Indigenous Calendar November, 2012: A Shy Hmong Child Model

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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One of the first indigenous villages I ever visited was a Hmong village in northern Thailand. At the time I didn't realize how atypical this village was in that it had electricity and a school and was, relative to other indigenous villages in the area, quite affluent.

My guide had recommended we visit this particular village because the people there knew him well and he knew that we would be welcome to spend the night there if we chose to. He'd been correct for the past few days on such judgment calls so I went with the flow.

It was a time of year when school was out for vacation so there were many children around the village — some working and some playing. In the villages we'd visited over the past few days the reaction of village children toward me was, generally, one of interest and even fascination. But in this village for some reason the children mostly took no interest in me. I dismissed that as being because my guide had taken many foreigners into the village and so I was nothing new to them.

Then suddenly this girl, only about 7 or 8 years old, approached me and my guide. Fortunately he spoke basic Hmong (she spoke no Thai) and was able to translate her question of whether I wanted to photograph her. This was the first time so far on the trip that a child had asked such a question; typically in these villages children had been shy about being photographed and I had been the one to make the request.

After I said I would photograph her she suddenly became very shy. I was confused at this and looked to my guide to explain. Perhaps she was acting shy because she thought she should but once my guide assured her it was safe, she became one of the best child models I've ever worked with!

The Hmong are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.

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