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It Takes a Village

by Guest

Below are excerpts of our friend Natasha's heartwarming journal entry about meeting Lao children.

I feel as though I am missing that maternalistic gene that most women my age seem to possess. I do adore my niece and nephew. I have a few close friends that have kids and I think they are great, because I see the same quirky characteristics in them that I love about their parents. The average stranger's baby is another story. While everyone one else is cooing over it, I retreat to a corner and secretly think to myself how it looks like a tiny, wrinkly, bald alien. That has all changed since I have been in Laos.

I am totally and completely in love with the children here.

Natasha & Cute Lao Girls

They are beautiful little people, with eyes so black you can see your reflection in them; untamed wild hair, often with smudges on their faces, wearing dust covered clothes.

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

I don't think that their appearance is due to the fact that they are uncared for, quite the contrary, they seem to be adored by all the people in the villages, everyone is always showing off their babies and carrying them on their backs using some kind of cloth wrap; the workings of which befuddle me.

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

From what I have observed their disheveled appearance it due to the fact that they live the majority of their lives outside and at a very young age they contribute to the needs of the community.

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

We've seen countless children under the age of ten carrying the standard knife (more like a machete) that is tied around the waist of almost every rural Lao person. They carry pounds of wood and haul it to their homes in makeshift backpacks…

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

And they tote around babies only a few years younger than themselves on their waists or backs…

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

They help make fires and collect plants for making brooms and thatch roofs, and they hunt with slingshots, crossbows and spear guns…

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

They possess an awe inspiring set of survival skills before they reach their teenage years that I envy. If I ever get lost in the wilderness I would love to have a six year Lao child by my side.

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

The reception from them has been mixed. There have been days when my hand gets tired and my throat sore from returning the waves and “hellos” we receive while driving through the villages on our motorcycle.

Lao Kids Waving Hello

There are other times when we get off our bikes, take off our helmets to walk towards them and they retreat to their homes, scared of the large white creature looming towards them toting a camera. I have taken a photo and a petrified child has burst into tears.

Photo by Natasha Scheuerman

Other times they pose giving me the peace symbol and burst into laughter when I show them the results on the digital screen. Their laughter is contagious and I always have a smile on my face long after these encounters are over.

Cute Lao Girls

Three months ago if I had seen images of these children I may have pitied them, using my western misconceptions to assume they were poor and unhappy. I am sure that life is not easy and they may be monetarily poor, but their lives seem rich and fulfilled, and they seem wholeheartedly loved and well taken care of. The phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child" takes on a very literal meaning here. I now feel that they are not to be pitied but revered for their strong will, beauty and perseverance.

Photos by Natasha Scheuerman (click to view more)

When I leave Lao I will miss them most of all.

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Natasha, thank you for letting us use your eloquent entry, and so many of your beautiful photos! We had a lot of fun laying it all out; we hope you like the presentation! Your words capture perfectly some of the things Tyler and I were both feeling in Laos. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Posted by Tara on April 23rd, 2011 at 3:55 AM
Great post! You really got me thinking about the whole "dirty" thing. Given that I've never been to Laos or spoken to its people the following is entirely speculation :P It seems to me that it's probable that "clean" in the way we define clean in our culture isn't a value Laotians share with us. Like any culture, they will almost certainly have some very strong values around hygiene. The type of clean we see an absence of when we see pictures of these children though isn't this type of clean. What we're seeing is our spick and span, neat and tidy value cropping up. Even our word "dirty" speaks volumes. There's nothing actually "dirty" about dirt -- not in the hygiene sense of the word. And it makes sense, for people who survive off the land it would be impractical to the point of absurdity to have such a value!

Interestingly, this type of cleanliness is actually a fairly recent development in our culture. We didn't even have the hygienic clean thing down - let alone the dirt-less clean - at the time of the colonisation of America. The native Americans remarked on the stench of the Europeans, who bathed as little as possible to stave off illness! Most British homes didn't even have a bathroom until the mid-twentieth century. Bit of a tangent.

I love those moment in travel when you can "see" your own culture.
Posted by Katherine on April 23rd, 2011 at 10:02 AM
Looks so beautiful guys! I feel honored that you have used one of my entiries in your amazing journal:) Thanks.
Posted by Natasha on April 24th, 2011 at 11:20 PM
Katherine - Interesting thoughts! I'm no expert by any means, but from what I observed, Lao people are concerned about cleanliness-- they bathe in fountains or rivers every evening, wrapped in sarongs. They hose down their kids, they pick stuff out of each other's hair (I've noticed this in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam too), and they spend grueling hours washing clothes by hand.

At the same time, they can't be overly concerned with dirt, because to do so would be, as you said, impractical and ridiculous. The effort to get squeaky clean is futile when you basically live and work outside and there is very little pavement plastered over the ground to keep dust and dirt at bay.

I have a feeling that the US is going to seem obsessively sterile in comparison!

Natasha - Yay! I'm so glad you approve. :D
Posted by Tara on April 25th, 2011 at 2:43 AM
What a beautiful essay, Natasha, and thank you for sharing about such a personal transition.
Posted by Mary N on April 25th, 2011 at 1:30 PM