Today was our transfer to Laos via Laos airways. We checked in at the airport and ogled at how quickly our bags seem to be gaining weight and had somewhat of a challenge to change money to dollars in preparation for our Laos visa. It’s impossible to pay by card for currency, even if you’re at the airport and the ATMs have quite a low withdrawal limit so we had to play around with a few ATMs and a few cards and transactions to get ourselves sorted. It doesn’t help that the Vietnamese Dong runs into the millions when you get over £35, meaning my counting skills were somewhat challenged in trying to get hold of $100- too many conversions and too many zeros for my liking. Anyway, after a bit of brain exercise we got ourselves sorted and boarded our flight after dowsing ourselves in posh perfume and moisturiser samples.
We had prepped for the journey by another trip to Bahn mi 25, so we enjoyed delicious sandwiches all over again on the flight. I expected they may be a little less delicious second time around but they were just as splendid, and just as 80p so I was a happy bunny.
As it’s low season Laos airways only run one flight per day to Vientiane which arrives in the evening, meaning that we arrived too late to Vientiane to really see much. When we arrived our car got surrounded by street children. I had to go inside quite quickly as the heat really overwhelmed me but I watched them from the window. There were a few little girls, much smaller than little girls at home- they were maybe about four or five years old. They were dressed in rags and dirty clothes and probably hoped we would give them money. Now, I have read quite a lot about ‘poverty’ scams, where groups of ‘gangsters’ use cute children to get money out of tourists and give nothing to the children, and stories about impoverished children pickpocketing whilst backpackers seek out change for them. I don’t know how much is true, but I also don’t know what kind of lives those little girls lead. I’m sat in my air conditioned bus right now, cash in my pocket, a bag full of lunch, headed to my next clean bed. Those little girls are probably still walking the streets somewhere, whether they are legitimately ‘poor’ or not. I’m finding this harder than I expected. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but I turned away and had a little cry for the girls, and all the other people somewhere in Indochina living similarly.
My sadness doesn’t make it okay, my sympathy doesn’t change their situation and my ‘turning away’ shows them nothing of the respect they deserve. I don’t think anyone else really noticed the girls- no one spoke about them. I don’t know if I notice too much or too little when it comes to things like this, and I’m absolutely unsure what is the right thing to do in that situation. Do I give to them? Do I be streetwise and keep my head down and carry on with my day? Do I try to give them something they need? Maybe I’ll figure this out soon.
It all sounds like everything I don’t like about people who take a ‘gap yar’ to see the world and embrace poverty with a photograph of them cuddling a skinny child. I won’t ever use a person’s poor situation as tourism. But the way it all makes you feel-it’s different when you’re actually there. I know there are thousands, millions even, of people at home experiencing heart breaking struggles, I know that. It didn’t mean it broke my heart any less to see those unnoticed girls through the window of my safe guest house. We look through the windows too much. I do anyway.
I had written a self indulgent moaning paragraph about an unappetising dinner and the humidity here, but I’ve deleted it and given myself a talking to.