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 From the Journey of Nancy Harmon, Luang Prabang, Laos

And now on to Laos, this sweet gentle country that has suffered so much from US bombing but remains welcoming and hospitable. Luang Prabang is a wonderful mix of culture and beauty, modernity and tradition. The old part of the city, a World Heritage site, hosts many tourists and yet absorbs them well. Yes, the restaurants selling lattes and pizza and the night market are touristy, but still we had our “ancient coffee” under the protective umbrella of the huge old mango tree, surrounded by locals on their way to work and boatmen who had just climbed up from the Mekong with their morning delivery. And we stood silently very early this morning with the women on our street and plopped warm, fresh sticky rice into the alms bowls of hundreds of monks making their way through the rising mists of two rivers and received their blessing in return.

One of the most vibrant and interesting things about Luang Prabang is the development work that is going on there. Today was amazing, spent at @My Library, a non-governmental organization started by Carol Kresge, an American who sees some gaps in the Lao system of education. Our group was greeted this Saturday morning by about 35 young people, mostly from the Hmong tribal minority and mostly male. They were eager to show off their skills and practice their English and we were eager to get to know them. Carol showed us around the small center equipped with computers, board games and books and decorated with photos taken by students, reflecting their lives and experience. Young people flock to this space because they are curious and eager to join the 21st century with ideas and technology their schools do not provide, and Carol encourages every question and interest and constantly looks for new materials to motivate her students.

We first presented two used digital cameras that members of the Enchanted Lens Camera Club of New Mexico donated to @My Library. Carol then divided us Americans and her students into small interest groups to converse and explore with one another. One group of students taught some of us about the finer points of digital photography, another played Scrabble, a third worked math problems together, and my group met with our Native American traveler, Marie, for conversation about Marie’s New Mexico Pueblo culture. These students from a SE Asian tribal culture listened with fascination as Marie described the struggles of Native Americans to stay on their land and maintain their culture. Heads nodded and several students spoke of similar experiences as their tribes have been forced to settle into villages and assimilate into the mainstream more and more. We learned that the government no longer allows books to be published in the Hmong language, for example. At the end of an hour, the room buzzed with energy generated from teaching and learning and connecting with one another—and for the students, from winning a Scrabble game!

But the day wasn’t yet over. Some of the Hmong students climbed on motorcycles and we climbed in our van for a short journey to the edge of town and a Hmong New Year celebration. The young people proudly guided us around the large open space under the trees where young men and women threw balls back and forth in a courting ritual, grannies watched over small children and adults laughed and caught up on the gossip. Music blasted over the colorful scene with everyone dressed in traditional festival clothing—the women in tightly pleated, voluminous skirts and embroidered accessories, the men in black with colorful accents. Lime green was very big. We threw some balls to the amusement of the teens and absorbed the scene, feeling content with a day of connecting with life in Luang Prabang.

New York City, USA


We've just returned from our trip to Bhutan. What an extraordinary place! Just want to share a few images with you. 

A week of journeys on 12 foot wide roads, through misty mountain passes strung with prayer flags and lichen ropes dangling delicately from fir trees, past waterfalls turning prayer wheels and mudslides after rains, one evening staying in a farmhouse. In the cozy living room covered with weavings, we hung our damp clothes on a line over the wood stove and ate buckwheat pancakes and wild chanterelle mushrooms with chili and cheese and drank butter tea contentedly.


A visit to a school where 200 elementary children dressed traditionally in ghos and kiras, began the day with meditation-- total silence on the field, eyes closed, hands folded-- followed by an enthusiastic Buddhist chant and a Western style school song about sharing, harmony and happiness. 

A visit to a school where 200 elementary children dressed traditionally in ghos and kiras, began the day with meditation-- total silence on the field, eyes closed, hands folded-- followed by an enthusiastic Buddhist chant and a Western style school song about sharing, harmony and happiness. 

A final trek slipping and sliding, first on ponies (optional) and then on foot, up a steep rain-soaked mountain to the sacred Takhsang "Tiger's Nest" Monastery, where a tigress is said to have flown a beloved guru for a three month retreat. The temples at the top are built into the side of a steep cliff with a 2000 drop to the valley below. As we climbed up to 9500 feet, the temples were hidden by fog, but at times, it cleared, revealing through wisps of cloud the wooden buildings clutching the cliff face and nestled into crevices above the main temples. At the bridge to the entrance, the sound of a waterfall obliterated our voices and the spray tingled on our faces. The first temple had a statue of the guru perched on the tigress. A red-robed monk sat in a small window with a long narrow prayer book in front of him. He began to chant softly, and we sat and listened. The mist swirled outside the window and the fragrance of incense mixed with the drip of rain and the soft syllables of the chant. 

Bhutan is a lovely place. It's coming quickly into the 21st century, but as one Bhutanese put it, "We still have the luxury of ethical choices." There are many tough choices ahead, but there's a palpable sense of pride and determination--it's a great time to visit and we loved it. 

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