Project Sekong 2014: This is a land of rivers, streams and makeshift bridges—safe for a Lao hiker, unsafe for me!

February 15, 2014

When the monsoon arrives in late April streams and rivers will flood and footbridges will wash away. To guard against wasted effort and resources the villagers invest little time or material when constructing a footbridge and, too often, I either fall off or fall through!

The Western world is getting fatter. So is America. So is Jim Harris. For some masochistic reason, at home between trips to Laos, I step on a bathroom scale every morning and watch my number steadily climb northward even though, lacking will, I have no intention of doing anything to reverse my gain. 180, 181, 182, 183… it’s a sad, steady progression. Neither General Grant nor Genghis Khan resisted retreat with my scale’s doggedness.

The only time I make even a feeble effort to slow the gain is when my spare tire threatens to send me to the basement, belt in hand, to find a hammer and nail. (The veritable belt-hole-span-of-shame. A newly added hole viewed with greater sorrow than the nail wounds of Christ). How did it come to this? That I’d seriously consider wearing suspenders before forsaking late night snacks?

Here, I drop weight easily and, on occasion, I’ve had to hammer a new belt hole on the other end of the span. (Regrettably, I see no publishing possibilities. Who’d pay $29.95 for a diet book consisting of just two sentences repeating a four-word title. Let’s face it, a diet named “Eat Less. Work Harder.” is DOA in the USA).

But whether I’m the fat Jim who just arrived, or the thin Jim about to depart after months in the bush, relative to the rail-thin twenty-year-olds on my team I’m a blubber butt. Yesterday, as if my status needed confirming I once again collapsed a bridge. It wasn’t much of a bridge but then, few Lao bridges are (much of a bridge). People lay a few boards over a stream, or span a creek with several lengths of bamboo lashed together. That’s a bridge. If the monsoon rains don’t wash it away, it will serve for years and years. Or, until a lunker with no regard for weight limits wrecks it.

Yesterday, I led the way across a narrow stream. The guys walking behind heard the loud crack of boards breaking and, since I immediately fell out of sight, they dashed to the bank to see what had become of me. I wish, for the sake of my self-esteem, that I could say they were concerned for my safety and rushed to my aid, but, truth be told, those jokers just wanted to enjoy the sight of me covered in muck. From my splayed position below, I heard their laughter before I saw their faces peer over the bank. If I’d had more Lao language at my command, I would have touched them up: “Did you guys come to rescue me or, are you just here to show me your tonsils?”

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