”
  • “Try not to throw up, OK? Take deep breaths, look out the front window, and here’s a plastic bag just in case.”

8. If you want to make little boys deliriously happy, all you have to do is get in a landrover and drive back and forth across rivers – stopping every so often to let them walk across a bamboo bridge adjacent to the crossing.

9. Little boys will be quite enamored with squat, bucket rinse, toilets and very probably decide that they’d really rather have this type of toilet in their own home.

10. People all over the world are fascinated by each other’s babies. If you are a mother carrying a baby, you don’t need a word of the local language to effectively communicate on this subject.

11. Lao children in the classroom are remarkably well behaved, despite being packed onto backless benches. If a strange adult walks into the classroom they will leap to their feet and greet you with a polite sabaidee in unison.

12. It is a lot easier for non-profits to raise money to build schools than it is to fund teacher-training programs, but many rural schools suffer from a shortage of good teachers.

13. Rice banks (a village-run storehouse of rice that village families can borrow from during the hungry months and then repay the loan plus five percent interest after harvest) do great things in helping to reduce food insecurity. In one village we visited, of the 93 families in the village more than 60 borrowed from the rice bank every year. The rice bank had been started with an initial, donated, “fund” of two tons of rice and now had a total fund of about six tons of rice.

    Mountains in Northern Laos

    Water is Life

    Bamboo bridge across river in Northern Laos

    Fun at river crossings

    An old school building in Laos

    Children in a new school building in Laos

    Even Lao children find it too hot sometimes

    Learning about the village rice bank

    Inside the rice bank