Most of my friends have one of two impressions of Laos. They think of stereotyped images of developing countries - impoverished, vultures flying overhead ready to swoop down on people if they don't keep moving. Or they'll chirp," Oh, Asia. How fun!"
Needless to say, the reality is between the two extremes. And so my illustration, and rant for the day, is Traffic. Not human or drug traffic but motor vehicle traffic.
I do have a car. And most days I drive the four miles to work. It can be a drag to arrive at work, sweaty and dusty and have to run off for a meeting with government officials. And since I'm in the medical field, I'm terrified of motorcycles.
When I first started working in Laos, most people rode 1-speed bicycles. There were a few motorcycles and the people on bicycles stared at the rare car when it went by. Now, it's the other way around, cars are common in Vientiane and the drivers don't stare, much less look, at anyone. The drive to work this morning - motorcycles passing on the right just as I was making a right turn, having to stop suddenly because a recycling technician had pushed his cart into the traffic lane, and having vehicles driving towards me on the one lane road - totally depleted my stock of swear words for the whole day.
On the other hand, I should remind myself that driving in Vientiane traffic can substitute for aerobic exercise when I haven't gotten up early enough to go running. And I also have to remind myself that traffic has started to go faster as the roads have gotten paved; I'm not about to advocate to returning to the roads with the car-sized ruts in them.
I guess I'm crabby because I prefer being out in the provinces. But it is true that motor vehicle accidents are rising all over the world - the WHO figures that trauma, of all types, will be the number two cause of mortality and morbidity by the year 2020. Is that an improvement over diarrhea and acute respiratory infections?
Well, time to rest up before the next excursion into mayhem.