Wednesday 27th, 2010 after spending 3 days carrying out the training for the ADRA (Adventist Development Relief Agency) staff in Luangnamtha on data collection and report writing. Our team traveled to Nalae district to conduct research on youth heath. It is only 75 km from the town of Luang Namtha, but it took more than two hours so you can imagine what the road condition is like. While sitting in the car, I thought about how this district must be isolated and less influenced by the world. When we got close to town, I could see a bridge in the distance. I thought, “Wow, this is really beautiful.” By chance, the guesthouse that had been booked for our team was located right next to this bridge. As soon as I got out of the car, I walked to the bridge. I could see that the bridge was under construction. There were around 20 workers and I guessed that they were Chinese because of the language they were speaking. There was a car with a Chinese license plate just 20 meters from the bridge site and it confirmed what I had thought. I talked with an old man who was living near the bridge and he told me that the bridge construction started in November 2009 and is expected to be completed in the next five months. He explained that they are building this bridge because there are a lot of villages on the other side of the river.
After that, I walked around town, eager to explore the place as a newcomer. On my walk, I saw a group of children playing on the ground. I approached them and took some pictures and spoke with them in their dialects. At the corner of a house I saw a woman making something and I left the children to approach the woman.
‘Sabaidee…What are you doing? I asked.
I tried to be as polite as possible so as not to make her suspect that I was a spy or a government officials. She smiled and turned her face to look at a boy who was sitting next to her and a girl who was washing some vegetables outside of the kitchen. I later understood that they were her children.
“You have such a clean kitchen!” I said.
“No! No! It is very small and not tidy,” she answered.
‘Maybe so, but for me, it is so clean,’ I said.
She asked me what am I doing here and where I was from.
“…I am from VTE and I am here to do research on youth health.
‘Where are you staying?’
“I am staying in a guesthouse near the river’. I could not remember the name. “Are they your children?
“Yes. He is my youngest son and she is my older daughter.” She pointed her finger at them in a very polite way.
“How many children do you have?’
“Oh, I have many. Five children. Three3 boys and two girls. The oldest and youngest are boys. She talked to me but her eyes were fixed on what she was doing. ‘A lock for a door’
“Do you grow upland rice or lowland rice?
“Upland rice,” the girl said. “It is very far, about 4 hours by foot,” she added.
“Why don’t you grow rice nearer your place?” I asked.
“Now it is forbidden to clear the land around here”, the girl answered.
“Why?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” the girl said.
“Where was your upland field in the past?”
The girl pointed to a nearby mountain.
“How was your own land used?”
“Rubber tree plantations.”
“Are there a lot of rubber tree plantations around?
“Oh yes, almost all HH in the village planted rubber trees, but a Chinese rubber plantation company covers a big area in the district,” she explained.
“Does your family have rubber trees?”
“Yes! Just around 300 trees.’
“Good!” I said.
Some people say that it is good and some say that it is not so we don’t know exactly for sure. The mother said.
“Did you get a good harvest this year?”
”No, because it rained during the harvest time,” the girl said.
“How many kg of rice did you grow?”
“100 kg but we had got only around 2 000 kg
“If the yield is good, how many kg would you get?
“3,000 – 4,000 kg of unmilled rice.
“Will the rice you harvested this year cover your family needs?” I asked.
Yes, if I don’t have to sell some of it for cash for necessary family expenses such as children’s education, tax or clothes.
“Do the two of you sometimes go to your family upland field?”
“Oh yes, the girl said.”
“Almost every weekend.”
“Yes, but we have to go because if we don’t we will have no rice to eat,” the girl answered. “How old are you?“
“13 years old,” the girl answered.
I turned to face the boy. He looked at her mother and said, “10 years old”
“What grade are you studying in?” I asked the girl.
“I’m in the seventh grade and he’s in the third,” she answered.
I looked at the boy and asked, “Is your school far away?”
“No,” he said.
“What do you do during the school break?”
“I sometimes go to do day labor selling in a Chinese rubber plantation,” the girl said.
“What do you do?
“I do some weeding.”
“Oh! How many times have you been there?”
“In August just two weeks before the new school year started.”
“How was it?”
“Not so good because the Chinese often cheat us. They don’t pay as they agreed to at the beginning.
“Why don’t you complaint?’
“I don’t dare because they speak very loudly and look very angry.”
“How much money did you get?”
“I got 90 000 kip the first time.”
“That was for how long?”
“What time did you start working and when did you stop?”
“I started at seven AM, took a break for lunch for one hour and worked until 5 pm.”
“What did you do with the money and how did you get there?”
”I walked there.”
“How long did it take?”
“Around four hours, we walked very fast. It took less time on the way back because it is downhill.”
“How many people all together?”
“How many boys?”
“No boys, only girls.”
“Did you feel afraid?
“Yes, but I need money to buy a school uniform and books for the new school year…”
“Do they provide food?”
”No we have to bring our food and cook it by ourselves…”
“Where did you sleep?
“They have a bamboo hut and we had to bring our blanket.”
“Are there any Lao people working at the rubber tree plantation?”
“No, only Chinese people.”
“Do they speak Lao?”
“Did you have your dinner yet?” The girl asked.
“What did you eat?”
We eat only vegetables almost every day,” she said with gloomy voice.
“Oh I love vegetables. I eat only vegetables, not any meat.” I said. I will stop bothering you now. Otherwise you won’t be able to finish cooking. This has been such great conversation for me. Thanks. Thank you very much. I will come again tomorrow. I have some English books that you may be interested in. …Thanks….good bye… Good bye!”
Bounchanh January 27th, 2010, LNT