Our first experience with Voluntourism...
Ugh, this is stressful. Of all the experiences we've had travelling so far, Sae Lao has been without a doubt the most controversial, and the most conflicting. We arrived at Sae Lao expecting things like bio-gas, rocket stoves, a functioning garden, and organic produce. If you check out their website, you'll understand why .. http://saelaoproject.com/
Unfortunately, most of these things are more like visions or goals, and not really a current reality. We were joined by five other volunteers at the start, a German Valentine, a man of Brussels Robin, two lovely ladies of German & Austria Judith and Lisa, and Tudevee a tour guide from Mongolia. The group was fierce. Valentine and Robin were sass mouths and we fell in love with them instantly, there was no getting anything past either of these two and you were going to hear about it.
Robin, the soon apprenticing architect, speaker of the French language, and lover of food was the friend we had been looking for. And Valentine, the amazing rap artist? Was a man of too many mysteries to ever fully grasp. He would constantly wow us with his amazing ability to pick up language, climb mountains, teach English, get into culture, and tell it to people straight. He almost immediately acquired the nickname of 'the fearless leader' .. . and then at the end of three weeks with him we got a hold of his music. Qu'est que fuck?? It was really good.
This is the bungalow we called home for three weeks.
Laundry was done in the stream just across the road.
But more importantly, how did we spend our time? Well, a few afternoons we spent making mud - this is way harder than it sounds, to build mud brick walls to finish the community center, note the scaffolding.
Monday to Friday we spent an hour and a half teaching English in the community center to the local children of Nathong Village.
Ginger went to the primary school in Nathong a couple time to teach a real English class with grades 3 and 5.
We spent some time almost everyday swimming in the Blue Lagoon that was a mere 100 meters from our bungalow.
We were about 8km from town (Vang Vieng) but it felt like much further. Laos is covered in this dry red dust so the couple times we rode in, we got ridiculously 'done-up.'
There was always cats and ducks that needed to be cuddled and fed.
We learned very quickly that things in the kitchen needed a scrub down, and most things were almost non-operational, but still attempted to clean and cook as much as we could. Living without a kitchen for over two months had been a struggle, and we were eager to make whatever we had at our disposal work.
The tiny kitchen was only twice this size.
We started work on the peanut field only to discover that the "organic farm" was soaking their peanuts in GAS!? Yes, gasoline. We were in a bit of denial to begin with, and then we went through a stage of utter disgust, and then thankfully we had our 'fearless leader' to ask the right questions and say the key words, "hey man, gas on the peanuts is not organic" The situation had turned out to be a sort of cultural thing in that the lady that is sort of in charge of the peanut stuff soaks them in a little bit of gas to keep the ants from eating the plants. We think she thought we were a little crazy for thinking this was wrong but after talking to some people things have changed and now instead of gas there is a moat on trial for ant prevention.
But this ant thing was sort of like the cherry on the skeptics cupcake. What were we really doing here anyways? We knew why we had come here, to do some organic farming, teach some English, learn about some sustainable building methods, educate ourselves on the workings of biogas and rocket stoves, and plant a bit of roots for ourselves - both figuratively and literally. Were we doing these things, were these things going on at all?
Well, yes and no. Nothing is black and white right? And boy is Sae Lao just the fiercest shade of grey. We were teaching English, and loving it. We did some mud brick building, super cool, super hard. There was no functioning biogas, and call me a pessimist but I really don't think there ever will be, and the only rocket stove to be found was laying beside the shed looking like the red truck with three wheels that some kid got for Christmas and had since lost interest in it. The roots, well that sort of made the experience.
In a 24 hour period Valentine (far left) and Robin (middle) both left. And we realized that you don't make these types of friends by aimlessly backpacking through space. We made friends that will probably lure us to Germany and Brussels some day soon, which really is amazing. Not to mention we're hoping to meet up with Robin in Indonesia in the next couple months.
But what about the literal roots?? We had tried to plant peanuts but that turned out to be more of a bust than anything. Sae Lao was planting all their own rice which was more than an impressive feat, but it wasn't rice season. And where was the garden?? How was there seriously no garden and no fruit trees? So, Luc asked, "hey man, why aren't you growing any food?" you know, on this farm. And Sengkeo (the man running the joint) says oh seeds! just one second. and presents us with little white packets of seeds for runner beans, other beans, sunflowers, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, Chinese cabbage, and lettuce. Hallelujah. Check back soon to see how our first experience with putting seeds in the ground came together.