Project Sekong 2012: We’re caught off guard. Pigs raid our camp and eat our food but we fight back.
Today was a roller coaster: highs and lows, good luck immediately followed by bad.
After being out of phone range for several days, my morning high was hearing Marty answer her cell phone in Wisconsin. However, we only talked for a few minutes before Yai, my interpreter, interrupted our conversation to convey bad news.
Knowing the importance of morning coffee to my morale, Yai felt that I needed to know immediately that I wouldn’t be kick starting my day with my usual cup of sweet coffee lao. Grimfaced, he informed me that during the night marauding pigs had entered camp, broke into our food stores, and devoured all but a handful of our sugar. No coffee lao today or anytime soon since this village has no market selling sugar or other luxuries.
(In America, I drink my coffee straight-up black. But here, the homegrown coffee available in villages is robust stuff—so strong that I can only stomach it as the Lao drink it—heavily cut with sugar or sweetened evaporated milk).
Marty’s call was further interrupted two or three times by broken connection but she called back repeatedly and, eventually, we exchanged essential news. We agreed that throughout this project she’ll call me from home rather than me phoning her from here. The phone cards that I need to place outgoing calls from Laos are all but unavailable in this village.
To compensate for my coffee deprivation, Yai decided to cook up a hearty breakfast of steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables. The rice was well along when he discovered that the pigs had also helped themselves to all our green beans and most of our cabbage. Together, we inspected the scattered remains and collected every bean that appeared to be more trampled on than nibbled, and used them to complete the meal.
After a fair amount of cussing, I challenged myself to view the situation magnanimously. “Pigs will be pigs”, I told myself. “We’ve moved onto their turf and enticed them with curious sights and tempting odors”. I asked myself, “Is it fair to expect more from a humble pig than he explore and, seeking to survive, devour whatever fortune has placed before him?”
I quickly dismissed that claptrap, filled a bag with hefty rocks, and brightened my morning with thoughts of revenge.
Shortly after breakfast a small boy walked by our camp armed with a slingshot. Just about every boy in rural Lao keeps a slingshot handy, most wear one around their neck, the handle dangling under their chin. In seconds a boy here can have his slingshot in hand and be ready to launch a rock or other small missile toward an unwary bird, squirrel, rat, or other small game. Kids here are all great shots and just hungry enough to elevate the task from frivolous game to serious hunt.
The little guy who stopped by our camp was carrying a small songbird he’d picked off a tree branch. He told us it was destined for his family’s evening stew. Cleaned, it could not have yielded more than a swallow or two. On the other hand, maybe the boy bagged a species that’s packed with umami. There must be some proven reason for adding such a tiny piece of poultry to the cooking pot.
Thinking that we needed to bring some weaponry to our conflict with the pigs, Yai bought the slingshot right off the boy’s neck for 5,000 kip (60 cents). (By the end of the day, the little guy will have fashioned a new one and be ready again to bag small game). I predict that as word spreads, every boy in the village will be stopping by camp with a slingshot to sell.
Having grown up with a sling shot in hand Yai’s an excellent shot. We still laugh about the first time he demonstrated his skill for me. After hearing him endlessly boast about his deadeye accuracy, I challenged him to hit a school bell hanging about twenty yards away. He dismissed that target with a one-word explanation: “ricochet”.
Instead, he took aim at a plastic water bucket sitting next to the village chief’s house. No ricochet with that shot. His rock punched a good-sized hole in the bucket. We stood agape as the water poured, glub, glub, glub, onto the ground. I’m not certain why it was me, but I was the one who bought the village chief a new bucket.
I’ll leave the pig patrol to Yai. He’s a better shot and I’ve already committed one crime against farm animals today. I let go with what I thought was moderate force behind a golf ball-sized rock, directed toward an approaching pig. I was shocked to see my rock land squarely between the pig’s eyes and to hear a resounding thump. To my horror the pig’s front legs buckled and he dropped to his knees. For a second I was certain that I’d killed the thing. Fortunately, he quickly regained his senses and trotted away.