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Articles in the ICFJ Reporting Fellowship Category

ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 28 Apr 2011 | No Comment ]
Death in the hills

The clouds hung low, mist sweeping into the trees. A light drizzle fell, turning the soil crimson. For one family in the Hmong village of Chom Chieng, the day couldn’t be any more somber.
A queej, a bamboo wind instrument used by the Hmong tribespeople to channel the spirits, enveloped the hills with its melancholy sound.  A drum banged. [Watch video.]
The girl was dressed splendidly, in traditional Hmong garb, her body at rest atop an altar above the bare earthen floor of her family’s hut.
The girl was still alive the last time …

Asia, ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 15 Apr 2011 | No Comment ]
In search of a shaman

The trip into the highlands north of Luang Prabang consumed more than a day by motorbike. The sticky heat was stifling at times, made worse by the rain jacket I wore to protect against the dust and scorching sun. It had rained ferociously during the night, but the puddles had quickly evaporated.
My motorbike strained uphill beyond countless peaks until we reached a small village inhabited by Hmong.  Here, my guide told me, we would surely find a shaman.
What we found was a handful of New Zealanders who had planned to spend …

Asia, Featured, ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 15 Apr 2011 | Comments Off on When in Laos, do as … ]
When in Laos, do as …

It began with a sprinkle of powder, lightly tossed into my hair. Then a handful of fine tapioca starch smeared from cheek to jaw. Then a blast of powder into my ear and sunglasses.
Water came next.  Then black grease.
I was being tarred and feathered, Lao style, in celebration of Bun Pi Mai, the start of the New Year in this mostly Buddhist country.
It was New Year’s Eve and Luang Prabang erupted into pandemonium. On a sandy island in the Mekhong River roamed a hoard of zombies – faces whitened with …

Asia, Featured, ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 13 Apr 2011 | One Comment ]
Giving alms

A flow of saffron-colored robes fills the streets every morning in this town of gilded temples. The roads line with tourists as the procession of Buddhist monks open their baskets to receive alms from the townspeople of Luang Prabang, most of them women who sit on plastic chairs or who kneel on gravel to offer pinches of sticky rice. The procession happens just outside the door of my hotel room.
The monks march barefooted, in silence, gliding through the streets to fill their baskets.
Tourists snap photos. Some walk alongside the brightly colored …

Asia, ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 11 Apr 2011 | No Comment ]
Running for cover

It’s that time of year to run for cover if you’re anywhere near Laos, Cambodia, Thailand or Myanmar. The water guns are out. Pails are filled to the rim with liquid ammunition. And children line the streets to soak the unsuspecting
The annual water festival ushers in the New Year for a handful of Southeast Asian countries. In Laos, the New Year begins April 15. Some people observe the holiday with solemnity and piety. Others, not so much.
In Luang Prabang, tourists duck into alleys to avoid a drenching. Or they raise …

ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 10 Apr 2011 | No Comment ]
From the beginning

I’ve started this blog in midstream. Perhaps I should return to the beginning and explain why I’m on my current journey.
I’m now in Luang Prabang, Laos, as part of a journalism fellowship awarded by the International Center for Journalists. I will spend nearly three weeks in Laos to do a story on traditional Hmong medicine and the tensions between modern medicine and the old ways, and how each is adapting to the other. The story, of course, is still evolving.
This trip is not only about a journalism fellowship. It’s a …

ICFJ Reporting Fellowship »

[ 5 Apr 2011 | No Comment ]
Haze begins to clear

The plane descended from the clouds into a thick, dreary haze, patches of fire shimmering through billowing smoke. The passengers aboard the near-empty flight murmured, their voices hushed by the scene below. My heart sank.
I had come to Laos in April to avoid the rainy season that usually starts in May. Who knew that fire and smoke would put a damper on my excitement?
Travel books describe Luang Prabang as one of Southeast Asia’s grandest jewels: ancient temples, verdant mountains, waterfalls, rivers and creeks gurgling through a modern-day Shangri-La, and monks …