I landed in Laos four months ago without any plan besides wanting to live in a new part of the world and get under it’s skin. That’s not really what happened. Instead I became intensely interested in the millions of bombs left over from a U.S. bombing campaign that ended four decades ago. It’s a story I thought people should know—the long shadow of war. I wrote a couple of articles for U.S. and U.K. media that were well received and feel I accomplished something. I understood the crisis of unexploded ordnances, but I never really understood Laos.
When I visited the villages I brought a translator and even in the city where I based myself most of my friends were other ex-pats. I understood the bombs, but I’m not sure I ever understood the people. I didn’t feel integrated into the everyday life of locals. Part of that was cultural; there seemed to be a thicker dividing line between local and foreigner than in any other nation I’ve lived. Part of it was political; there is no freedom of speech or press and people are afraid to express themselves—especially to some foreigner reporter who dropped in and started asking provocative questions. Part of it was me; I was lazy.
I’m in Nepal now and will try again. My sense is that English is much more common here and locals much more willing to talk openly with a foreigner. Still, I’m going to start everyday learning some new words in Nepali. I also now have a Nepali phone number. I’m going to try harder to integrate myself. In my first week I’ve already eaten inside the home of three different families, which is more than I did in three months in Laos. The fact that most food is vegetarian here also helps.
Tomorrow I’ll take a bus as far as the road goes into the Himalayas and start to walk. Within a two-day trek I should be able to pass through half a dozen villages, when I find one I like, I’ll stop and do my best to put down roots. Onward.