Before I begin to tell you why I’ve been MIA (Missing-In-Action), I want to share something with you that I should’ve done long ago..
Do you notice the dragons outside the temples in the above pictures? For the longest time, I wondered why each temple in Lao has dragons at the temple entrance, so finally last week I made an effort to find out; “Phaya Naga” (dragons) are believed by the locals to live in the Mekong river or estuaries, and Lao mythology maintains that the Naga are the protectors of Vientiane and the country. In Buddhism, they often are protectors of the Buddha and of the dharma.
And now to confess about why I haven’t written to you and for my journal’s sake. It’s been more than a month since I last wrote a blog. Whilst I am based in Vientiane, I have been traveling within and outside the country, and that is part of the reason you haven’t heard from me.
On October 5th, Lao celebrated the biggest and the most significant boat racing festival (Boun Xuang Heua) which is held at the end of Buddhist lent (Awk Phansa) in Vientiane, on the Mekong River. This is known as Vientiane Boat Racing Festival and it is more or less a national festival – and this year that meant a 3-day weekend! I won’t be able to tell you more about this festival because Stefania (another Pulse Volunteer working with Save The Children in Lao) and I, after mulling over it for long, decided to visit our fellow GSK Pulse Volunteers in Hanoi and miss the boat races.
In Hanoi, we met Anne-Marie (Pulse Volunteer with PATH) and Muhammad Ifthikar (Pulse Volunteer with STC) and traveled around town experiencing the local food through street food tours, swimming in the vast South-China sea, and kayaking the caves of Ninh Binh province.
If I had to pick one must-visit places in Vietnam, I would pick Cat Ba Islands. These beautiful islands located in the South-China sea are so beautiful and picturesque, the area feels like a different world altogether. These islands have floating villages built by the native Vietnamese who live on these islands in floating houses, carry out fish-farming and run fruit and vegetable markets. Imagine living in a floating house, doing your daily grocery/necessities transactions on the ocean every single day of your life!
Last week, I travelled to Champasak, a province in southern Lao to support the Ministry of Health with carrying out their first-ever essential medicines’ pooled-procurement for 4 south provinces. I will not get into my work details (but reach out to me if you want to know more) but overall the week was a successful one, and we reduced the procurement process to 3 days as compared to 3 weeks in the past. This means man-hours, time and money saved which hopefully should positively impact Lao’s health-financing reform.
While I was in the South, I visited a UNESCO World Heritage – Wat Phou, a ruined Khmer Hindu Temple. It is said to be a smaller version of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the biggest religious monument in the world.
While I was sitting atop one of the hills around the temple and had the bird’s eye view of the city – the infinite green pastures and the beautiful Mekong slithering through them, the perfectly-shaped clouds in the bluest of skies, the small houses and the large rice paddy fields, I realized I didn’t want this perfect piece of landscape to change.
I have two more months to go before I finish my assignment, and I hope to experience and take in as much as I can of this beautiful country and it’s people, before I head back home.
On a completely different note, I know it’s a tad late but wishing all my Indian friends a very Happy Belated Diwali and New Year! I hope you had as bright and colorful a Diwali as I did because my wonderful friends and colleagues made it a fun-filled Diwali with lots of Indian food, candles, bingo and heads-up. (special shout-out to my homies – Devon and Stefania :*)
That’s all from this post, but stay tuned for more!
Visit my photoblog link: http://jyotimo.weebly.com/ for more photos