After having travelled only using means of land transport, it somewhat felt entirely wrong to just hop on an airplane and fly all the way back to Helsinki. Some strange kind of reality was calling me back, a parallel world that naturally just kept on turning around its own axis – of course it wouldn’t stand still just because I had left! But yet I couldn’t help myself but feel bewildered by the fact that I was greeted by snowflakes and a magical late-winter sunrise – hadn’t we left in mid-summer with all leaves in different shades of green?
Two weeks ago, I went on a hiking trip to a mountaint village called Ban Phakeo. It is famous for the adjacent jar site 52 in the middle of a lush jungle. A Hmong tour guide named Vang accompanied me on my “undercover trip” – officially, I was doing the trip to do research for a new project connected to CBT, Community-based tourism which involves homestays of tourists in poor rural villages to generate better incomes. It might sound a bit like tourists visiting the villages like an attraction or a zoo, others see it as an opportunity for the villagers to get a glimpse into the world out there. Most of them never get out of their province, like many Lao people don’t get the chance to travel abroad. Many of the older villagers have met American soldiers during the Secret War, so all foreigners are Americans for them (or long-noses).
The short time I stayed in the village left a really strong impression on me – the people were so happy living their simple lives, far away from all the temptations of “civilization”! I felt so sad to leave this haven of communal life the next morning. Unfortunately, my battery died right when we entered the village, but still I managed to take a few pictures. The rest is in my head, many good memories to last a lifetime.
The question is: will improved income really improve their lives? Are our lives “better” because we have all the comforts of a developed society? Other problems would soon arise replacing those solved with money. Stress, depression, burn-out vs. difficult access to education, food and water? I asked my guide about his definition of poverty. He answered: when my neighbour has a motorcycle and I cannot afford to buy one. Ah!
… on the train…