Two weeks ago, I was in Lao’s south provinces (Sekong and Saravane) for the implementation of CHAI’s supply-chain software at the provincial and district hospitals. It was a 2-week-long field visit and at the end of it I was utterly grateful for having had the chance to visit these places. Here is why.
Sekong and Saravane lie on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and are amongst the poorer provinces in Lao. You can read more on the trail here – https://www.insideasiatours.com/insidevietnam/vietnam-news/3358/the-history-and-importance-of-the-ho-chi-minh-trail/
Being in these provinces for two weeks not only allowed me to see Lao in it’s true sense but also made me extremely appreciative of all that I have (this may sound cliché but I mean it in every sense). Travelling in the districts of these provinces meant staying in different guest houses every night with either no wash basins in their bathrooms or a missing drainage pipe. It also meant eating the same food almost every day at the local eateries that primarily served papaya salad, sticky rice and grilled Mekong fish. Now for someone who survives on curries, bread and rotis, it was hard to have 3 meals consisting only of rice. Most of the fancy restaurants were living rooms of people’s houses and the ‘downtown’ of these provinces was a one-lane road with a few dimly-lit market stalls on either side of the street.
(Useful Personal Fact – People in Lao are not too fond of chocolates and in provinces like these, it is a herculean task to satisfy your chocolate-cravings)
I also visited a colleague’s house who lives in a traditional Lao home which is basically made of wood and bamboo and is built on timber stilts above the ground. Her family lives on the 1st floor of the house and keeps farm animals and simple craft equipment on the ground floor. In the grounds around her house were a rice granary, family livestock and poultry, vehicles and fruit trees. It was lovely to spend time with her family while she fed us organic (from her own farm) coconut water and bananas.
To think about it, people in these provinces neither do have access to restaurants and food that city-dwellers like us do nor do they reside in deluxe houses. To see them content and pleased with their life, it was a good reminder to myself that most of our ‘needs’ are actually ‘wants’ and it is possible to have a minimalist lifestyle.
I pulled through these two weeks only looking forward to come back to Vientiane and binge on some pizza and any other form of dough. However, I don’t think I will forget how grateful I was, during my time in the field, for the things that I usually take for granted.
On a slightly different note and I have been meaning to share this since a while now; CHAI and partners have worked together toward a price ceiling agreement to increase access to Dolutegravir (DTG), an HIV drug, for public sector patients. This agreement has made DTG available to public-sector purchasers at a price of $75 per patient per year. Just for reference, this is ~20% cheaper than the current first-line option used in Lao. Lao is the first country in the SE region to take this step forward, putting Lao at the forefront of optimizing treatment for people living with HIV in the region! This drug is manufactured by ViiV (a joint pharma venture by Pfizer and GSK) and this agreement is a simple example of public-private partnership and support.
That’s all from this post but you can see more photos on my photo blog: http://www.jyotimo.weebly.com/