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A Thousand Villages

by Tara

The longer we spend in the cool, verdant mountains of northern Laos, the more deeply in love with them I fall. I relish the twists of the curvy mountain roads, and I savor the feel of my body hugged against Tyler's back as we lean in sync, in harmony with each turn of the pavement.

Us Riding Motorcycle (By Natasha)

But more than the motorcycling itself, I enjoy the communities we pass through, and the tiny shelters where we stop for a snack or a cold drink. It is during these times, in the midst of village life, that I find myself most inspired. I know some people may look at these people and feel pity, but I am not among them.

Lao Girls in Colorful Skirts (By Natasha)

I am moved by their strength, envious of their community bonds, and deeply humbled by their skillful knowledge of how to survive in the land around them. Every time we pass a child out foraging for edible plants, hunting for mice with a homemade slingshot, or carving their own bow and arrows, I find myself asking, If I had nothing at all, would I be able to stay alive?

Lao Boy Making Bow & Arrow Lao Boy Making Bow & Arrow

The answer to that question right now is probably not, but I cannot wait to learn.

Little Lao Girls Walking Home Lao Mom & Baby Grinding Corn Lao Mom & Baby Feeding Corn into Grinder Tara Grinding Corn Natasha Grinding Corn Pete Grinding Corn

Realistically, it is unlikely that I will ever be truly forced to fend for myself out of necessity—I am grateful for that privilege, but I also think western society does us a great disservice in many ways. It seems that we are taught to relinquish trust in our own abilities, and to instead shackle ourselves blindly to the gods of modern industry.

When I was little, my heroes were Laura Ingalls Wilder and Tasha Tudor, both of whom I admired for their immense and practical skill-sets. Cooking, baking, making cheese, knitting, sewing, candle-making, pottery… all good foundations for a self-sufficient homestead. It didn't really hit me until now that these women were also prolific writers—something else I aspire to be.

In any case, I always loved the idea of becoming self-sufficient before this trip, but I could never quite make it work. Sure I cooked and baked and knitted up a storm. I took quilt-making classes and pottery classes and basket weaving classes, and got a lap loom for Christmas that I never had the discipline to actually use.

While I romanticized the idea of living self-sufficiently, I didn't have the drive to actually make it happen. It also wasn't that long ago when the thought of being responsible for an animal day in and day out sounded like a prison sentence to me.

Piggie Cuddle Pile

Now, I long for the task of creating a home in the wilderness with my own two hands, and I look forward to the responsibility that comes with caring for animals and a garden which will feed us. I'm not sure to what extent we will decide to be self-sufficient, but I finally feel that, because of what I've learned on this trip, I have the toughness and tenacity to make our dreams happen, whatever they may be.

Carrying Wood Lao Girls Carrying Wood Lao Home Lao Mom & Daughter Grinding Corn Lao Mom & Daughter Grinding Corn Lao Bridge View

With my future life slowly taking shape in my mind, our day of motorcycling passes quickly. Now, it's starting to get dark, and very cold, and once more, villagers will gather in front of their homes to keep warm by small, efficient fires. Meanwhile, the wind whips in our faces and we speed on, racing into the dying light.

Lao Village at Dusk Riding at Dusk Lao Fields at Dusk

When we arrive in the nearest town, we settle into a guest-house that has electricity for two hours every evening. When our time to be plugged in is over, we light the candles provided for our use, and spend an evening lit with the warm gold glow of flickering candlelight.

It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
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I wonder if those kids and the hardy Laotian folk are looking at the farangs thinking "I've always dreamt of having their comfortable lifestyle; going to school, travelling the world and not having to do any manual labour ever ever again". I suspect the older girl carrying the sticks is harbouring such thoughts :P
Posted by Katherine on April 13th, 2011 at 10:08 AM
Tara dearest! Let's both be the modern day Laura and Tasha!! Can't wait to see you sometime soon!
Posted by Eliza on April 13th, 2011 at 8:28 PM
Katherine - Ha, you're probably right. Okay, maybe I still do romanticize their lifestyle and take my own privilege seriously for granted. But still, as we ride through insane mountain villages, I always wonder, Do they have ANY IDEA how beautiful it is around here? Or do they take it for granted because it is what they've known their whole lives?

Eliza - That sounds wonderful! After we get home and settled and have some down time, we'll start planning a west coast road trip. :-)
Posted by Tara on April 21st, 2011 at 6:41 AM