The phone rings and Lathsavong, Dairy Manager announces that the government would like to come and visit the Dairy tomorrow. In Laos there can be a fair amount of government bureaucracy to satisfy with any business let alone a new industry, so not quite understanding the harassed quality to Lathsavong voice I ask what time they’re due to arrive, thankfully it’s tomorrow afternoon. We have the career fair at the Northern College of Agriculture starting at 8 am tomorrow but if we leave at lunchtime we should be able to make it the 90 mins over to the farm in time for their arrival. So unconcerned am I, that Steven, the Dairy General Manager is having a well earnt day off the next day and asks if he should attend. No, No that won’t be necessary!
The career fair goes well (see Mobbed by the Crowd) and we start our journey across town with a quick stop off to pick up more yogurt and cheesecake having been cleared out at the career fair. Arrive 90 mins later, set up a table with some information on the Dairy and some product ready to go. The night before had seen torrential rain so whilst waiting for government we decide to help clear out the storeroom which had seen some water get in and unable to help myself, I proceed to re-arrange it. We have printed out signs in English & Laos to keep everything in its proper place, so that my mild case of OCD is satisfied. Job done, we now wait to see what time our visitors will arrive.
A few minutes later we hear cars approaching along the road and a convoy of cars complete with police escort passes the gates. We go to sit down again, however as we go to turn I notice the police escort do a U-Turn followed by the rest of the convoy, I say to Jennifer I think they may be coming back to us. Jennifer laughs no it couldn’t be ohhh it is, they are turning into the gate. A definite pregnant pause as we all look at one another with a “What do we do now?” expression across all of our faces.
At this moment all I can think is: thank goodness we had the career fair earlier in the morning so I am wearing my “Sin” traditional Laos skirt and good shirt as opposed to my usual wardrobe of jeans and t-shirt.
I, Lathsavong & Lam all line up – think receiving line at an event with the Queen or equivalent! The rest of the team all looking slightly nonplussed pause in whatever they are doing to see what they should do next. Very good question as we’re not quite what sure to expect at this point either.
The cars have now driven up our very muddy road and begin to disgorge their guests. We have the official staff of the Lao National Council, Livestock & Fisheries department, Luang Prabang Agriculture and Forestry; the Chief of Luang Prabang Livestock and Fisheries, Mr. Kanchan and then our guest of honour Deputy Director Lao National Council, Mr. Sounthone. Greetings alone take a good 5 minutes particularly as none of us are really very sure on the protocol of greeting this many people from the government!
The only “meeting spot” we have is a low table with tiny stools that the staff use when having lunch. Greetings over, we gather around the table, some on stools, some sitting on the railings and some standing, it’s quite a crowd! Lathsavong begins with a formal introduction of himself, me and the rest of the team, this could take quite a while! It then moves on to a laptop presentation with me holding the laptop so everyone can see. The noisiest things by far are the chickens who have decided that running around between everyone’s legs and under the tables is great sport – definitely going to be chicken soup at this rate!
Then proceedings pick up pace and it’s a whirl of activity as we head towards the milking area. Many questions and quite a few jokes ensue as we discuss milking and udders. The word for milk and breast are the same in Laos, so quite a few guffaws all around as our husband and wife team Boon Soon and Saw step us to begin the milking with Boon Soon being asked about touching boobs with his wife in the vicinity.
Next comes feeding our baby calves. The cuteness factor never fails and we soon have everyone jostling for a turn to hold the bottles. Then it’s on to taste testing the yogurt and cheesecake.
A few days later, there was another call from Lathsavong. Being “old pro’s” now we spring into action and have everything ready and everyone lined up for our next visitors. Dr. Bounkhuang KHAMBOUNHEUNG, the deputy minister of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Luang Prabang province is our guest of honour today and have to admit it never gets old when your visitor has a police escort! He is also companied by various staff from the ministry and today not only do we have photographers we have TV. Sure enough after this visit we appear on the Laos News channel. One of our friends even took a photo of his TV screen to show us!
There is however a serious side and the government from both visits are very keen to understand more about the dairy and how everything works; the involvement of the farmers buffalo, how we will look after the buffalo and most importantly are very keen to know how they can help. It’s becoming apparent that they see our business as the beginning of a sustainable industry filling a real need in the market for dairy products that will also assist the local farmers through additional income, conserve buffalo and provide another attraction for tourists along the Kuang Si Waterfall road thus extending their time in Luang Prabang and helping to increase the average spend of tourists in the city.