Tag Archives: village

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

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    Great moments

    On Monday I wrote a post about a bad day – a day when fatigue and noise came together in a perfect storm. These days happen. They would happen anywhere, but when you’re living overseas it’s particularly easy to externalize bad days and begin to dwell on all the things about your new home that grate on you.

    Living in Laos (as anywhere) is a mixed bag, and I write about the bad days along with the rest because I am striving to be honest with myself and with you about my experiences – those that are fun, and those that aren’t. I do this because I think there are almost always important lessons buried somewhere in honesty – for me, if not for you. And I know I’ve said this before on the blog, but it bears repeating. The bad days are not the full story. They are one chapter in a whole book.

    There are far more days – especially at the moment when the weather is deliciously cool – when I find myself awestruck by the thick, lush, beauty of this place. Or startled and delighted by a glimpse into a life lived so differently than mine. Or I wonder about something, and feel my capacity for empathy stretching in ways that are undoubtedly good for me.

    Often, very often, I am moved to gratitude.

    Last night Mike and I waited in front of our favorite fruit shake lady’s stall to place an order. In front of us were two men, laborers, who were also placing an order. We were intrigued to see the locals handing over the same amount of money as the tourists for their drink – five thousand kip, about 70 cents.

    Mike and I both found ourselves thinking about them as we walked home. How much hard work and time did that money represent to them? How would that compare to us buying a coffee from Starbucks or a Coldstone ice cream?

    There is just so much to be curious about here, to marvel at, to thrill to.

    Today, here’s a look at just a few of the really good moments and scenes that have moved me in the last four months – moments I would never willingly trade even on the bad days.

    Mike and I at our housewarming:

    The view from our front porch:

    The Mekong at sunset:

    Mike buying pineapple:

    Dragon boat racing:

    Spices drying outside a temple:

    Luang Prabang orchids:

    A Saturday at Tad Sae waterfall:

    Children playing in the river:

    Inside an older village school:

    Kids watching balloons rise into the air at the official opening ceremony of their new school:

    Women washing dishes in clean running water at their new gravity-fed water system tap.

    Being blessed by village elders:

    Rice fields at sunset:

    Sharing meals with Mike’s coworkers:

    Sharing a moment together:

    The vast majority of the time, Mike and I feel very lucky to spend a portion of our lives here. We are daily being granted the opportunities of experience that novelty and beauty afford. We are thankful for the chance to invest in work that we hope and pray will yield a crop of choices for the children in the villages. And we are grateful indeed for all the wonderful moments we’ve tasted during along the way.