The Village At The End Of The Long Muddy Road

My Workaway assignment was over, Sangphet invited me to stay with his family in Nalae. We took the long dirt road 86km into the jungle, passing through the gauntlet of the hydra, reaching the village at the end of the long muddy road.

The village district of Nalae is home to some 400 people, residing alongside the Namtha River. Sanphet’s home was a humble wooden abode, nestled amongst the rubber trees endemic to the area.

I felt like a bit of a celebrity.

His wife and son were there to greet me, as well as five builders helping him with the construction of his new home on site.

After the three hour drive into the village, we paused for respite, vegetating in front of the television which was playing television programs from Thailand – apparently the Laos language is 60% similar and Laotians can understand the language enough to watch television in Thai.

A lovely afternoon stroll around the village allowed me a glimpse into local living. Being the only falang (foreigner) that anyone had seen in so long, or ever, I could hear everyone talking about falang falang. I felt like a bit of a celebrity actually.

We visited the neighbours who were cultivating a spice used for cooking, though it appeared they were producing it en masse. A small bark construction in the backyard was being used to smoke the spices, drying them to the perfect consistency for cooking.

Beside the smokehouse were two large concrete baths. The first was full the brim with rubber harvested from the rubber trees – I guess they use this somehow in their daily lives, though the smell is quite strong. The second concrete bath was used for raising toads, the eating kind – though their bumpy brown skin did nothing for the apetite.

They had invented some sort of game using a stick, rubber bands and flip flops.

Down the road was the school where Sangphet would resume his English teaching on the following Monday.

We saw some kids playing games in the field – they had invented some sort of game using a stick, rubber bands and flip flops. It was quite amazing to see such creativity and the amount of fun they were having with basically nothing.

It made me think of how the western concept of nothing is so different to actual nothing. I mean, if we had nothing but a stick, rubber bands and our flip flops on our feet, I’d say no game we’d create would come close to that of these kids.

Basically, the rubber bands were looped on to the stick and placed in the middle. In teams of two, one partner would launch their flip flop at the stick, with the intent to dislodge as many rubber bands as possible, while the second partner would attempt to recover the loose ones on the ground. The team with the most rubber bands won!

In the afternoon, I helped the guys at Sangphet’s home with the construction. At this stage, the foundation had been laid and the outer pillars were being made. We threaded steel rods to reinforce the concrete that would later be poured.

At dinner time, Sangphet’s wife, Nokh, prepared a meal of Bamboo shoots and sticky rice. I was the only one out of the eight of us who was offered a bowl – I guess they didn’t really expect me to eat in the local manner. However, I insisted to eat as they did. In one hand, we grabbed the sticky rice and rolled it into a ball. In the other, we used chopsticks to eat from the shared bowls in the middle. I really enjoyed this way of eating and it really helped them to see that I was trying to respect their eating culture and participate as a guest, rather than a stranger or a TOURIST.

As the sun set, we cleaned up the plates and then lined up for the shower. A big drum of water had a bowl with a handle. That was the shower. Cold water and a bucket was the best thing I could have asked for on that very hot day, I really welcomed the outdoor shower.

The family settled back into the house and watched Thai television. I dozed off to the sound of the television and the gentle pitter-patter of the rain. As the night grew darker, the rain became heavier and eventually the pitter-patter turned into the sound of buckets and buckets of water against the tin roof – however noisy it was, it seemed therapeutic and calming.

We stopped behind a long line of vehicles – there had been a landslide.

In my dreams, I was in the minivan going back to town. The rain in real life was playing a part in my dream – so much so that I had visions of the minivan swerving off the mud and down into the ravine.

The next day, as I set off to the bus stop, I had the same visions that something may happen on the road. After an hour and a half into the journey, we stopped behind a long line of vehicles – there had been a landslide. A landslide that caused rock, mud and vegetation to block the road, so that neither traffic going or coming could pass. A few 4X4s attempted passage, but became stuck in the squelchy clay.

The rain began again and it was another hour or so before enough of the road had been cleared for us to proceed. We approached the blockage slowly, at first with some apprehension, but as we passed the point of no return somehow we had just enough push to make it through.


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