Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lao Pastoral

    The bare facts of the place, a smoke-filled hamlet made of bamboo and wood. Women cut roots outside their homes. This close to the Vietnamese border and already nobody smiles and people pretend you aren't there.

    A short walk through the village and every shade of wood. The village air is filled with cooking smoke and the smell of rice whisky. Wafts of it radiate around the seemingly old structures.

    I find refuge in the nai ban's house. He has a sound system he is very proud of, ripped speakers and all. The villagers must know I am already taken care of and that there is no danger in smiling at me now and so old women with lacquer blackened teeth line up to have me take their photos.

    Children fight over a toddler as if it were a rag doll, one foot pulled here, an arm pulled there amongst general hilarity; the toddler is as passive as a palm tree.

    Climbing the hill out of the village on foot pushing Charlene I am accompanied by two children who walk at an arm's length. They are well behaved, not trying to provoke with 'hello's and 'whatsyourname?'s. They talk gently among themselves, their light banter going back and forth in tones as fleeing as skipping stones.

    They are rebuilding the road. Huge earth-moving machines have made it up here and are tearing walls out of the hillsides, creating sheer cliff faces in the place of slopes. The smell of the freshly bared earth reminds me of the scent of newly turned earth in my old garden in Burgundy; you can almost scent the earth worms wiggling in their galleries burrowing calm moisture.

    The intercises caused by the machine leave a cross-section of the planet visible; you can clearly see that the top-soil is a tiny, a really tiny layer of brown upon which we live. We owe our livelihoods and good fortunes to a few centimetres of humus stuck between the air and the hard ungiving rock.      

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