Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to the Swamp

It is difficult to describe the pure physical pleasure I derive from just being here: it is as though the city, hot and humid, has been raining and steaming in our absence just awaiting our return.

Weather reports assure me that it was as hot as hell here in August, and raining steadily almost every day.

The effect is galvanising. The Mekong is swollen like a ripe fruit and there is a light scent of mildew in the air. Many tree tops are crowned with boughs of dark brown and our dirt street is a slippery, puddle-filled obstacle course.

Our certified crazy neighbours’ yard which is usually a boiling and barren expanse of dry dirt is now covered with green.

More outstanding than any of these physical features, however, is my joy in being here. I don’t start work (at the school which shall go nameless) for another few weeks and my latest translation work I can do on the road so it is difficult to resist the temptation of just taking off and opening my arms to the open (preferably paved) roads of the country.

As I turn my back to the Mekong and look Beyond, I can feel the country looking back at me and saying, “I’m waiting”.

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Landscapes of the nearly forgotten city:

The light play caused by ceiling fans, a gentle strobe on the shower wall.

The freedom of the motor scooter on nearly deserted peri-urban roads.

The rough and tumble of the street when you climb the hill just before Watnak Noi; gravel, stones, bricks…anything to replace the mud.

Families of chickens saunter into our garden. A string of chicks learn from their mother how to search for worms.

In the evenings smoke from neighbours’ cooking fires slants into our garden light.

The ugliness of cement is everywhere. It is hideous, hard, omnipresent.

 Novice monks in evening prayer play with their i-phones when they think no one is looking. Despite this, their saffron robes give them the stink of sanctity.

Everybody is smiling, all the time.

During a visit to the brand-new Lao Stock Exchange I laughed with delight at the empty foyer. Opening a brokerage account was as easy as one, two, three.

Did I mention the heat? It is everywhere like molten metal, as heavy as lead; bearing through the clouds and wearing down the will. My limbs are lethargic and my mind is cotton. Luckily I have translation work (with its world of syntax, meaning and deadlines) to keep me on a target.

Are the children happy to be back? It is difficult to say. At any rate they are happy to be in school and I am grateful to their teachers for the enthusiasm with which they head off to class every morning and their joy when they come home.

Did I mention the rain? It soaks steady now, an all-night, all-day sort of rain; beating on the rooftop, drowning our thoughts. Drops in their own rhythm, as heavy as the heat, a mirror image our own type of tropical insanity. The next day the unpaved roads are as slippery as ice rinks.

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