Today we were really unsure as to what we would be up to, this was one of the oddities about working for people you could not understand or communicate with. Early on we said goodbye to the young Belgium girls we had met yesterday and wished them all the very best on their onward adventures.
Then we just hung around and hung around waiting for our orders. Kunten primed us for the day with some more veggie-style breakfast goodies and when we finished did a bit more hanging around before we did a bit of pig feeding. Not sure how well we were doing but she then signalled that we were off for a walk, now this was more like it. We then followed Kunten down the red dusty riverside track to the village which was possibly called Sisohne. Along the way Kunten wanted to learn a bit more English and prove to us that she had not forgotten the words we had taught her a couple of days ago – so we added fingers, toes, legs, hands and arms to her growing vocabulary. Not so sure how she would throw those altogether in a sentence but who knows, it was all a good laugh!
At the village Kunten and her husband have some wood put aside at one of the houses, some really big blocks. These, we understood, are for building more huts and she wanted this putting undercover as there had been so much rain. It was all very big blocks but with a length of wood as a lever, me and Kunten managed it with much encouragement from my wife! Then we got ‘chatting’ to some of the neighbours! Well as the language was a bit of a barrier it was Kunten who did most of the talking and the neighbours doing a lot of replying and we played our part by just standing close by, laughing where it seemed appropriate and looking embarrassed most of the rest of the time! Then Kunten did some eel haggling and after getting them for the price she wanted, she stuck them in a plastic back for the walk home.
The way back was once again a good laugh testing Kunten’s memory of the English we had been teaching her. On our return we found that her husband had also been quite busy whittling away at yet more bamboo and also some ratten but the latter was to make, what my wife later informed me, was a basket, he had been very constructive without us little helpers.
Well after our excursion we did not do that much for the rest of the day so that gives me a bit of time to perhaps explain to you a bit more about this family that we had taken to our hearts. We think they are a family of four and a boyfriend or perhaps a family of five and a cousin – as I mentioned even amongst the younger ones there is no great grasp of English so communication really is a bit difficult even at the best of times. A bit rich coming from someone (me!) who only has please and thank you under his belt in Laos and even then my pronunciation always sounds a bit iffy!
First let me describe the ‘head’ of the family who to me seems to be calmness personified with his leathery brown skin and his big wide smile. Underneath though, he often seems like he is also in a lot of pain and he is painfully thin, looking not unlike the old photos of the victims of the concentration camps, I do find myself worrying about him. I really do hope it is the simple food they eat and not any illness that makes him so slender. He works and works on various bits of bamboo, twig and leaf to make everything a home (and the bungalow huts) needs. What he, or any of them for that matter, cannot do with a machete is not worth knowing. Now my brother is a carpenter and he has a huge bag of tools whenever he works with wood but all this guy has is his machete and sometimes bits of string and rope – absolutely amazing!
Next up is his wife (Kunten), the lady of the house and the one we have had the most meaningful interaction with. She has a real inner beauty which comes to the fore most when she is being mischievous and smiling or when she is repeating the English words we have taught her. She does all the ‘farm’ work, looking after the animals (mainly using a variety of different sized rocks), chopping bamboo and doing the other work we have had a go at with her. From this we found out just how strong she is in body too, she is a real dynamo. Liz and Kunten seem to have bonded really well possibly because their lifestyles are simply so vastly different.
The young lady of the house, who we think is called Juan, is quite a hardworking teenager but she could be any age really. Her heart seems to be in the village, perhaps that has something to do with the boyfriend! She seems to enjoy helping her mother and unlike many other places, like back home, where the younger children just seem to want to go their own way, this does not seem as important to her as helping her mother is which is really nice to see. I keep saying that the family live in the village but actually they don’t, they are a good couple of kilometres from it and 13km from the ‘sprawling metropolis’ that is Luang Nam Tha. So I have to keep reminding myself that these people really really do live in isolation.
Which brings me lastly to the young son, as I feel the other lad we have seen about he place is either a relation or possibly the boyfriend of the daughter. Although we have not really seen anything of him, his English is the best in the family and perhaps this is because he is to be the great hope for the family. He is still at school but does not shy away from helping his father when school is over. I think, a bit like back home in the rural villages in England, it will be difficult for the family to keep the son at home running the family business of the restaurant. There is not that much for him to do here and also him learning English does seems a good way for him to get away and leave to find work elsewhere, perhaps supporting the family that way. So how will the restaurant survive? I think it is all a bit sad really that perhaps we are here, in part witnessing the decline of a way of life that is almost as old as some of the surrounding hills and that our own language of English may actually be hastening some of the decline.
PS – Whilst writing up my notes for the above I thought that this was the day over but sometimes here you simply can never guess what is going to happen next. We had packed up our stuff and headed back to our bamboo chalet and were settling down to sleep. We assumed that the earlier snack that we had eaten at teatime was all the food we would be getting as the family are quite poor people. However, no sooner had we actually got into our bed than the lady of the house called us back out – you guessed it, she had done us some more food. Now this would not have been so bad but on the way to the restaurant it was nice and dry but whilst we ate, the heavens opened and opened and opened, rather heavily. Argh, here we were trapped at the restaurant which was a good way from our bed. It was getting later and later and we only had our nightclothes on too – brrr! All we could do was wait for what seemed like ages until finally we just gave up and made a dash for it – as you can imagine we got quite wet but it was not too bad and the good thing was that by this time we were so tired we just got into bed and soon enough drifted off to sleep!