Our last trip up on our favourite hill with the best melancholic view on Phonsavan, slightly hungover after the big Goodbye party the night before. It was pleasantly windy that day, with the sound of the wind resembling the distant call of the ocean. Thailand, here we come!
Runway -not runaway- is the name of the newest local disco where we went the other night. Finally, we managed to go out with our colleages Dachang and Thoummy to celebrate, say too early goodbyes, and cheer about new jobs and things to come. On our way, we met Adam from England, a nice guy traveling Laos and other Asian countries. Crazy dance night!
A little more than a week ago, we had to move out of our house in Phonsavan. Our dear colleage Andy had offered us to stay in his house for the remaining two weeks in Laos, so we gladly accepted his offer. Packing our stuff that we had gathered in the past months felt like taking the first step away from here – it’s been almost five months in Laos and seven months of being gone altogether (which now seems like such a short time to me!). Can’t wait to hit the road again.
The other day, I had to get out to get some fresh air and walked up a hill where I had been biking with Tabea at the beginning of our stay. A horde of cows was grazing on the top of the hill, their bells peacefully sounding through the air. I sat down to absorb the sounds and the atmosphere. Gee, I will miss this place!
On Sunday, we decided to actually have a Sunday – lay work down, pack our bags and take off. Our friend Yumiko had offered her work place’s motorbike for a little trip to Muang Khun, the old capital of Xieng Khouang province about 30 km away from Phonsavan. Not a long trip, but long enough considering the amount of people riding the small bike! Nevertheless, it was so much fun to see the beautiful landscapes passing by, the people waving and laughing about the three ‘falang’ on a motorbike, to climb the old stupas and have a sticky rice/ morning glory picnic by the river watching the water buffalos graze the fields. And visit a Lao friend on our way home to see him and the construction site of his new house. Sigh! Work-life-balance! Soul relaxiation! More!
Considering that Phonsavan has been connected to electricity in 2006 only it works quite well. Some days when we had lots of work to do, we had to take off because our laptops were out of battery and we had a two-day-blackout. I don’t know whether it was due to a blackout, but the other day the fresh market was only lit by candles. It looked and felt magic. Somehow it made me feel like people will always deal with their circumstances – I wonder sometimes whether certain developments necessarily bring good. Call me a romantic, but sometimes I wished our world would develop just a little more slowly…
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!