Project Phongsali: Some random observations as we prepare to wrap up our work in this village.
Bits and Bobs:
Yai left his bag of sugar open and ants found it. Soon it was loaded with joyful ants. Rather than throw the sugar away, Yai simply put the open bag out in the sun. At the end of the day 99% of the ants were gone. “Sun too hot for ants,” he explained.
The Tai Dam people are dressing up the village as part of their annual festival. Everybody is cleaning, and literally sweeping up a dust storm. Small fires are burning in every yard as people burn accumulated rubbish: equal parts dried leaves and, sad to say, plastic trash.
A family brought a small boy to the hospital here with a nasty cut on his elbow. Dr. Tan stitched him up with no local anesthetic while the father pinned the boy to a table.
A few days ago the guys bought a squirrel from a villager and the cooks made a soup of it. Now, other villagers are bringing us wild game and the cooks are attempting a variety of recipes. Today they prepared “laap”, the Lao national dish, with meat from some small rodent.
Laap is usually made with chicken, pork, duck, beef or fish. The meat in this laap included many small minced bones and made for a crunchy meal. Truth be told, I think it was rice rat, but sometimes, its better not to ask.
As we wind down here I find that I still have a few cans of my emergency rations. So, tomorrow I’m treating the guys to an “American” meal: spam and baked beans. Knowing their tastes, I’m confident they’ll like it. They will, of course, demand to have sticky rice as a side dish. No meal here, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, is complete without rice.
Popular pastimes here for boys and men: soccer, rattan ball, bat mitten, marbles, checkers, petanque, and swimming. Constructing things, fashioning toys. Hacking, carving, whittling with knives.
What’s conspicuously missing: fighting, wrestling, tackling or other rough play.
Women here, whether Tai Dam, Tai Deng, or Khamu are the only villagers still wearing traditional dress. Men are all in western clothes.
In telephone calls from home my wife tells me that Spring is progressing with fits and starts but coming none-the-less. Here in Laos, much closer to the equator, I have little sense of days getting longer. On the other hand, we are working under a hotter sky.
The burning season is ending, the haze that has been with us every day for weeks is beginning to lift, and more sunlight is streaming through. Days are increasingly humid. Nights are getting warmer and sleeping in the heat under a mosquito net is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
At an early age children here start working with tools that we Americans would consider too dangerous for a youth to handle. When I inquire about the practice, parents say, “how else will they learn?”
Yesterday I saw a little boy about three years old playing with a machete. His older sister, perhaps ten years old, took the machete away from him. He howled in protest. Mother stepped in. I expected her to side with her daughter. Instead, the mother took the machete away from the girl and scolded her saying, “He had it first.”
Pastimes for girls: hanging out and chatting with friends, running around (chasing friends or being chased), climbing trees and fences, swimming, games of skill (somewhat akin to “mancala” or “jacks” or “hopscotch” with the playing areas drawn in the dust).
What’s conspicuously missing: dolls. Girls as young as three or four are caring for their younger siblings.