As much as I tout Lao culture being the best thing about my identity and how Lao food is an underrated ethnic scene, I actually have never stepped foot into my motherland. My mother hasn’t either since 1979, the year she escaped war-torn Laos with her younger siblings and parents to seek refuge in the United States. My grandfather, my mom’s father, was a farmer in Laos as are most poor families in the land-locked country in Southeast Asia sustaining their own food system to survive. As the oldest female child in each of our families, my mother and I do share one thing: a burden only an older child has.
In honor of International Babywearing Week (yup, totally a thing), I started out looking for images to highlight the ancient and cultural practice of babywearing, the act of wearing a child in a cloth carrier of some sort. I mean, Laos is the home of one of the original “crunchy moms.” Sorry, you’re not that crunchy. Not sorry. I found plenty of beautiful images of fresh-faced moms and sleep-drunk babies on their backs but the photo pool shifted my focus to a more specific theme: children and babywearing. Yes, actually babies wearing babies. Why is a child wearing a baby almost the same size?
As any able-bodied adult may be equipped to pitch in, both parents in Laos tend to the now-yellow fields of rice to prepare for harvesting. *Many farm fields are actually far, far from home in behind mudslides and atop mountains. As a Laotian-American, I cannot recall the age of my earliest babysitting of my three younger siblings because I was that young. Young as in my parents trusted me to have a responsibility to make sure these kids were safe, if that can be appropriate for a child in elementary school. In Laos, this isn’t shocking, it’s necessary for burdens to bear on the entire family, no matter the age, in order to survive. A child wears a burden and keeps a younger sibling safe, warm, secure. All the things every child needs. Ironically the very thing the care-giving child desperately yearns for but suppresses for family duty.
About Paul Wager: “Paul Wager gave up his life of photo journalism in Australia to venture into the ethnic diversity of Laos.” You can see more beautiful and haunting photos from Laos at Paul Wager’s website and Facebook.