Project Phongsali: At the moment food is scarce in Sop Houn and our team means nine more mouths to feed!
We needed to hire one person to do three jobs: guard, maid, and cook for the camp. Oratai and Yai were to walk the village and find candidates to choose from. I told them that, for sure, I wanted a married woman. The older the better. If not ugly, then at least homely. They quickly got that job done. We now have not one, but two ladies working for us. They are two of the prettiest, young, unmarried women in the village. What can I do? All young Lao guys think they’re players.
Until gardens kick in with the rains next month, or maybe the month after that, I don’t see how the food situation here is going to change. People just don’t have enough surplus to support an actual market. We can buy things here and there, and just get by, but there’s little variety. That’s less a problem for me, because I’m just here for a few weeks and when I’m home I’ll quickly fatten up. But for the guys on the team, this is their ongoing existence and they deserve better food.
In spite of the fact that making a daily trip to the closest market burns up both time and fuel, we’re resigned to more trips than we’d like to make. With no refrigeration, we can’t buy meat or fish ahead of our daily consumption, and even vegetables don’t keep well in this climate. We have an ice cooler with us, but neither this village nor the market town has ice. The guys have to eat up leftovers from one meal at the next, and we never hold cooked food over from day to day.
Yesterday the guys bought a chicken early and to keep it fresh until dinnertime they lassoed one of its legs and tied it to a tent peg. Having plenty of slack the chicken happily roamed the hospital yard all day oblivious to the doom that lingered. Then at the last minute the chicken got a reprieve when someone offered the guys a freshly killed dog.
The guys immediately built a fire and rolled the dog in it to burn off its hair, a task that took a half hour or more. I’ve never rolled a dead dog in red-hot coals so I can’t comment on the danger faced or the skills required but, in the end, the guys had a very bald, very puffed up dog ready to butcher and cook. Apparently dog meat is too lean to eat as steaks, cutlets or ribs, but cooks well in soups and stews.
Don’t ask me what stewed dog tastes like; I didn’t indulge, not entirely out of respect for man’s best friend. Of greater concern was the fact that no one would give me a straight answer as to why that particular dog had been slaughtered at that particular time. Road kill to cooking pot I can understand and would probably eat. But often here, domesticated animals are chosen for slaughter when they begin to show definite signs of age or illness. If and when I try dog for the first time I want it to be an animal that I first see on the hoof. Or…well…you know what I mean.
The guys are teasing me for not having the courage to eat dog; I’m giving it right back, telling them that tonight they’ll be howling at the moon and lifting one leg to pee.