A tad bit sunny and warm, but in the shade there’s this lovely breeze coming in from the mountains and hills of Xieng Khouang. Dozing off sitting outside, listening to the sounds of chicks and the mother hen, pecking around the airport. Hi-tech and modern, this is not. There’s a little girl squeaking around, her puffy sandals making that cute sound as she looks for something to do. I’m sleepy, writing to stay awake and bide the time before we board the plane back to Vientiane. Seen much and heard many things that make me want to redefine my life back home. Maybe I could live here. Do some good. Or would I tire of the mountains and plains, and at some point be disenchanted with the people as well. Didn’t get a chance to draw anything while on this trip, just been busy traveling and taking photos.
I’ve always thought there are different kids of poverty. The economic kind and the kind that is the mental affliction. So as I spent more time in Laos, it saddened me to see that a large part of the Lao culture is one of: “asking.”
After the chirping chicks and squeaky shoes grew tiresome, I stepped back into the Phonsavanh airport and saw OS talking to a gentleman. I sit down and begin to look at some of my photographs on the laptop. I overhear the typical Lao conversation: where are you from, did you grow up here, oh I have a son/daughter/relative in the states. The icing on the cake is that Lao people, being from a small country, are not far removed from any other person, and they can know (or can claim to know) just about anyone in your immediate family. And so it deeply saddened me, while looking at my photos in between OS and this gentleman, that he asked for some money, “To help uncle out…Just a couple dollars would be great…” It deeply troubled me, having the mythical aura of the Plain of Jars shattered by what seemed to be the calculated pan handle strategy that I see back home. I grew up in the Southern part of the United States, and most people are of course aware of the legacies of slavery and disenfranchisement of many people decades ago. OS gave him some Kip, which to be honest…I don’t know if I would have done it. I know I’ve been writing about giving charity and food to Hmong street kids, but this just seemed different. Again pointing out that the solution to poverty in Laos isn’t so cut and dried. Socially it would have been more detrimental to OS to not give him any money, so what’s a person to do?
I know it’s not anyone’s place to be critiquing the social norm of another culture, but I would like to express to everyone in countries other than the US, that life isn’t all that luxurious back in the states for Laotian Americans or lots of people in general. Money and opportunities are still hard to come by. After the great migration, it has become the norm for family members struggling in the states, or wherever, to send money back home so the ones left behind could eat and pay bills. It’s the uncomfortable awkwardness that other members in my group have expressed to me as well, gathering around family members you’ve never seen before in your life, or can’t possibly remember, knowing that the hugs and tears usually culminate in an uneasy exchange of cash at the end.