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  • Getting there required: a 15 hour bus trip from Udomxai to Phongsali, the capital of Phongsali province at the very top of Northern Laos, not far from China. There is no border crossing there, at least, not for Americans, so the only way home was the same bus ride back. From Phongsali, a 2 hour bus ride to Boun Neua, a town halfway to nowhere, where I met my guide. He was 15, a high school student and striker on the village football team. He had learned a bit of English in school, and practiced by reading a book in English -- the same book, again and again, the only one he owned.

    We walked straight up the side of a mountain. Lucky for me I reminded him we should get some water before we left, because he would have gone up without any. I would probably have died.

    It was raining in September, the middle of the wet season. The rain in this jungle meant leeches. And they were everywhere. I'd see them pop their heads out of the ground and inch their way toward me as I walked. I tried not to think about it. Unsuccessfully.

    We slid through the mud along a narrow footpath, worn down into the earth by centuries of hill tribe women making their way to market in town. By twilight we arrived at the village, home to the Akha, a hill tribe that sticks to the high ground. There the women do all the work -- feed the children, tend the animals, grow the food, do the laundry. The men sit and smoke tobacco.

    This picture is the woman who shared her home with us. She never said a word but looked at my camera silently and, without words, asked me to take her picture. I meant to find a way to send it to her when I got home, but never did. So instead I'm sharing it with you.
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