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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

TV's But No Toilets

LAOS | Saturday, 9 June 2007 | Views [2319]

We awoke to the sounds of animals below the cracked floor boards upon which we slept. First the crowing of the roosters woke up the cows, the buffalo groan and the pigs let out squeals of hunger. I got up and asked our guide where we were supposed to use the toilet. To my amazement, this village (unlike the ones in Nepal, Laos and Thailand that we've experienced), these villages do not use outhouses or squatters of any sort. They just use the bush surrounding the dry barren village. The sudden thought of trekking across the village to the busy outskirts, followed by a gathering of village children all queued up to watch this falang squat in the bushes was a humiliating thought. Souk, our guide, assured me that if the villagers saw me headed to the bush, they would not follow me. So I took his word for it and headed out. I passed by several little children squatting in front of their stilted houses, using the front yard as a toilet and realized at that point that people just "go" where ever, and it all gets mixed into what the animals eat, the water supply that the villagers cook with, and the meals that are prepared. Visions of cholera epidemics flash before me. I found a bushy area that I thought was pretty private and ended up rudely interrupted by a movement in the bush in front of me. Stage fright! I froze, not knowing if I should run or stay. Next thing, I see not just one, but two huge pigs, the type that look more like wild board, getting ready to storm me. I've never moved so fast in my life, and I'm sure it was probably a pretty comical sight to any onlookers. It was at that very point I vowed not to eat anything but rice and cooked veggies for the remainder of our stay in the villages, knowing that the contamination risk factors for food and water were very high. Even though rice and veggies weren't really that much safer, psychologically I felt better about eating those, as opposed to the animals that were ingesting everything on the ground. Once back to the long-house, I inquired with our guide about Bird Flu, and whether there were outbreaks in the villages we had been or would be going to. His reply was, what's Bird Flu?

We were thrilled to have a very local experience... this is what we were after. So while we're painting quite a picture in these stories of what we're actually seeing, hearing and experiencing, let us assure you we're not in any way complaining, but amazed at our discoveries and loving our experience & learnings. It amazes us to find satellite dishes and televisions in the bamboo huts and long-houses of villages, but no toilets. While the villages we've stayed in clearly do not have standards of hygiene that the western world would consider safe and livable, we've actually seen signs in some villages and small roadside towns that seek to educate locals on methods of maintaining good hygiene, displayed through comics or pictures. We've seen signs that show a person using a squatter, and then arrows pointing from the excrement to a water-source, and making it's way into a meal that's not properly cooked, and the resulting picture, the person becoming ill with a fever of 38-40 degrees celsius. There have also been pictures of proper ways to build enclosures for chickens, cows, and pigs, although we've not seen villages yet that have their animals enclosed... they all run around and mix together. Finally, we've seen posters dedicated to education of bird flu, showing birds excreting and becoming ill, and then villagers not washing their hands, and not cooking the chicken well enough, and then the eventual person getting deathly ill. The educational posters mentioned above, however, had not yet made it to be posted at the village we stayed in last night. We sought out a truly local living experience, and we definitely got it. Very eye opening, and good experience for us.

We also learned that there are tribal community development projects starting, which are geared toward educating and teaching the local tribes about sustainable tourism, including establishing hygienic guest accommodations and food preparation. This type of development within the local tribes will hopefully allow them to maximize the potential for a great eco-tourism industry here in Northern Laos, while also helping the local villages to improve their own living and health conditions. We were told that the infant mortality rate in remote areas of Laos is high, as is water borne illness. Hopefully these projects seek to irradiate some of the negative impacts of sub-optimal hygienic conditions.

Tags: Adventures


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