Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A years work shows some fruit

Sa bai dee! Its three weeks today until I leave Vientiane - now I am really getting into 'last' territory. Chris has already finished work (as you would know from reading his last blog entry!) and now my last day of work is next week. Both the idea of leaving here and the idea of returning home seem very surreal...

The big news from this fortnight is that we installed the water purification unit in Ban Sor last week!!! However, it didn't all go to plan :-) We arrived at Ban Sor last Thursday at about 11am to find the Sunlabob workshop crew already feverishly laying pipes, putting up solar panels etc. The house for the water purification unit has already been built (and recently painted, as I discovered after I had white paint all over my black Sunlabob shirt). It was very exciting to see something that we had been envisaging all of this year finally have a physical presence. We got to work installing the water purification system (well, I got to work filming other people doing it). Everything was going swimmingly well until the afternoon, when we couldn't test the system because there wasn't enough pressure. Thankfully we did have an extra pump and solar panels with us so we got started on building that - in the dark.
The evening was passed drinking lao lao (not much for me!) and eating yummy Lao food - and my first public shower. Most people in Ban Sor wash in the river, but the family we were staying with collect rainwater in a small tank and pour it over themelves with buckets. So I wrapped myself in my sinh and stood around washing myself while trying to a) not expose myself and b) get clean. I managed to do it in the end :-) That night we slept three under the mosquito net - but with the heat and the 6.30 wake up call by the village roosters, I didn't get much sleep.
Friday was the day we were meant to train the two Sunlabob franchisees (Boualai and Khamsao) how to use the system. We got started on this - thankfully we have trained a Sunlabob technician, Khambang, how to operate the system over the last few months so he did most of the explaining! - while the other Sunlabob workers put together our second pump. We eventually tested the system again just before lunch - the first water that came out was brown, but that didn't faze us because we expected some stagnant water in our pipes. But then we got more, and more, and more brown water....eventually we made the call back to the office, slightly panicky about our brown water! We were reassured that everything would be ok, so we went back to our training sessions. The most interesting part was when we started discussing the financial aspects of selling the water - Boualai and Khamsao were very against the idea of us selling our water cheaper than our competitors, because by undercutting our competition we would give ourselves a bad name and wreck our future prospects. I guess this must be how things work in a Communist country :-) After work was finished, we went on an expedition to buy a jar of lao hai, the fermented rice whisky that tastes a lot better than lao lao. It was good to explore the village, even though at any one time we had about 20 Lao kids following us, keen to see the falang.
That night, over dinner, we noticed some yelling coming from nearby and soon people were running past with logs lighted by fire. Thinking this was a lot of activity for a Lao village, we asked what was happening - it turned out that something akin to an exorcism was happening in a nearby house. Thankfully it all calmed down before long, and we settled in for another night under the mosquito net.
The next morning (Saturday) we left in a sawngtheaw for Vientiane at 8.30. The road was pretty bad - especially considering the flooding that occured last month - so it was a bumpy ride, and eventually we got a flat tyre. We ended up making it back to Vientiane by 2 - while the trip there had only taken 3 hours!
I'm pretty happy that we got the system installed, and confident that we will find a solution to clearing the colour from the water after meetings at work this week. A new intern has started to replace me and I am hoping that I can teach her everything she needs to know before next Wednesday (my last day). In more exciting work related news, Andy is coming to speak at this year's EWB conference in Melbourne! So it looks like I will be making a trip down south at the end of November :-)

In other news:
  • More farewell parties - Christian this time, an Austrian intern who had been with Sunlabob for three months. The Sunlabob staff had a shirt printed with pictures from his time in SE Asia - what a great idea!!
  • Dinner at Leon and Geri's house with their Lao friend Air - they cooked us laap with sticky rice and I watched and learned. After dinner we then went to Wat Si Muang, because it was the last full moon of Buddhist Lent and it was time to make offerings. We walked around the temple three times with flower and incense offerings before laying them at a stupa. Something that I have never done before :-)
  • Our computer was fixed! Hooray!!!!
Next week Chris and I are off to Malaysia for a weeks holiday - I can't wait! We are heading to Kuala Lumpur for a few days, then to the Perhentian islands off the East Coast. I will try to write as soon as we get back - possibly my last blog entry before I leave Laos!!

Pai gorn deuh,

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