I’ve always felt comfortable—if not occasionally a bit of a spectacle—in remote villages in Laos. When a Hmong-American English teacher asked me if I would like to visit her grandmother in her village about 15 kilometers outside of Phonsavan, I jumped at the chance.
She was wonderful. Not only did she warm up to me quickly, she wasn’t shy about the camera in the least. I asked her granddaughter twice to make sure she didn’t mind, and it rapidly became apparent that she was at ease with the large (I’m a little over 6′ and about 205 pounds; I estimated her to be about 4′ 9″ and maybe 75 pounds dripping wet.), strange man sitting quite close to her and pointing a very large camera at her. My friend thought that I might have been the first caucasian person to have ever visited her village…
Nobody knows for sure, but she is most likely in her early- to mid-eighties. She had a wonderful vibrancy about her—curious and laughing away at her granddaughters’ chatter. When I showed her one of the photos I had taken of her, she said with mild disdain You should photograph younger people.
There was a cooking fire in the house that had turned to embers and tiny bits of ashes were blowing around in the hot afternoon air. We wandered off for a bit to visit the other relatives’ houses and when we returned she was asleep and snoring softly. I didn’t want to wake her, but she had instructed her other grandchildren to wake her up when we returned.
As we left I said to her the only sentence in Hmong that I know: Shii gii doua (roughly: See you later). I think she found that very amusing—a falang that speaks Hmong! She gave me a huge smile and wished me good health as we left.