Adventure Travel: Katu Village, Southern Laos by

Journal Notes

As a constant nomad with no home I am always a guest in some-one else's house or country and that has responsibilities attached – to tread lightly and with respect. Also, a lesson learned early in my meanderings was to observe and experience without judgment to try and avoid imposing my Western views and values with regard to the cultures, traditions and histories of the people and places I visit where it perhaps has no context or relevance. But sometimes that is tested to the limit like here in this village in Southern Laos – home to one of the country's many minority tribes. Here the people have their own language, traditions and dress quite separate to predominantly Buddhist Laos and a spiritual belief system known as animism which actually predates Buddhism.

My guide is himself a villager which goes a little way to assure me that the villagers are willing and voluntary participants but still..........why am I here? Is it okay to come and parade myself through a village where its inhabitants must know I have come to gawp and peep obtrusively into their private lives through my privileged Western eyes? Does this act reduce them to little more than live exhibits in some voyeuristic curio show and rob them of their dignity? And if so what does this say about me? I am uncomfortable and confused......and it's going to get worse.

Raised bamboo huts on stilts form a rough circle, each housing many families. Enormous, sleepy-eyed pigs lie in shaded hollowed-out dust bowls underneath the huts to avoid the blistering heat while ragged dogs, scrawny chickens and tangle-haired, naked children roam freely. Everywhere are women and older children working – drawing water at the pump, carrying it through the village, preparing food, pounding rice and tending small and sickly-looking vegetable plots.
The men are all out of sight – resting in the huts apparently - perhaps having an average of six wives wears you out. Girls are married off as young as thirteen while children start smoking the special blend of the village's 'tobacco' aged three or four. I come across a ragged and dirt-caked group of children slumped over rice sacks, gazing at me suspiciously through languid, unfocused eyes and passing a bamboo water pipe. Clearly, this special blend contains something more than tobacco. Here, the animals are sacrificed regularly to appease the spirits – both malevolent and benign dogs are kicked to death while tied to a pole.

I leave the village subdued and troubled. Only later am I able to sort through some of my feelings. I realize traveling isn't just about witnessing marvels, gazing at beautiful things and having fun. Sometimes it is about being tested, about having more questions than answers and sometimes it is about being shaken to your very core. I AM a Westerner and it is okay for me to have personal beliefs about what is right and wrong and also to be muddled about where the lines begin and end. Black and white might well be clearly defined from the comfort of a Western perspective but under the light of different cultures the colors may become blurred and there are a million shades of gray. Today I have been fascinated, horrified and challenged but those are the times when perhaps I learn and move the most. Here in Laos I have discovered a little more about which parts of my heart and head are me and which are simply Western conditioning. This is not perhaps easy-to-carry baggage but it IS all part of the same addiction which keeps me questing.... searching..... traveling.

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Deneice Deneice

Thanks Alan - comments appreciated

Alan Alan

All I can say is WOW. Well written. I was with you all the way and feeling it as well.