Setting up our first camp in Nakai.

March 18, 2006

Right now I’ve got two workers (the guards for the camp) up in trees trimming branches that are rubbing against the tents pitched below. I’m hoping that neither falls and breaks an arm or a leg. I was insistent that the younger of the two, who looked more spry, climb up the tree and do the high work while the older fellow did the safer jobs on the lower branches or on the ground below.

I feel like a tyrant sending them up the trees but with the raining season ahead of us, we dont need leaky tents. I have my doubts about how dry we’ll remain even with the tents in good shape. I’ve seen the skys in Laos dump inches of rain in just a few moments. There are times when the rain comes at you vertically making you wonder if it is falling or flowing.

It’s akward being the rookie on a new job. Common sense says that I should talk with the old hands and use their experience before suggesting changes. But given the language barriers, the old hands and I can’t have much of a conversation. So.. I’m trying to apply my own judgement in away that insures good management but still shows respect for the workers’ culture.

It makes sense to me that kitchen scraps can’t simply be thrown on the ground. In a village that would be acceptable garbage disposal because the village pigs, chickens, ducks and dogs would promptly clean up the leftovers. Here in camp, I must demand that the cooks (who are from rural villages) collect and burn all refuse. I’m thinking, “If we throw our garbage on the ground, we’ll end up with rats and vermin as unwanted guests”. The cooks are probably thinking, “What a waste. Why doesn’t he get some pigs and fatten them on all the leftovers?”

It’s bone dry here, so open fires are another problem. Morning fires left smoldering when the workers head out to do clearence, could easily spread to the nearby underbrush and get out of hand. Around here, there’s no fire department to call. The dirt road would be a barrier in one direction and the river in another but a brushfire that reached the rows of scrub that the clearence workers have cut would quickly be out of control. As the saying goes, “it would spread like wildfire.”

I’ve got to hope that the workers will learn from my behavior that I respect their knowledge and skills and that I’m willing to learn from them. In turn, I hope they’ll decide that I have some good ideas and skills to offer. Here’s something I learned while working with students, parents and teachers for over thirty years: “No body cares what you know until they know that you care.”

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