On Thursday I rode on a motorbike with Tongdee, one of the WASH team members, to a small village. Three of our staff grew up in the village, so we had plenty of connections. On our way there we stopped at Anthou’s parents house to eat lunch. It was a typical village eating set up with a small round table and even smaller chairs. The chairs are so close to the ground, you might as well just sit on a log, but that would probably be higher off the ground. So of course they’re all comfortable and I’m sitting there with my feet on the ground and my knees somewhere over me head up near the roof. It adds an interesting element when I have to reach around my legs and other people to get the food. I try to fold and cross my legs to see if I can at least see the people Im eating with. Otherwise I have to yell to make sure the sounds makes it over the walls my legs have created. We finish eating and her mom brings over what looks like a porridge. Actually it looks like a bowl of rice that someone spilled their water into. I take a small bite and am instantly overwhelmed with a sweet fermented taste. It tastes mostly like sugar and a little bit like it was left out too long, so a little bit like I’m drinking sweet wine. Avoiding sugar shock, getting drunk, and consuming whatever might be growing in the fermentation process, I only eat a few spoon dulls before doing the typical ‘I’m done eating’ dance that Lao people do. I get up from the table, wash my hands and then wander around the area, but not too far, so they clearly know I’m done and waiting.
During my wander I find this:
I ask Anthu about it and she tells me something about a bird (didn’t understand the Lao). Then I ask if it’s to catch birds and she says no because they’re scared of it. Later I ask Jua and find out that this is the Lao version of the scarecrow. It keeps birds away from the crops and from eating their chickens. Wow, wait I want to see a bird come down and swoop up a chicken. I guess the shirt moving around in the wind makes the birds think it’s a human.
After some windy uphill roads we get to a place where I feel a bit safer to pull out my phone to take pictures. I’m also holding a projector, so it’s a bit tricky. Then, I get the genius idea to take a selfie of Tongdee and me.
The idea is brilliant because Tongdee also looks at the camera to see what I’m doing. Then, he realizes it’s a picture, so he looks longer and then we both realize we’re heading off the side of the road and he swerved back to the middle. We both just start laughing at how stupid that was and probably because we didn’t want to admit how scary that actually was. Whoops
Then we drive by a school our company is in the process of building. Yes, I know it’s a terrible picture, but I’m twisting around, holding onto a projector, and making sure Tongdee doesn’t want to be come an motographer again.
This is at the start of the village. I got that feeling of something like butterflies I get when I’m on an adventure with how we were out in the open underneath towering mountains and then we enter a tunnel/canopy of trees as we enter the area where people are living.
These giant flower pots are all around the village. The disappointing part is that there aren’t giant flowers in them! Some small girls are collecting these small vibrantly beautiful multicolored flowers, but even just looking at them makes them stop what they’re doing. I wanted to get a picture, but I feel like pulling out a camera would make it even more unatural. I definitely need to learn how to make people feel comfortable when I pull out a camera. You’ll just have to trust me that it was a precious scene.
Here’s a panorama shot of the room where we did the meeting. It was a stuffy shed with these big sacks of who knows what, but is the only place with electricity, so it worked… Sort of. The villagers were used to it, but the govt guy was really uncomfortable and even had to leave for some fresh air in the middle.
We left the meeting and headed home. On the drive home we tried to go fast to beat the looming black clouds. We didn’t make it… Going down a big hill on the main road the wind really picked up and it started to drizzle. The wind was even strong enough to move out bike from side to side. Then it started to pour and soak us, but there is no place to stop, so we keep going. I can hear Tongdee making some kind of noise, but I can’t tell what it is. The rain lets up a bit as we take a bend and I can heard him laughing. That makes me laugh and then we both make each other laugh even harder. Tongdee doesn’t get much respect in the office because he isn’t school smart, but I really like him and feel a deep connection when we do things like this.
Him and I also went out to print last week and literally every problem that could possibly have come up did. We both were just laughing at everything and having a really good time in the midst of I might have otherwise thought was a really bad afternoon. I also went out and ran into the same thing with one of our admin people, who’s much more technically smart, but he added way more stress to the situation then there should have been. I learned a lot from those situations. Laos is still very much a developing country and most people still barely know how to use a computer and printer and being smart is such a superficial attribute. Tongdee couldn’t have done any of the work that other guy can do, but he knows how to enjoy life, laugh at things, and connect well with others. I think he’s one of the ‘smartest’ people in the office, just for that reason.