The Art of Infiltrating Cultures

Mama Mon – A Home in Don Det, Laos

Back in 2011 I wrote this little article about my stay in Don Det, Laos, which I posted in Backpackers Forever.

I have often thought of this family with whom I spent a lot of time. Back then the island would generally lack electricity. But back then I had nothing to charge so I hardly even noticed it. Yes some nights the fan wouldn’t work, but I adapt quite easily to extreme climates. It was the time of travelling with no internet connection at all . Heck I didn’t even have a phone on me for emergencies!

Then and now

I was thinking about this family, Don and Egg and their 3 little kiddos, just as I was travelling through Indonesia this month. This time, 6 years later, my smartphone was on me at all times, helping me navigate through the country and book my guesthouses on the go. Chatting with locals that I’d meet on the way through WhatsApp and sending each other pictures or tagging each other on Facebook. And this kept me thinking… what if it had been like that 6 years ago?

They were “bad with computers”, as they said, so keeping in touch was arduous. Plus although their spoken English was fine, their written or read English was not. At the time I had written the menus for the restaurant using one of the computers in the cybercafe of the island, printed them, and got them laminated. We had also painted a mural for the restaurant, with the menu written over it.


[Mama Mon family in 2011]

There is a certain nostalgia about the Mama Mon family. The kind of nostalgia of losing something valuable because it cannot be maintained.

This little quiet paradise near the border with Cambodia, on the Mekong River, was a home to us. Shopping at the market on the mainland with Egg’s mother. Playing with their little daughter Nula. Chasing a water buffalo back to the farmland. Learning cooking tricks from Don… Or how the neighbours were curious at “two falangs doing crazy stuff” with the mural, which caused a big laugh every time, and many “oooohhhh”s. And they would bring us mango sweets for the effort. Or when I came back from the market with my longlang  (sarong) and all the women in the family gave me tips to tie it and called me beautiful. Or when we would all sit around on the floor, eating from a pot, watching Thai TV. And they would laugh hard at me not understanding the jokes on TV.

It all comes back as everything has changed now. Including myself. Including them. Including there.

I got a little surprise, as I was thinking about them. One of the pearls of this hyperconnectivity that we have today. Of course now they have a Facebook page. This is one happy surprise!

What do you think?

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