Thursday, November 29, 2007

That Luang Festival

That Luang is the most important national symbol of Laos. Pictures of the stupa are found on Lao money, stamps, crests, seals and all important documents. A stupa is a monument that houses an important item. Tradition says that That Luang holds a piece of the breastbone of the Buddha from the 3rd centruy BC.

Each November at the time of the full moon there is a big festival at That Luang. This year we attended and joined tens of thousands of people to celebrate the last evening of a week-long celebration. There was lots of great food, music, dancing and fireworks.

On the night we were there, there was a wien thien (circumambulation) around That Luang but the crowds were too thick for us to get inside the main entrance. So we just watched the fireworks from the parade grounds in front.

Here is a group of MCC visitors visiting That Luange before the festival started.

The different levels of the stupa are decorated with 120 lotus petals and 30 smaller stupas.

The main tall spire is 4-sided and is made to resemble an elogated lotus bud. The lotus in Buddhism represents human nature because it grows out from the muddy lake bottom to bloom beautifully on the surface. The belief is that when people have been enlightened through Buddhism, they become beautiful, like the lotus flower.
The monument is covered in gold-leaf and was re-guilded in 1995.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Luang Prabang Oranges

Here are some of the smallest, tastiest oranges that we've ever encountered. They come from Luang Prabang Province in the north of Laos. They have to be cut from the tree leaving part of the stem because if they are picked in the normal way, the skin of the orange breaks open and exposes the fruit. So they always appear in the market with leaves and a bit of stem.

You can easily fit one whole orange in your mouth at once. They taste so good that you'll eat more than one at a sitting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Trip to Tha Thom District

October 29-November 2, 2007

MCC is working towards starting a new food security project in Tha Thom district in Xieng Kuaeng Province in Laos. This is our second trip to the district and we are now collecting data to write a funding proposal. We are looking at ways to help people get enough food to eat and have access to clean drinking water.

The district is about five hours away from the capital. We had to ford three rivers to get there.

A rice grainery and straw storage hut in front of paddy land. The harvest has begun, but the fields in the background aren't ripe yet. The wooden frame in the foreground is protecting a seedling from cows.

This is a photo of the river we used to get to a cluster of villages. There are four villages which are being administered under one chief. The boat ride took one hour in each direction. On the return trip it was getting dark, hence the dark photo.

A view from the guest house front door in the early morning mist. Since there is no electricity I went to bed early and got up early.

This is a boy from one of the poor families we visited. He wasn't melancholy the whole time, I just caught him in a moment while he was thinking.

This is a woman we visited. She doesn't have enough rice for the entire year. She is a hard worker but has trouble making ends meet. She is finding it difficult to feed her children and would be in grave difficulty if someone in her family were to get sick, as there is no extra cash to pay for medical help.

We spent a great deal of time in village meetings like this one. We asked many questions about food security ad family income. Without the forest, everyone would be starving. Unfortunately, the district is having trouble denying logging companies from taking trees. The villagers themselves get no payment for logs, as they technically don't own the forest they live off of.

All of the villagers we talked to get extra income from a medicinal plant found in the forest. There is a Korean company that buys these roots and makes them into anti diarrhetics. The problem with getting extra income this way is that the villagers are over harvesting this root and are going further and further afield to get it. Women carry bundles of sticks like this that weigh up to 60 kilos for ten kilometers or more. The woman in this picture is a government worker from Vientiane - and couldn't lift the bundle.

One unfortunate event on this trip was having gasoline put into the diesel tank. One of the government counterparts from the district office volunteered to get under the car and drain the fuel tank for us. One of he village mechanics came with his motorcycle to help out.

Here is a typical kitchen. The fire is made inside the house that is on stilts. This kitchen had a cupboard for a few dishes (on the right), but basically this is all there is to be found in the kitchen. There is no consideration made for the smoke from the fire, so kitchens are usually quite black.