On route to the Laos-Thailand border our minivan bumped and swerved around the sharp cornered gravel roads. Just a few hours from our destination the van slowed down and pulled over – we had a flat tire. What should have been a miserable boring and hot afternoon on the roadside actually turned out to be very enjoyable thanks to a group of local Laos kids that were as interested in us as we were in them.
Our flat tire occurred near a very small community and before we could even pile out of the van to sit in the shade a group of five or six children accumulated to see what was going on. The driver pulls out the spare tire for a quick fix, only to find that it was flat as well. After flagging down a moto that was passing by our driver hopped on the back with the tire in hands, and sped off into the distance to seek repairs.
The village children were between the ages of four to twelve and the boys played roughly with each other nearby. Soon a few girls joined in the rough play but showed a particular interest in us as they starred at Alistair reading or smiled shyly then ran away. Eventually one girl was so enthralled by Alistair and his book that she plopped down beside him to have a closer look at the book and at this tall bearded and freckled white man. Shortly after, all of the kids were playing closer or sitting around us so I asked to take a photo, and the boys scattered in detest while the girls didn’t seem to mind. I turned my camera screen to share the photo and was bombarded by all of the children who were pointing and screaming with laughter at the images of themselves. The ice was broken.
For the next four hours while we waited for our driver to return with the new tire we interacted with these children, mostly the girls, in an exchange that touched my heart. They burst out laughing as Alistair read Laos phrases from the back of our lonely planet book, asking where the toilet is and if we could have our bill, then tightly crowded around me as I put on a slideshow with my camera of winter photos from Canada and scuba diving. One girl was endlessly curious about Alistair’s large novel, so he read a page of English to them while they starred intently and whispered easier English words under their breath. At one point I braided my hair to the side, mostly out of boredom, and my heart melted as I turned around to find three or four young girls pulling their hair to one side to begin braiding. With our matching hair styles we shared the roadside shade.
With little more than a handmade sling shot or a corncob on a piece of string, these children would entertain themselves and play along the roadside for hours. At one point a car pulled over to offer help, and left behind a watermelon for the kids. The melon was cracked on the pavement and there was a scurry of laughing and fighting over the large chucks of juicy watermelon. It was touching to see these kids so happy with so little, and amazing to see their individual personalities shine after only a few hours of interaction.
Just before the sun set our driver returned with an inflated tire and quickly replaced it. I was happy to continue on our way but also sad to leave my new young friends. Because we had already long missed our connecting bus we spent an uneventful evening in Oudomxai before making our way to Thailand.