Tag Archives: volunteering

Land of a Million Crazy Dogs and Sticky Rice – An Unknown Adventure

8 Feb

It’s been a little while since my last post as I’ve been really busy over the past few weeks with work, field trips and Elizabeth arriving in Vientiane!

The past month has been such an eclectic mix of emotions, experiences and weather that I’m going to struggle to put it all into words. But I shall try!

My last post generated a bit of concern from concerned individuals about my working conditions and the type of work that I am doing over here. I guess specifically the killing of fish. The whole point of this blog was for me to document this adventure and for anyone interested in seeing what I’m up to or maybe doing something similar themselves to be able to follow along the journey with me. I’m going to tell it like it is. No point covering up some aspects of life and work here. Anyway, that’s the end of my rant.

I’ve now been in Laos for just over 3 months and it’s the longest I have spent overseas at any one time. It’s usually around the 2/3 month mark that I start feeling homesick (based on my previous adventures overseas) and realise how awesome a country Australia is and that I really miss the lifestyle and food back home. I haven’t felt as homesick this time around (partly because I actually like living here and have a sweet house, dog and now my girlfriend here with me) but have had thoughts of home a bit more often than before. I miss the beach, watching sport, my family and Sydney in general. But I know that my time here is finite and I want to try to make the most of it instead of reminiscing about home too much. I know that in the last 3 months not much has changed back there and upon my return things will feel like nothing had changed at all. Except for maybe my brother’s broken voice and the fact I will need to find a new place to live.

Before I left Sydney and while living here, a lot of my friends and family have asked me why I left a secure job, comfortable lifestyle and those that love me to pursue an unknown adventure in a foreign land. Well at this point into my journey the answer is a little clearer than before. 

I’ve given different reasons to different people as my perspective has shifted. I was quite uncertain about taking this placement on at first, not really sure if it would turn out to be a positive or a negative. I believe in taking opportunities when they present themselves and embracing change. That’s what I’ve done with this it’s paid dividends so far.

Laos is an interesting place to live. In some ways, polar opposites to Australia and in some ways quite similar. They love beer here. It’s just that they only have 1 kind of it and they drink it with ice (both of which I now like doing). Australia is girt by sea, Laos is girt by land. The Laos government is communist, taking directions from China and letting them raid the land here. The government in Australia is fucked up, taking directions from the US and letting China raid the land there.

It’s become much clearer in my mind what my professional interests are and what I want to be doing once I get back home. I’m also set on buying a block of land somewhere in Australia and living a much more sustainable and less consumerist lifestyle. I’m gonna be at least a part-time farmer. This idea will develop further over the next few months and I will start putting it into practice once I get back home. 

But enough on that stuff, I recently came across a really cool quote by Bill Bryson which summarises my reason for taking this adventure on. Here it is…

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

A quick update on work stuff:

I’ve been travelling around the country with the working group here, looking at different weirs, dams and other barriers to assess their suitability for a fish passage to be installed. It’s been great to be able to see some of the more rural parts of Laos as well as the beautiful city of Luang Prabang. A real eye-opener seeing the very poor conditions that the locals live in here. As much as you see the rich locals in Vientiane driving around in their giant SUVs, it’s in the villages that you see what it’s like for the majority of Laotians.

Work is going to be really busy for me in the coming months. A construction supervision job, design of a few fish passages, design of a pond and a fish hatchery as well as teaching at the university to both the students and lecturers. Exciting times ahead!

From my home-office,

Love Len

Oh and here are some photos of the recent adventures here:

Duck blood soup

Duck blood soup

Dried fish

Dried fish

Luang Prabang markets

Luang Prabang markets

A weir that we'll be building a fishway for

A weir that we’ll be building a fishway for

Yummy - not

Yummy – not

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Q and A with Kate Martin – Former Volunteer in Laos

29 Dec

So I know I haven’t been posting too much on my actual work here. In part because I’m still getting my head around what I will be doing while I’m here and in part because there is just so many other interesting stuff that I want to write about. However, I will try to tell you guys about my work here a little more and to start that process, below is a Q and A style email thread that I had with Kate Martin as I was getting ready to make the trip to Laos. Kate is the volunteer that I have taken over from while she takes a well-deserved holiday and comes back as a full-time employee in 2014.

A bit of background on Kate:

Kate was based in Vientiane for twelve months working as a Freshwater Fisheries Research Officer with the Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre (LARReC). LARReC is responsible for conducting research in the development of fish passage technology.

The aims of Kate’s assignment were to build capacity to develop and trial fishways. Kate  assessed the organisation’s core skills, developed training, procedures, guidelines, and a monitoring and evaluation system, and delivered training to staff. Kate also strengthened partnerships with existing networks.

Kate has a Bachelor in Applied Science in Adventure Ecotourism and, after working in the tourism industry for four years, decided on a change to working for Fisheries. Kate has worked for fisheries for the last three years and has experience in fishways, fishway assessment and social surveys. 

Kate applied for the program because she wanted to share her knowledge and skills, immerse herself in another culture, and learn from the life experiences that it has provided.

——————————————————————————-

[LB] How have you found your placement? It seems like this one is really well-developed with a large number of people working on the project from both Australia and Laos. I’ve heard some mixed responses in terms of these kind of placements. Nothing negative but some seem to be much more structured and organised than others. 

[KM] My placement so far has been great. The first couple months are a great settling in period, just be willing to get to know your colleagues. Having lunch and parties with them will make the transition a lot easier. The project is very much supported by Australia and a number of Lao organisations, so you will have a great support network. It is very well structured in terms of meeting deadlines etc. but there are still things that pop up in between that throw us off course and there will also be some down time. The best advice I can give to people is to take initiative during those times and provide training in emails, Powerpoint etc.

[LB] What is your professional background? How did you find the settling in period?

[KM] I actually studied adventure eco-tourism and found myself in fisheries. I have worked with Lee and the rest of the team in Australia for the past 4 years at Narrandera Fisheries Centre so I was very familiar with their work before arriving here in Laos. So the settling in maybe a little different for you as I just left Australia and was doing the some work here in Laos. Don’t stress there will be people here to support you if you are having difficulties. Also, there is an Australian guy based here in Laos who runs the ACAIR project. He will be your boss and will point you in the right  direction if things become too confusing or if you find that you are struggling a little. It is a very relaxed culture they don’t stress.

[LB] What have been the hardest aspects of the role?

[KM] Hardest part has been communication but you will pick that up as you are going and you will find the best way to communicate. Sometimes the project is hectic and things don’t always go to plan so you will have to think quickly on your feet during these times. You will get frustrated, I won’t lie, but that is all part of it.

[LB] What have been the best aspects of the role?

[KM] Best part is that you will learn so much in such a short time, you have a great time with everyone you work with and other people you will meet along the way. You will get to see a lot of the country in through work and you will have opportunities to take holidays as well.

[LB] How many volunteers do you know/work with?

[KM] I work with no other volunteers, just me and Lao colleagues. There are a few volunteers here in country from Australia and the rest of the world. You will meet them during your first couple of weeks in Laos and they will become a little family/support network.

[LB] Do you live in a shared place or your own unit?

[KM] I live in a share house with an Australian and Swiss guy. You will do house hunting when you arrive. There are a couple of websites that you can look for share houses, houses or units for rent if you’d like to get your head around everything but you will do most of this when you arrive. LB note: I now live in Kate’s old house and it’s awesome!

[LB] Have you had much time to check out the country and travel?

[KM] You will have plenty of time to see the country and many other countries. There are plenty of annual holidays that Laos has that will give you time to travel and it wont eat into your recreational leave and you can also do plenty of weekend trips.

[LB] When do you finish your placements and what are your plans afterwards?

[KM] I finish in November so I may get to meet you in person before I finish my placement. Afterwards I am coming back to Laos to work more on the project so I may get the opportunity to work with you. I will be travelling before heading back to OZ and having Xmas with the family and then probably be back in January sometime.

[LB] How have you found learning the language? Difficult?

[KM] You will have language lessons in you arrive and you can continue with it throughout the year its not to difficult you just have to stick with it.

Thank you to Kate for allowing me to publish this stuff. I hope it’s provided a bit of insight into my placement here.

Until next time,

Len

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