The Mekong river flows brown and full-bodied, past the ancient city of Vientiane.Tip-tuk's driver's pedal slowly by the village people,who sell their fresh vegetables and fruit to passersby. This slow lifestyle is typical of Laos....
As if in a dream, life slowly drifts by in Laos. Here time has no memory; as the Laotians move forward timidly into the new milieu. Gradually, the influence of western business acumen is infiltrating the social and political structure of their society. But not all outside influences are for the good of the people; sometimes only the chosen few benefit from the funds from abroad. The ethnic Thais and the peasants in the small rural villages continue their lives, untouched by western donations. Their days are colored by hard labor in the paddy fields; nurturing the brilliant green shoots of the young rice into their next seasonís food. The women carry their smallest children on their backs, as they gather wood for their fireplace. The elderly mothers pass on their ancient skills to the young girls, of weaving the traditional patterns in cotton and silk fabrics on primitive looms. The elderly women also teach the younger women to collect the cotton bowls, and clean and twist the fiber into fine cotton thread. The women tend the fat caterpillars which are always hungry for their meal of mulberry leaves. Later in the season, a metamorphous will occur and the caterpillar will form a silken cocoon, to sleep in. These are harvested and cooked in boiling water to loosen the silken thread; then wound by skilful hands into skeins of creamy silk thread. Earth, soft rock, and leaf dyes, color the silk into brilliant hues of; bronze, yellow, bold blues and soft greens. All shades of the rainbow are created, to enhance the silken thread which is woven into cloth for their clothes, and wonderful carpets for the Talad Sao markets. The women are skilled in the art of embroidery and stitch complicated designs onto the cotton cloth. The design patterns are passed from mother to daughter; the color and intricate stitching is highly prized by both local people and foreigners.
The local men barter for work with the foreign companies, which compete for a share in the local market. Slowly the business world is expanding and many Lao workers benefit from the new skills they are learning. Foreign investment is increasing daily, and the power brokers decide where the funds are applied, depending on popular vote by high-ranking officials. The business world remains volatile at times; with governmental decision-makers influencing the growth of the business environment. Slowly the NGO (Non Government Organizations) pursue their goals of helping the poor people in the far provinces, where little funding reaches them. The organizations strive to bring aid to the village people in the low-lands and mountainous regions. Their goal is to provide education, to build schools and increase literacy. The childrenís health issues are overwhelming; polio, cholera, intestinal worms infestations, dysentery is but a few of the childrenís diseases. Another important issue is womenís health after pregnancy. If you improve the health of the women then the village functions well and the children are cared for. Many of the ethnic Thai tribes, the Moung are being encouraged to leave their mountain villages and move down near to the main roadways. This will enable the government and NGOís to support them, build roads, schools, hospitals to provide aid for their basic needs. Unfortunately there has been some resistance of the movement from the highlands; in some instances the villagers have returned to their traditional lifestyle. Perhaps if these people can see the benefits in the future they will return to the new villages, and absorb the health care and education offered to them.
For many Laotian people the opportunity of an education is but a dream; but this is possible with the aid from the western countries, and organizations. Health care beyond the city of Vientiane is gradually improving, and the children happy faces glow, as they laugh with the joy of life.