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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Malala nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

If you haven’t yet heard about Malala Yousafzai, read her story. She has captivated the world with her courage, intelligence and grace while she has been persistently advocating for girls’ education.

Malala is from Pakistan and her public efforts to enhance girls’ rights to an education motivated the Taliban to try and kill her by shooting her in the head. Some doctors even said it was a miracle that she survived.

People are astounded by the answer she gave on The Daily Show when she talked about how she would respond if she came face to face with the Taliban. During her speech to the U.N., she said, “”Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

“Outmanning” men for sport

I don’t know why, but ever since I was a kid, I remember always playing sports and competing with the guys. During our free time in elementary school, the girls would talk with each other on the sidelines and the boys would play sports. I thought, “Sitting around and talking is so boring. Why do they do that?”

Now I’m 28 years old and I still have the same habits. I feel good when I beat a guy at pool, at basketball or seeing how long we can stay in really cold water the longest. Especially when they think I’m an easy win because, I’m “a chick” (another name for a girl in North American culture). After a win, I’d hear them whisper, “Dude, you got schooled by a girl” or “Wow, she took did it like a man.”

Or did I do it like a woman? Even better.

They burned their bras for us

In high school, I remember a friend saying, “I hate feminists.” We probably wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for the many people who fought for our rights. That doesn’t mean that I agree with some extreme feminist views. But it’s easy to take our history for granted when we were born with many rights and freedoms.

Men need to be part of the solution

Just like ethnic equality, gay rights, women’s rights, men do need to be part of the solution on this journey towards equal rights. One of my very wise friends said, “Gay rights is not just a fight for gay people. I’m straight but it is a human right and it is everyone’s responsibility. Black rights is not a fight just for black people, it affects everyone.”

Challenging cultural traditions

It’s tricky when you’re a visitor in a new country and finding the balance between respecting cultural tradition and sharing your perspective from an upbringing where women have more rights and freedoms. I actually visited an NGO and it was an amazing program.

The guide brought me to the volleyball field and said that the students play every week to keep themselves active and they host a party after a tournament regularly. That all sounded great until he told me that girls were not allowed to play even thought students asked if girls could play. What surprised me even more is he said, “In Cambodian culture, people think that women should be doing ‘gentle’ work.” I tried to hold my tongue as much as I could and just said, “Hopefully that changes over time.”

Below are inspiring videos of women from two totally different cultures who are working to empower women to challenge cultural traditions and to believe in themselves to get what they deserve.

My dream for women all around the world

  • To be able to make any choice in their life freely whether it be to get a Masters degree, be single at 40, own her own home without anyone’s permission or have a family
  • To be able to be confident in themselves, know themselves and love themselves so they can demand what they deserve and demand respect

Girls, it’s time girls stop being in the sidelines and jump in and play.