When tourists get priority over mothers and babies

It was on my adventure bucket list to do zip-lining and I heard decent things about The Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai in northern Laos. So I went up to do the three-day trip that combines trekking, zip-lining and sleeping in the jungle treehouse. Yes, every child’s dream right?

I have A LOT of recommendations that I will send to the company on how to improve the tour and make it more worthwhile for what people pay. But what upset me more was on our truck ride to the jungle, I didn’t notice right away that a mother was sitting with her few-month old baby and young son were sitting outside the truck with strong winds and rain coming soon while three of us foreigners were in the sheltered part of the truck.

While the driver was getting gas, my friend and I asked him to ask the mother if she and her kids wanted to sit inside the truck in Laos. He just said, “No, it may rain, they are ok.” I didn’t believe him, so I turned to the mother and child and gestured, “Do you want to sit inside the truck?” And she immediately nodded her head and went to the back.

The driver looked displeased and said, “It may rain,” and I said, “I’ve been in Siem Reap with flooding, I can handle a little wind and rain. She has a baby who could get sick with this weather.”

What irritated me even more is on the two-hour drive to the jungle, the driver stopped by his village and we learned he himself has a wife with two kids and felt no sympathy for the mother and child in his car or to bother to ask if we can all squeeze in so they wouldn’t be exposed to the cold and rain. My friend also told me while he was seeing his family that the little boy in the car was smiling and playful until the driver yelled at them after the baby took a pee. To me, that’s just karma at it’s best.

When I went to say hi to the mom and the boy, they looked so sad and the boy didn’t want to engage anymore. They looked traumatized from the way the driver spoke to them.

Do tourists usually get priority over locals or was this another example of an aspect of Laos culture where women and their children are not as highly valued?

Unfortunately, I’ve learned in many parts of Laos, in the name of tradition and culture, Laos women do not have as much power in decision-making, especially once they are married. Often once women marry, they stop their education. I was very sad to hear it is still common for children as young as 13 years old to get married.

On an upside though, I have met a few strong women during my two weeks in Luang Prabang and Huay Xai who will be great role models for women of this generation. Change in cultural attitudes will come from within the communities as these women raise their children with the same openness and assertiveness they possess.

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