The Netherlands Senior Expert Ineke Poort-Van Eljk, Bag Crafter Pa Sa, Consultant/Volunteer Vandara, Bag Crafter Som confer before a workshop session.
For Nature Bag crafters Pa Sa and Som, the 5 day trip to learn about using natural colors in the stain-resistant JungleVine® fiber of their bags was a major life experience. Although the journey from their rural villages to near UNESCO World Heritage Luang Prabang took only a day, neither had ever been so far away from home or away from home for so long.
Pa Sa had traveled 80 km (64 mile) to a Khmu village near her provincial capital of Oudomxai 6 years ago to be a bag crafting trainer for a United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) project to replace income lost to opium eradication. Traveling with Nature Bag Khmu/Lao Poverty Reduction Project Bounsou Keoamphone, she then was excited but also apprehensive about being so far away from home.
But that was just one night away from her husband, children and neighbors, which were most of the world as she knew it. The trip to Luang Prabang would involve being away for 5 nights.
For Som, the trip to Luang Prabang was the first time she’d been more than 10 km (6 miles) away from her village, and the first night she’d slept anywhere except her own home. The guesthouse that served as her temporary home was a completely new adventure. There's nothing similar near her village; overnight housing for travelers is more than an hour drive from her village.
“The shower in the bathroom and the air conditioning are things I had heard about,” Som said. “But to actually experience them was hard to believe. I didn’t like the hot water because I’m used to bathing in the river or a village pond where the water can be cold,” she said.
Even the guesthouse beds were a new experience for the Nature Bag crafters. There are no beds in rural Khmu homes. Neither had ever slept in one.
“The first night it was strange,” Pa Sa said. “But by the last night I had grown accustomed to it. Perhaps someday there will be a bed in my house.”
On the fifth day, before beginning the overnight drive back home, Countryside Volunteer Khamdeng accompanied Pa Sa & Som to the large Phosey market in Luang Prabang where they spent some of the money the Nature Bag Project had given them to attend the natural dye workshop. They found lots of useful things to take home that are not normally available for them in their district’s markets.
There also was a little time for Pa Sa & Som to explore Luang Prabang’s main street. They were amazed to find so many tourists from all over the world, some of whom were dressed in clothing that the Khmu thought was “very strange.”
“We were surprised to find some of the foreign women revealing so much of their bodies,” Som said. “Many of our men and boys take off their shirts when it is hot and they are working, but to see men walking in the town without legs on their pants (shorts) made it difficult not to stare at them.”