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Seeing it up close

By Cindy Votruba
Independent Staff Writer
(Used by permission)

Itıs a land still riddled with damage from the Vietnam War and even has some live mines hidden in the jungle, but the people of Laos are amicable and willing to help visitors, said Walnut Grove teacher Jeanne Kelsey. Kelsey, along with Harry and Bao Yang of Walnut Grove, went to Laos in December, spending most of the month traveling through the country.

Kelsey has been an English as a second language instructor at Walnut Grove for 4-1/2 of the five years sheıs been with the school district. The school < and the community < have seen a strong growth in the Hmong population in recent years. She teaches 42 students in grades K-4 and five to six adult students at night for four hours a week.

Kelsey said her visit to Laos helped her better understand the culture of the Hmong adults and children she teaches on a regular basis.
³A better understanding of how things are the way they are,² Kelsey said. At the beginning of the month, Kelsey and the Yangs arrived in Vientiane, the capital city. She said it was a busy city with more traffic, but not
exactly booming population-wise.

³It didnıt really look like a big city because basically the buildings were on the smaller size,² Kelsey said. She compared the cityıs appearance to one of Marshallıs size, although Vientiane has a population of 569,000.

Kelsey and the Yangs spent most of the time in the northern part of Laos, mainly in Phonsavah and Louanprabang. Kelsey said Louanprabang is more popular with tourists.

 

 

 

³There are a few more sight-seeing spots,² Kelsey said. ³It was the home of the king (when there was a monarchy).²

One of the better-known tourist spots was called the Plain of Jars, which has several ancient stone jars scattered throughout the area. Kelsey said no one really knows when the jars were placed there.

³Some say itıs been there before Christ,² Kelsey said.

Kelsey said there are areas where she could see the damage from the war. on the way to one of the remote villages in the mountains, she noticed

³Thereıs areas they canıt clear out to farm because theyıre afraid to find a bomb,² Kelsey said.
Yangıs relatives and other people in the villages were cordial, Kelsey said.

³Theyıre generally friendly and willing to help you out,² Kelsey said.

Life in Laos is fairly simple, Kelsey said.

³They do have electricity and donıt have much, but still are able to live off the land and still go to school,² Kelsey said.

Schools are on the plain side, Kelsey said, but the government wants to get more schools out to more villages.

³Thereıs no public transportation,² Kelsey said. ³The children have to get there themselves.²

And since thereıs no lunch program at the schools, the lunch period is two hours, she said.

Kelsey said she even had to watch out for ³animal traffic² on some of the main roads, such as water buffalo, cattle, and chickens.

While she was there, Kelsey got to see some of the ceremonial customs. ³Since it was during December, several of the homes had the New Yearıs celebrations in the houses in honor of the guests,² Kelsey added.

³Their ceremony comes from their religion,² Kelsey said. ³They (the Hmong) have their own religion. In their New Yearıs ceremony, they especialy honor their ancestors.²

Ceremonies involved special blessings, blessing of the food and guests. One such custom was the tying of the strings. People gathered around the special guests, took a string and tied it on the guests.

Kelsey said they needed to check in with the police when arriving and leaving Laos.

Some areas are still restricted to visitors, Kelsey said. Even Harry and Bao Yang couldnıt go to the place they grew up.

But Kelsey didnıt sense any danger while she was in Laos.

³It didnıt feel dangerous traveling there, you just needed to know the rules,² Kelsey said..

 





 


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