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Home » ICFJ Reporting Fellowship

Haze begins to clear

5 April 2011 No Comment

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 flowing through narrow streets in saffron-colored robes.

I certainly had high expectations. As the plane touched down into whiffs of acrid smoke, I came back down to reality. The haze in my head, built up since I began preparing for this trip weeks ago, was starting to clear.

I was here to do a job: venture into the northern mountains of Laos to explore local traditions and gather the string that I’d weave into a story about traditional Hmong medicine.

The International Center for Journalists, with funding from the Ford Foundation, awarded me the opportunity to fly across the Pacific as part of a reporting fellowship to give minority journalists experience in foreign reporting. I already had some experience from my 2007 tour of duty in the Baghdad Bureau of McClatchy Newspapers, but I wanted more.

I was now in Laos after weeks of preparing for the trip. Certainly, whiffs of smoke and the dreary haze were annoyances, but not set backs.

As it turned out, Luang Prabang was not ablaze. The hillside fires outside of town always happen this time of year, set by farmers to clear forests, according to the driver who picked me up from the airport.

I checked into my hotel, the Ancient Luang Prabang, located near a huge Buddhist temple, and relaxed. The journey was just beginning, and there would be lots of work ahead.

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