April 11, 2012

Luang Brabang: Reflections on a Journey through Laos

Founder and head of FTWT, Alethea Tyner Paradis, muses on the end of a journey through living history and the hope for future peace and healing. 

Breezy riverside Luang Prabang is a refreshing cleanse for our war-conscious-weary souls. The heart of downtown is cradled by the lazy S-curves of the Mekong River, bamboo bridges and boats offering quick navigation across and around. Saffron-robed monks make their barefoot morning pilgrimage through town. Gorgeous temples radiate ancient gold designs, dancing apsara buddha figures and serenity. Lush green trees and flowering bougainvillea frame each narrow street. Old French colonial architecture refreshed as gourmet eateries or day spas boast fresh paint, WiFi, espresso and romantic patios. Friendly people practice their English, issuing us earnest invitations to come back again soon.

A day-trip outside of town takes us over rolling, jungle-embraced hills of an acid-green vibrancy to the cascading waters of the Khouang Si Falls. Here the current, surging over a lofty cliff, collects in refreshing turquoise pools, where locals and tourists alike come together to bathe themselves in the clear, cool water. Khouang Si feels like an Oasis from the war-scarred reality of Xien Khuang. Its beauty is a haunting, and the still, jade pools inspire peace and reflection. 

On our last night, torrents of rain crash down upon our palm-treed Eco-friendly resort. Frightful winds, lightening, rolling thunder conduct an appropriate symphony to all we had witnessed in this beautiful, haunted, land. The following morning is initially grey, wet, foreboding, and then, more optimistically, dew-drop bathed with sunlight in time for our farewell. 

We leave with heavy hearts and opened minds. With only 1% of the UXOs cleared from the Laotian countryside, heartbreaking and backbreaking work remains ahead. But despite the tragedies we’ve encountered, hope hangs in the fresh air and watery sunlight of early morning. On our way to the airport, passing a line of saffron-robed monks, I take a deep breath of fresh mountain air; I know this trip is only the beginning. “Laos,” I promise, “I’ll be back, with more students, more compassion and a commitment to make your voice heard.”

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