This April new year is also celebrated in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. It somehow originates from India. Therefore it's celebrated in parts of India, as well as all of Sri Lanka.
It was nice to be home in Vientiane- it felt like home. I was really happy our house survived the whole pi mai period, because heaps of thefts happen around this time. It was nice to chat with my housemates once we got home. D had come to Luang Prabang with us. M had a very interesting experience. She stayed at some of her Lao workmate's for new years. I don't think they have been exposed foreigners much so they would keep asking her whether she could eat sticky rice, whether she could go to the toilet by herself and why she wanted to walk somewhere where there were no villages. She bathed in the river for half an hour while people stared and had to wait for them to go before she could have a proper wash. She's an entomologist and has begun exploring the culinary side of insects. She ate stink bugs mashed with garlic and chilli and said they were delicious. She said she ate bee pupae and said they were gross. When she was going to the toilet in the dark with a work collegue, they could here rustling on the ground. She shone the torch down and saw a lots of dung beetles swarming over a cow pat. She noticed her collegue salivating as she was looking at the beetles andcow pat. 'You eat these' M asked. Her collegue replied that dung beetles are delicious. I have my doubts!
Ms workplace has this interesting system where they take turns to cook lunch. If it's your turn to cook lunch, you spend the whole day cooking and don't do work. They also had a cooking class at work. She works in a branch of the Agriculture Department and this course was for the farmer employees to learn to process their produce so they could market it better. They learn to make roasted peanuts, buffalo skin dip and boiled, fried sausage during the course and at the end of the day they sold it to each other.
With my housemates we also discussed development and aid to Laos. We can all see some stuff being done which is not sustainable, and how local skills are undervalued. Someone from one of the major development agencies was shocked Ms work didn't have to computers and commented that they need some right away. Thinking out loud, he said that to get a few computers in and get a few consultants to come in to set it up it would cost $100,000. Just for a few computers that don't really need to be the most up- to- date? There are definitely locals that can do this, such as some people at work, even I could do it if I didn't try anything too complicated. A lot of aid money comes to Laos- it's just a matter of spending it wisely. The locals at my work get paid $30 a month, say between $300 and $400USD a year. Expats are paid at least $3000- $4000US per year. This is stupidly low in Australian terms but this is the wage of ten locals. Are expats really that much better? The workforce is characterised by being generally unproductive and unskilled, well you would be if you were paid that little, but maybe there are some skills out there we could use? Or maybe organisations can pay for training? I guess they might not have the money. The guy that sits next to me is paid $20 USD a month as a communications officer. That makes me feel quite bad. No wonder the guy has to go off to do other jobs during the week.
It helps us that even though the people here are poor, they are happy, well the ones we've seen anyway. We can see that the healthcare here is really poor and this would be one of the main impacts on their wellbeing. Killing animals to make the spirits happy so the person gets better might just not work. They don't seem particularly materialistic and competitive and just seem to be happy where they are, enjoying hanging out and drinking which is good. How should we give aid? There are forever development agencies writing reports about how things should be done, but I think we can start by doing small things to help the people learn to do it for themselves. Australia is one of the main aid providers here and has a huge presence. When we look back at what we've done in future, I wonder what we'll think of it.