I’m sitting writing this letter in Common Ground Cafe in Vientiane, where we have often sat together and talked about happiness. When I last left Laos at the end of October 2012 we had just finished making Happy Laos and the AEPF had been and gone. In my last week in Vientiane I thought many times about calling you to arrange to meet and say goodbye but thought that you were probably exhausted and needed some time to yourself, so instead I wrote you an email saying thank you for all your support while I was living in Laos. Now I regret not making that call.
I’m back in Laos after 14 months for a very short visit. It feels like everything and nothing has changed. I feel as if, since your disappearance, all the earth under my feet has shifted by a few degrees – not enough to be constantly noticeable but enough to frequently trip me up. I am so sad not to see you here but I see your inspiration all around me, especially in the many young people that I know who are directly or indirectly connected to PADETC.
Other people have written about your enormous contributions to civil society and development in Laos. Those things are undoubtedly true, but in this letter what I want to say to you is a more personal thank you. Thank you for inspiring me to study happiness in Laos, and for reassuring me in the times when that was not an easy option. Thank you for so generously sharing your knowledge and time and ideas and laughter with me. Thank you, most of all, for challenging me to think deeply about Laos, about development, about my work and about my life.
So much to say and yet words are completely inadequate. Sombath, I trust that wherever you are now you continue to inspire those around you, just as you continue to inspire me and many, many other people in Laos and around the world.