Friday, October 11, 2013

Knockin' On Heaven's Door

I cycled exactly 3:27,20 hours before being grounded by the rain in Ban Senchaleun at the bottom of a hill, 47 km out of Sanakham. At the bottom of this hill a man bade me welcome seeing that the rain was going to turn into a deluge. For a while the power of it was violent and the dust red path leading through the village turned Babylonian red, with streams of muddy water slipping down the hill.

It was only 3:30 PM and the children, drenched, were riding home. Some were holding umbrellas as they do in the mid-day sun, but most just brave the warm rains. One boy, however, was pedalling as hard as he could with a plastic bucket over his head.

The villagers who have taken me in from the storm have told me I can sleep here and eat with them. As far as I can see they do not have electricity and the black interior of their home is brightened only by a hearth fire. The woman pointed to a new wooden house near their own as the place I could sleep.

Ducks and ducklings. Children shooting marbles on the dirt floor. The old lady looks at me like I'm crazy and everybody laughs when I look at her back and say, “falang pee ba!” (crazy foreigner). If there is one thing the Lao cannot understand is why anyone wealthy enough to own or rent a car would go by bicycle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lao pastoral. Huts are built where they stand; lean-tos with variable geometry and roofs of flattened bamboo or corrugated metal. The sharpness of them hits you through the eyes during the day at odd unpredictable angles. You take off your sunglasses between villages to let the earthly green enter your heart like a rhapsody only to be suddenly shunted into blindness by these things. Luckily, in the spaces between towns, the little field pavilions for farmers' rest are covered with the gentle grey green of the slowly rotting leaves, giving comfort to the eyes and rest for the heart.

In the paddies the rice grows, tall now, in elegant rows; their stalks as powerful as men, the fruit of them barely perceptible, hidden as they are in huddled bunches and protected in their sheaths. The green-ness of the landscape never ceases to enliven me. It is as though each blade of grass, sheath or rice, leaf, tree and flower were a gift of eternal giving – a long and generous thing, generations long and loving.

Lao pastoral. Pigs as big as Buicks wallow in lakes of mud behind the house in which I have been given shelter. The rain has stopped now and a post-diluvian calm has taken over the village. The vegetation which was previously water laden and wind swept now slowly redresses itself. The occasional drop slips from a roof or or is shaken from a tree. Yellow butterflies.

Lao pastoral. I ask members of the family to write the name of their village in my diary but only their teenage daughter, freshly arrived from school, can perform this. Not the parents and not their 12 year-old son. The girl herself walks around like a ballerina. She has the natural grace that some people have but many do not. She does the family chores with her shoulders squared back and a vivacious sparkle in her eyes.

Other than gigantic, filthy and resentful sows, the family also possesses litters of piglets, squabbles of geese and cackles of chickens. Everybody seems to roam throughout the shared universe in symbiosis, if not in harmony: one group is destined to eat the other and the worms take all, but in the meantime the circle seems to be maintaining itself without too much violence.


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