Trip Start Jan 13, 2013
21Trip End Feb 05, 2013
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Some tour companies are having their customers "participate" in the tat bak by providing them with rice to give to the monks - not as the very meaningful religious ritual that it is but as a tourist attraction. Road Scholar tour guides - both our guide for the entire trip and our Laotian guide - were very explicit in their instructions regarding how we should dress and behave. They have cautioned us to be culturally sensitive throughout the trip - which is greatly appreciated!!
The power and symbolism of tat bak is profound and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to witness it - even if only as an observer
Then walked through the morning market - what an amazing sensory experience! Farmers bring produce and other food in from the villages to sell in Luang Prabang and the people buy their food for the day. All of i was incredibly fresh. The market was a virtual painting of colors, textures, sounds and fragrances. And also clearly a social event as people stopped for breakfast or to visit with friends. I suspect hey find all of the tourists wandering around gawking at everything more than a little annoying, but everyone was, as seems to be the norm her is Laos, completely friendly.
Back to hotel for a lecture on Laos - and some very sad statistics. After 15 years of civil war and millions of bombs dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War (as the US supported the royalist government against communist forces), the country is struggling to overcome incredible problems. Here are some of the appalling figures:
71% of population lives on < $2 perday
Laos ranks 138 among 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index (a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices)
Under 5YO child mortality is 61/1000 live births - mostly from easily preventable causes such as diarrhea, malaia and acute respiratory infections
Infant mortality (<1 YO) is 42/1000 live births
Full immunization coverage is only 50%
40% of children <5YO are underweight
40% of populations lacks safe water
65% lack sanitation facilities
77% of workforce is in farming and forestry
only 4% of the land is arable due to mountainous terrain - 70% of Laos has a slope of >20%
Laos has 160 tribal groups and 82 distinct languages
Opium production has increased 66% in the last year
16.5% of the (4%) arable land is affected by undetonated bombs from the 2 million bombs dropped by the US during Vietnam War (1/3 of those did not detonate and 300 causalities occur each year from these bombs - 60% are children) - 20,000 people have been killed
All of this, plus the Laotian people, make me want to come back here and help somehow
Next we went to Ock Pop Tok and met two remarkable young women who are working to save the Lao culture and improve the lives of its women by supporting traditional textile arts.
A wonderful and successful 10 year old non-profit that you can red about here. http://www.ockpoptok.com/
Learned about Laos textile design, natural dyes and saw some of the local weavers and textile artists in action. And contributed to the project by purchasing beautiful textiles!
Jim and I finished the day by going back into town to hear the monks' evening chanting at Wat Mai - a powerful experience that brought me to tears.