Author Archive

There’s no satisfaction in chewing someone out through an interpreter.

May 17, 2006
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I’ve heard our Lao interpreters laugh and talk while they were resting in hammocks. You could hear their voices over the rumble of a chainsaw. But when I get angry, raise my voice, and expect my interpreter to pass my emotions along to a deserving recipient, he’ll use a voice appropriate to an American...
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Oudomsouk has something you don’t find in many American towns.

May 8, 2006
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At first glance you wouldn’t realize that the new dam and power plant have turned Oudomsouk into a boom town. To put it kindly, Oudomsouk is a bit rough around the edges. The village sprawls over a bare, treeless, rolling landscape. There are about two hundred structures in town that fall into just a...
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Pi Mai: Buddhist New Year.

April 21, 2006
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For the past three days we have been in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, celebrating Pi Mai, the Lao Buddhist New year. Pi Mai occurs every April and marks the beginning of a new year in the Buddhist calendar. By Buddhist reckoning, we are just starting the year 2,549. In North American, the new...
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In the forest with Martin the Elephant Man.

April 20, 2006
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When villagers told us that the elephant that killed two people in 2000 might have returned, we did the only sensible thing and called on Martin the Elephant Man. I don’t know Martin’s last name. I’m not sure anyone does. I’ve overheard his best chums call him “Marty the Elephant Man”, but few people...
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This job may have ruined my language for life.

April 18, 2006
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This job may very well have ruined my language for life. Hanging around bomb clearance workers for a month has corrupted me. I’ve done more cuss’n in the last thirty days than I did in my previous thirty years. I was hoping that some day, when I report in at the Pearly Gates, I...
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Learning from my mentor.

April 13, 2006
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Throughout my career, I’ve benefited by working with people who have helped me grow and learn. I first took a job with the D.C. Everest Area School District because I wanted to work with Al Wheeler, then the Assistant Superintendent of Schools. His reputation as an outstanding educator made me confident that he would...
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So what exactly was I thinking?

April 13, 2006
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So what exactly is Jim Harris thinking? He’s working with a bomb disposal unit? Sounds like someone we know is having a mid-life crisis. Detractors might suggest the wheel is spinning but the hamster has obviously died. No. No midlife crisis here. In the first place, I’m too old to have a mid-life crisis....
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Our teammates survive a bus accident in Nakai.

April 10, 2006
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I was just sitting down to a meal when we got word that some of our guys who were returning from their monthly leave were involved in a bus accident. Details were sketchy at first, but slowly, through repeated cell phone calls, we gained enough information to piece the story together. Our guys were...
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Ants attack me. I attack ants. I didn’t know their eggs are considered a delicacy.

April 8, 2006
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An electrical wire runs head-high through my tent. That’s “head-high” when measured against the Lao guy who strung the wire. I catch it under my chin several times a day. Each time I clothesline myself, the wire twangs like a guitar string and pitches the ants that are walking on the wire off into...
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My education in Lao ways continues.

March 28, 2006
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The education of James A. Harris continues. I haven’t had breakfast yet and I’ve already learned how to sharpen a stick! Before today I would have cut the timber to proper length with my machete and then hacked or whittled the end to a sharpened point, all the while pressing the end of the...
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