by Janet Levinger

Say “Mekong River” and I immediately think of the war in Vietnam. But the river we saw the first night in Laos was simply beautiful.

Markets, temples, and tangled electric wires.

Sabaidee – hello. Everyone greets me and I agree them in return. Always a smile. Happy when I greet them first.

Roosters woke us early in Phonesavanh before dawn. Barking dogs soon joined the chorus. Fog blanketed the hill and we wore our fleeces to protect against the chilly air. I sat on our balcony and watched as the sun burnt the fog and warmed my stiff fingers.  First the cell towers then the red tile roofs peeked through the fog until finally the whole valley was visible and only the faraway hills were concealed by misty fog.

I wonder how a people who had been so badly damaged by my country could be so welcoming. And yet everyone I met in Laos had only a smile for us. The movie we saw in Phonesavanh about the “secret war” – the bombings in Laos left me numb with sorrow, outrage, and shame.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world. Plagued by ordnance that explodes as new fields are sown, villagers still work new fields to feed a growing population, losing limbs and children and cows. And while the country is poor, I did not see starving children, beggars in the streets, homes of cardboard and corrugated metal. Maybe I did not visit the right areas. Everywhere was clean –the streets unlittered not pock-marked with plastic bags and bottles and trash indifferently dropped as you see in India or some places in Mexico. The markets don’t smell.

The night market as Luang Prabang had its own energy. All the crafts – scarves and clothes, wooden trinkets, and…. – seemed shiny new and exciting, colorful and unseen by us before. A small side street housed food vendors selling skewered meats and smorgasbords of salads, noodles, and rice.

The food markets are replete with fresh vegetables. The rural poor are poor. Dirt poor. But they do not starve.

The chef at our hotel takes us to the market and tells us what the different foods are – greens and herbs mostly. But he introduced us also to dried mushroom chips – think potato or banana chips – dried with lime and chilies.

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Photos by Janet Levinger

Morning Alms Luang Prabang (12)  Children in Kamou Village (2)  Lunch stop in teak forest  Patuxai Monument Vientiane




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