#8 Laos, March 6, 2007

Dear Everybody,

OK, it’s a different kind of waterfall—rather than broad and flat, this one is narrow and high with two strands dropping 400 feet into a gorge which made a lovely view from the dining room at the Tad Faan Resort.







It was right next to a coffee plantation—in fact after being dropped off by the truck/bus I walked the two km from the highway right through it, and photoed a man picking coffee beans just like Juan Valdez.






The next day I walked to yet another waterfall called Thamchampee. (Yes, Naomi, there does seem to be a waterfall theme!) Actually I was just on my morning walk and happened to walk down this rural road, which ended at the waterfall. It was not as spectacular as Tad Faan, but (for you Minnesotans) as big as Minnehaha Falls in the springtime.

I stopped at a food stand and had a Lao coffee. The young woman was blistering a beef tongue over a fire to help remove the skin.




Everywhere I walked there was coffee! Some trees were profusely in bloom (what a heady fragrance); some were being picked; there were front yards full of coffee beans drying; and some people offered beans for sale. Lao coffee is really good!






My new friend, Art, from Vientiane had given me the phone number of a Lao woman who lives in Paksong and had alerted her that I was coming. I called her, or rather the desk clerk did, and told her I would come the next day. She told him she would meet me in front of the market, where she has a little store. The desk clerk told me that she called him back twice to get more details about when I would come.

The next morning I walked to the highway and flagged down a (real) bus that was going to Paksong. The whole aisle was filled with bags of cement which I walked on to the only empty seat which was in the very last row, ducking my head so I wouldn’t hit the bus roof. When I got out I had no idea where the market was—it certainly wasn’t obvious. I asked about six people who all looked bewildered or embarrassed at my English. Finally a young man waved in a particular direction and I set out. In a few minutes I did come to a market and after standing in front of it for a moment, a woman approached me who was Mrs. Vong, my person. She really couldn’t speak much English but I followed her to her shop (she sold dried fish) and soon a man came whom she had arranged to be my English speaking ‘guide.’ He took me to a guest house on his motorbike and I checked in. Then we all toured a grade school and visited with a group of teachers; we were to come back at 2:00 to observe a lesson for 9-11 year olds.

I was taken to the education office where I met my ‘guide’s’ Director and his Assistant Director. They mentioned lunch and I said that I would treat. We five plus another ‘Director’ went to a nice little restaurant and had quite a big Lao lunch, which was excellent—some dishes that I had cooked in the class I took at Luang Prabang.

Then on to the class we were to observe. The subject? American bombs that were dropped on Laos in the ’70s and are still a danger today—people are still being killed by these UXO (unexploded ordinance). The teacher, using a booklet of teaching materials for this lesson, copied a picture of a bomb on tag board, which she cut out and cut into a few pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. Then there were two sentences in Lao that had been cut apart into phrases. One group of students worked on putting the bomb picture together and another group put the sentences together. My guide told me they said something like, “Clean your yards, but be careful to watch for bombs.”

What a straaaaange feeling! Here were these 9 to 11 year old students in a rough board school with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no glazed windows sitting on old benches learning about how not to get killed by American UXO. Some of the rooms didn’t have cement floors, but only hard packed dirt.

My guide told me (when I asked) that 60 people had been killed by UXO since 1975 in this district, and this district was by no means the most heavily bombed in Lao. I’m not exactly certain why this class was chosen for me to observe. I think that the teachers’ materials were developed with the help of Art’s NGO and his work. Mrs. Vong had helped them, he said. Yet it certainly had an impact on me—perhaps that was part of the agenda, too. And yet they all were certainly lovely to me. My guide said something about “that was a long time ago and there is peace now.”

It makes one think about Iraq. So in 15 years am I going to be visiting a school in Iraq while they have a lesson on American UXO? Burfdah! It makes me sick!

The next day after walking around Paksong, watching them grind the husks off coffee beans, I went on a wild goose chase. The guidebook said there was a town named Lao Ngam that had a daily market where many tribal people (some with tattooed faces) visited. It was 40 km east of Pakse between Pakse and Paksong. Great—I should be able to visit that—it would be 10 km west of Paksong. I asked Mrs. Vong about it and she seemed to know it. She came with me to put me on the truck/bus and tell them where I wanted to go. She said it was 12 km (through gestures.) Well, we went 30 km before they put me off at a crossroads with a few vendors and eating places, but no market that I could find. The guidebook did say “—not to be confused with—” so I think they got confused. So after a look around, I got another truck/bus back to Paksong, this time riding in the cab. The driver was obviously hung over and almost went to sleep a few times, but I made it back OK.

The next day I got a truck/bus back to Pakse and then an 11 hour spiffy night bus back to Vientiane, the capital. The bus ride went quite fast—my Ipod helped. (I love that Ipod!)

I’ll be staying here a few days and then I’ll head north.


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