From Sweden to Savannakhet #4: On the art of being tolerant

From Sweden to Savannakhet #4: On the art of being tolerant

Liyen Chin is doing an internship with SNV Laos for five months, as part of her Master's degree in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden. The 25 years old student has planned and performs research on Menstrual Hygiene Management in rural Savannakhet.

This week has been filled with a lot of first time experiences; some better than others. Travelling all the time means that I get to spend many nights in different guesthouses; some more comfortable than others. With the limited amount of guesthouses and rooms around, there is, however, no space for being picky.

During one of these nights, I was hearing a crawling and crackling sound in the room. It kept me awake and bothered me so much that I had to find out what it was. Being really tired and seeing that it was a cockroach did not bother me much. I just slapped it with my flip-flop and went back to bed. The sound however would not disappear although I had just terminated the existence of another cockroach.

After some failed attempts to fall asleep, I turned on all the lights and noticed that there were a couple more crawling into the room through the crack under the door. Having had my bug-spray seized at the airport in Vientiane, I had no other choice than to quickly tuck a towel under the door and continued to sleep through the night with one of my flip-flops still held tightly in my hand.

Some of the villages we visited this week were located in remote areas; requiring a long trip through rough roads and rivers. When we finally arrived we were welcomed by being offered alcohol; both Lao beer and Laotian whisky; ‘lao-lao’. A couple of sips of the alcohol are poured into a glass for you to drink. You then finish it and pass on the glass to the other person next to you who gets served a couple of sips too. You then continue passing on the glass to everyone participating.

Not wanting to offend anyone, I drank my share. However, having a low tolerance level for alcohol I quickly reached my limit after 2-3 rounds. Having to work while being intoxicated was surely not something I expected when I went for fieldwork. Having to wait for the women to return home after their work out in the field, more alcohol was served and the men took me out fishing in the meantime.

When all the women had gathered for the interview, it was already dark outside. With almost no electricity in the village, the group interview had to be executed in the dark, by a fire and with the help of a couple of torchlights. The dark made the interviewing more challenging but also fun. Ten minutes into the interview we noticed a man sitting among the women. After everyone had burst into laughter, he explained that he had come to represent his wife, as she could not come.

Having to conduct the interview at night meant that we had to overnight in the village. We were kindly offered room at the village chief’s house and got to sleep together on mattresses that were spread out across their common room/bedroom area. The toilet provided was a basic pour and flush toilet and our bathroom consisted of a bucket of water and a scoop. Having no bathroom meant that we had to bathe out in the open with a sarong tied around our body.

This week has been challenging to say the least but also very exciting! The experiences I gained out here will stay with me forever.