Sunday, November 1, 2009

On our way to a homestay in a Hmong village

After our homestay on the Balaven Plateau with the Lowland Lao village, we were eager to do another homestay near Luang Prabang. Our goal was to stay with a village of minority tribe people or Hmong people. Sorry for the long post, but there is much to tell.

We went to the Green Discovery office because we had such a good experience with them in Pakse, and they showed us several options for 2-3 day treks with overnights in a village. The treks would be minimum 5 hours trekking, intermediate level, crossing streams, partially in open fields (blazing sun) or jungle (bugglies and harder trekking). Seeing how I broke a sweat walking through the night market at 9pm, none of these details sounded like fun to me. Kat and Isaac had been more excited about trekking than me but the massive wave of heat at every corner was dampening their spirits, which was good for me as that put us all on the same page in terms of only trekking out of necessity. G.D. also had a one day trip that involved seeing a few Hmong and Kamu villages by car and returning same day. I asked if they could customise a trip for us, essentially tacking on a homestay to the end of the car/village visit. They said ok. I love Green Discovery!

They hooked us up with a Hmong Guide named Kia, who was pretty good but not nearly as into being a guide as Udon. I asked Green Discovery if they thought buying pencils for the village kids was a good idea, since the kids at our other village stops had really wanted some pencils. It's not good to encourage begging for anything but Udon had explained to us that not having money for pencils meant the kids couldn't practice writing, and in some cases couldn't go to school. Green Discovery thought it was a good idea so Kat, Isaac, and I all agreed to give some out and if the kids were begging too much then we would just give some to an adult in the village to pass out instead. We also stopped by Big Brother Mouse, a non profit in Luang Prabang that writes and publishes childrens' books in Lao and Lao/English to get kids into reading. Fully stocked with books and pencils, we were on our way.

Our first stop was at village that was half Hmong and half Lao. What a difference between the houses! The Lao ones were partially concrete, raised, and seemed more expensive and sturdy. The Hmong ones are wooden with dirt floors, and smaller. Kia explained some interesting facts about the Hmong, their spirit worship (they are animist, not Buddhist), and how they have 2 doorways to every house but the second doorway is only for family so we must never go through the wrong door or else it will anger the spirit of the house. You can also never sleep with your head facing that door.

The village Shaman invited us into his house, showed us his house alter, and even though he appeared to be of very modest means, he gave us all a root similar to a sweet potato and invited us to have a snack. It was very nice of him and the root was also very good, mild and mostly water. We said thank you and checked out the next village.

The next 2 villages were primarily Khmu (I say primarily because it seems that a lot of the Hmong and minority villages that have been forced by the government to relocated from the highlands now live next to one and other in combined villages). I was noticing that none of the Khmu or Hmong were dressed in their traditional clothing, which was to be expected but still disappointing. That's modernization for you. We gave out some books and pencils to some very shy kids (no begging here) who would take them and pretend to ignore the books until they thought we weren't watching. Then they would all gather around a book and start looking at the pictures (and hopefully read it too!).

We also saw an old Khmu lady doing needlepoint, and Kia said it was for the night market in Luang Prabang. He pointed out that the pattern, which I had seen sold in many different stalls in the night market, was a Hmong pattern. Kia said all the Khmu make Hmong textiles because that's what sells. I asked him why the westerners don't like Khmu handicrafts, and he said "you tell me, you're the westerner!" Fair enough. But I couldn't get him to describe what Khmu traditional handicrafts look like, so I guess it will remain a mystery for now.

We had a picnic lunch at a beautiful place overlooking the valley on our way up the mountain. Unfortunately I was getting car sick from the bumpy, windy road, so I wasn't able to eat much. The village we were headed to was up a mountain, only 60km away from Luang Prabang but about 2.5 hours away because of the roads.

Next up: our stay in the Hmong village!

No comments: