A Grandmother’s Duty
The story behind the photo
When I was trekking through northern Laos on a scouting trip, I visited countless villages perched on mountain hillsides. Some villages belonged to Lao Loum tribes, or Akha, or Khmu, or Hmong. There was quite a variety of ethnicities, for such a small country. But what remained constant in each of these villages was the grandmother’s duty – to look after their grandchildren.
Throughout Asia, it’s common for ageing grandparents to look after their children’s children, while the parents are at work during the day. With little or no social safety net, most people need to be looked after, both physically and financially, after they can no longer work for a living. It’s a trade off, in a way. The young children are looked after by someone they know, and the adults are able to work away from the home, knowing their kids are cared for by someone they trust.
This graceful senior, belonging to the Hmong tribe that lives in Tauser, central Laos, was shy at first. When I spotted her in the shadows of a home I was invited into, she slowly emerged. I think she was nervous, since foreigners seldom visit her village, high up on a mountain, deep in the Laos jungle. It wasn’t until she came into the light, did I notice that she was carrying her sleepy grandchild on her back.
A month or so later, I returned to her village. I brought a printed version of this photo to give to her. I don’t think she’d ever been photographed before, in her 80+ years. She was happy, while still a little confused why I wanted to photograph her. But her face and shy demeanour was enough for me.
Fujifilm X-T2, 18-55 at 31.5mm, f4, at 1/80 sec