SALSA - Grade 7 Trip
BAN NAPHO November 2012
Thirty excitable Grade 7 students ventured three hours northeast of Luang Prabang to Ban Napho; the resting spot of an upland farming Mong community in the Seuang River Valley.
Marigold flowers and the toothy smiles of the local primary school students greeted the, now dust-covered and travel weary, VIS adventurers. Once the polite formalities were observed and hungry stomachs filled, the community sala transformed into a stage for traditional Lao lam vong dancing and bamboo balancing competitions.
The following morning, the students launched themselves into the unfamiliar and hugely rewarding world of manual labour. Sand hauled. Cement mixed. Bricks laid. Holes dug. Service started. Sweaty and blistered 12 year-olds worked side-by-side with members of the local community to construct the walls of the Po Nowan Kindergarten. The kindergarten is of vital importance for the local community not only for education but also for the peace of mind of the Mong farmers who know their children will be cared for whilst they work their fields in the distant hills.
After a hearty lunch, the students marched single-file like army ants through teak plantations and into the hills to discover the increasingly steep and slippery slopes the Mong farmers climb, for hours on end, on the way to work their fields. Heaving breaths and ticking minds. How do they walk all this way?
Early Wednesday morning, the Hat Houay Primary School was wriggling with excitement as groups of VIS students taught English lessons, sang songs and conducted games. The Hat Houay teachers were happy. The Hat Houay students were ecstatic. The VIS teachers were proud. The VIS students were exhausted. Good hardworking service. How do teachers do this every day?
Word had spread through the province that the VIS visitors were sporting some world-class athletes. A challenge was made. A wall of eleven uniformed Sop Chaek High School students stood like soldiers waiting for the whistle to call them to battle. The sun was out. The pitch was prickly and goals were scored. After the final whistle, the students soaked their bones in the Seuang River as their bamboo rafts floated beside them. Nobody remembered the score. Did you see how big number 7 was?
That night, children could be seen crawling their way to bed clutching a freshly woven bamboo basket. I’m giving this to my mum!
After another day of construction followed by a swim in the river, a gaggle of village master chefs gathered around the sala waiting to meet their newest junior chefs. Small groups recreated the magic of Lao cuisine over coal stoves in the homes of Ban Napho. Hands washed. Chillis and spices chopped. Meat, tofu and vegetables minced, sliced and diced. There was enough to feed the whole village. I didn’t realise I could cook!
On the final day at the newly walled Po Nowan Kindergarten, gifts were exchanged, speeches made and traditional Mong blessings given. I haven’t heard Mong chanting before.