Sorry I have been MIA, but that also means I have a lot to share. This blog is going to be a mixed bag of all things Lao – work-related updates (promise will keep this bit short), weekend fun and a few more cultural observations.
The Lao culture (similar to the Indian culture) can be described as bright, colorful, religious, scintillating, close-knit and peaceful. Most Laotians follow Buddhism and are religious which can be seen through the intricacies of the gorgeous temples (called Wat in Lao), the crowds in these temples on auspicious days and the many monks who have withdrawn from all worldly pleasures to wholly devote themselves to God.
Talking about the culture, how could I not have already told you about the food here?! Being a Thai-food lover, living in Vientiane has been a smooth ride. Lao food is very similar to Thai-cuisine since most of the dishes are coconut-based with a lot of lemongrass, fresh basil and other green-leafy vegetables.
In fact last weekend, we had a traditional meal called Sin Tum (hotpot in Lao) which includes a boiling pot of coconut soup placed in the middle of your table accompanied by a selection of raw meats and vegetables. The idea is to cook the raw ingredients on your table in front of you, adding to the experience of a social and relaxing meal out. A lovely bunch of Lao friends came over and set-out the meal for us while we listened to authentic Lao music.
This weekend, I visited a small city north of Vientiane called Vang Vieng (known for its backpacker tourism). The river Nam Song runs along this town and most of the hotels are built along this river bank (pay a visit to this town if you come to Laos – it’s a 3 hour drive from Vientiane). While I was in this town, I noticed that most of the water activities were non-fuel based (water tubing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boating) which was a good sign of natural-resource-preservation (knowingly/unknowingly). Even the scenery all around was shades of green landscape which reaffirmed that there are still areas on this planet with preserved natural beauty.
A quick update on my work-life: Last week, my NGO (CHAI) had their Annual Review Meeting with the Ministry of Health (MOH) officials to discuss the accomplishments and the workplan ahead.
(Note: I wanted to write this piece of information because I realized I hadn’t shared with you why CHAI does what it does in Lao)
In 2014, Lao MoH reached out to CHAI to help address medicine stock-outs, expired drug issues and other supply-chain challenges in the public health system. The health programs that were greatly impacted by these challenges were HIV, TB, Family-Planning and Malaria-elimination programs which meant an increase in the HIV, TB and Malaria cases in Lao. Since then, CHAI has helped develop and execute clear operational plans to strengthen the malaria-surveillance system as well as create an integrated supply-chain program that has increased patients’ access to medicines bringing down the number of deaths caused due to malaria, HIV/TB and maternal & child ill-health. It’s amazing to see what has been achieved so far and only hoping for it to get better from here onward.
That’s all from me in this blog-post. Stay tuned for more.
Khob Chai Laily Laily (thank you very much!)