I was telling my roommate about my day yesterday and she told me I should write about it.
One of my co-workers (ok, maybe my favorite co-worker), invited me to his village for a special celebration they were having to celebrate their traditional New Year. Because I can speak Lao, I told him that I could get there on my own.
The previous night I had gone to bed very late, so I slept in that morning. Though my co-worker had left much earlier at 5 in the morning, I didn’t even get out of bed until 8:30 (late for me). I did take a little extra time getting ready in the morning and by 10 I was out the door. I caught a tuk tuk to one of the markets in town to buy a new memory card for my camera, and then got dropped off at the ferry landing. My co-worker’s village was on the other side of the Mekong and I wasn’t in the mood for taking a small boat. Luckily, the ferry got there at the same time that I did.
By the time I got to the other side of the river I was already feeling off, but not bad, just not like normal. I was told to find the trucks at the top of the hill. I did. I was told to tell them where I was going. I did. It was 10:24 when I climbed into the back of the truck and called my co-worker to say I’d be there soon. After hanging up the phone, I asked when we were leaving and another passenger told me at 11am. I knew that if I walked, it would take more than 40 minutes so I just waited. Well, 11 came and went. I got annoyed, I called my co-worker, “Now they’re saying 11:30!” He told me that was fine and to call when I got to his village. He even asked to be put on the phone with the driver and then he reassured me that she said 11:30, so it would be 11:30 (as though she could be trusted when she originally said 11 and then moved it back).
I wasn’t feeling great, I was tired of waiting, and I was upset that my co-worker had not offered to pick me up. I started to cry a little out of frustration and contemplated going back home. So, when 11:35 rolled around and it didn’t look like we were going to be leaving soon I got out of the truck and walked off. Ok, maybe I huffed off, making a stink with loud sighs and clearly frustrated body language, but whatever, this stupid truck had wasted over an hour of my day. I had abandoned logic as well and thought, “Fine, I’ll walk the 8 kilometers there, and if I get tired first, I’ll just turn around and come home.” I walked for an hour.
The road I was walking on was unpaved and as each vehicle passed me on the narrow single lane street it blew up dust and dirt to swirl around leaving me in the middle. I had put on new shoes that morning and already less than 3 hours into their debut they were covered in dust and sand. The tops of my feet looked as white as their bottom. It was the hottest part of the day, there was no shade, I wasn’t feeling 100%, and I had no idea where I was going.
After walking for an hour, a woman stopped on her motorbike and asked if I needed a ride. I had considered hitching a ride with a motorbike earlier, but they had been men, or people who were already carrying someone. This woman was already taking someone on her bike as well. The idea of also taking me seemed absurd. I politely declined and she said she didn’t mind (in English), I asked her how much and then she said, “You don’t remember me, do you? I’m Lanoy.” I remembered her as soon as she said her name and quickly agreed. I had never been on a motorbike that already had two people on it, but I hopped on. I rode side saddle, as thats all that my skirt would permit, and went along with them up and down the hilly terrain, half scared for my life, and half scared for my thumb that had been trapped between the vegetable rack I was sitting on and my bottom. As we rode, I realized it would have taken me at least another hour and a half to get to his village had Lanoy not saved me.
I arrived at around 12:40 hungry. I hadn’t really eaten anything yet. Just some gum. My friend escorted me to the festivities and his uncle began pouring me the Beer Lao. Now, I do not normally drink, and if I do, its usually just one small glass. His uncle within 30 minutes had given me at least 4 cups. I was encouraged to try the real Kmhmu food. The first dish was rat stew, and the rest I don’t really remember. Not because it wasn’t good, because actually, I preferred everything else on the table to the rat stew, but hey, its classical learning rules: you remember the thing that sticks out. Eating the crunchy rat claw stuck out.
We watched some performances, I danced with one of the village leaders, and I met my friend’s extended family. He had asked me how I got there, and I refused to mention that Lanoy had given me a ride. His neighbors all attested to seeing me walking along the road and turned to offer me an apology, stating that if they had known I was coming to their village they would have given me a ride.
I got a tour of the village after that. By that time, I knew for sure that I was feverish. We sat in his cousin’s house chatting and when children would come by they’d stop and stare. One little girl who’s hair was braided very prettily, though it looked like she had rubbed a balloon along the top of it cause it stuck straight up, stared at me with a blank face for a good long time. Eventually, I started mimicking the way she was eating her chicken feet (nomnomnom, smack smack, spit) and that got her laughing and running off to bring her other friends to come over. A little boy came by but was terrified to come close. In China, I could understand children being scared of me because I’m much darker than them, but Kmhmu are dark. My friend has joked from the beginning that he’s black too, because we’re the same color.
We ate lunch there and then I started to really feel bad (not because of the food though, the food was actually excellent: Kmhmu steak). It was around 3 when we finished lunch and my head was killing me. I felt very very hot and was also getting sleepy. He took me to see his house next. It was a lovely simple house. Like many houses in villages, there was no furniture inside, nor any rooms. It was probably about 3 queen size mattresses wide and 2 queen size mattresses long. I laid down to sleep, but got distracted by the scene outside. The house didn’t have windows, but I could see between the planks of wood that loosely made up the walls. My friend’s friend had killed the chicken and was draining its blood. I fell asleep to this image of my dinner being “prepared.”
For the actual cooking, they moved inside. One corner of the house was the kitchen. It was not sealed off or separated from the rest of the house. It probably doubled as a fire place in the cold. The blood that came from the chicken was poured into the bowl with the chicken soup. I thought, “Well, I had always said that no matter what never eat blood, but since you ate rat for lunch, you can get away with eating anything.”
Many of his friends came over to eat. The food went on a round metal food stool and there were baskets of sticky rice shared between every three people or so. Two bowls contained the soup and everyone had their own spoon for the broth. I never eat very much meat when I’m only given a spoon for some reason. There’s always bones in the meat and I don’t want to use my hands because there are no napkins. I mostly just drink the broth. I was offered rice wine to try. I had a sip and then managed to avoid it for the rest of the night.
After dinner he and his friends sat around speaking in their local dialect for a while and then the topic came up of sending me back to the ferry landing. I asked my friend if he wouldn’t mind taking me since he was the only one who hadn’t been drinking.
My friend is quite small. Until yesterday, we had only joked about him taking me on his motorbike, both of us believing I was too heavy for him to drive. (He had also believed himself so weak as to be susceptible to be cut even by paper. “You mean, like a papercut?” I asked. He said yes, and showed me both his cut and the post-it note responsible for his injury, and then I told him everyone gets paper cuts. He had thought it was only him!) But, it was getting late, I was feeling worse as time went on, there was no catching a truck back, and he was the designated driver.
It should have been just as easy as me hopping on sideways and us driving off. But after I got on, he said he couldn’t take me sideways. He asked if I had pants and of course, I said no. I was wearing a skirt as he had told me was appropriate. I also happened to be wearing the worse kind of skirt. Rather than a traditional wrap around Lao-style skirt, I was wearing one I had made as a mid-calf length pencil skirt with two slits down the side and that meant one thing: virtually no room for spreading my legs to straddle the bike. Or so I thought. “Can’t you just pull up your skirt a bit?” A bit ended up being way higher than was decent. With that, I got my leg over and we were off. I tried to maintain the distance between us. But, when The road got bumpy and at times steep I ended up trying to stabilize myself by pressing in my legs. Then I realized, ‘oh yeah, inappropriate,’ and I’d pull my knees out as far as they’d go. By the time I got off, my inner thighs were so sore I felt like I’d just spent an hour on the thigh adductor machine at the gym. Even today, they’re still sore.
Well, we made it to the landing just missing the ferry. It was only a 15 minute wait for the next one and I waited patiently for its arrival. As soon as I touched foot back in town though I was in trouble. I hadn’t used the bathroom all day. I was in a restrictive skirt, my thighs were all wobly, my brain felt like it was crashing into the sides of my skull every time I moved, I was feverish and I was about to have an accident. I nearly ran to the first restaurant I passed that I knew had a bathroom. I barely made it, but I made it. It was a glorious reunion, the toilet and I and my cries of relief were heartfelt. I bought a chocolate muffin afterward because the toilet was for patrons only, and then I enjoyed the rest of the slow uneventful journey home.