Sad reality; an addicted grandmother and babysitter by John Spies

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Sad reality; an addicted grandmother and babysitter by 

A Blue Hmong opium addict babysits her grandchildren while their parents work their fields. The sad reality of life in the northern Thai mountains when hilltribes like the Hmong cultivated opium poppy was that many elders, both men and women, became addicts. Often they started by using the drug to relieve pain, as it was effective and the only option in remote villages. As long as the families grew poppy the elderly addicts were a supportable burden. Unlike in the west, the addicts were not ostracised, and often maintained positions of respect within their communities.

I am an Australian expat living in the hills of Mae Hong Son province Thailand (please visit I photograph almost everything, above and below ground.

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  • micheleirene
    micheleireneover 5 years ago

    Such a very moving story to go along with this powerful image John.

  • It is a bit of a shocker, from our perspective, but for the hill people it was the equivalent, say, of an elderly person with a drinking problem…and I think i would rather leave my kids with an opium addict than an alcoholic.

    – John Spies

  • AideRaal
    AideRaalover 5 years ago

    OH, what I can say. I love Thailand, been there in Marc this year, but this Thailand what in your fotos is very different what I saw.

  • This photo was taken many years ago, and I doubt you could see anything like this in modern Thailand, that is, with opium. There are junkies in every country, including mothers with young children. As the caption says, it is a sad reality. As for the other hilltribe photos, the people, lifestyle and culture is still there, albeit a bit watered down. I spent 7 years trekking in the mountains of the north and had ample opportunities to capture these scenes. On a short trip, certainly you will experience a different Thailand to what I have (and are still). thanks for your comment.

    – John Spies

  • Critical  Vision
    Critical Visionover 5 years ago

    I’m interested by your comments John that addicts were not ostracised – in your experience did their addiction not cause tensions within the community.

  • Hi, thanks for your interest. Most of the addicts were elderly, and in the days when opium growing was rife, they and their extended families could easily supply their needs. Tension did occur when younger addicts resorted to stealing (which was dealt with severely- one young man in our village was shot after repeated offences), or the crop was poor, and opium had to be bought. Smoking was so common in some villages, with all of the elder men addicted, that ostracisation was out of the question. When the law against growing was finally enforced, many addicts gave up. A few upgraded to heroin and as it had to be bought then social problems arose, including dealing and prostitution in some villages.

    – John Spies

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