From bottomlands as flat and green as a lake, the mountains soar skyward all around us, improbably high and straight-sided. With the smoke of burning rice paddies drifting between them, they look like the crumbling teeth of fallen dragons.
After climbing and descending a few mountain passes, we leave this stunning scenery behind us and descend into gentler country that is increasingly dry and dusty. It’s been a while now since the last rain, and the smoke and dust keep getting worse.
In the late afternoon we pull off the “highway” and drive a few kilometers down a dirt road to a traditional village of several hundred homes. This is our home-stay portion of the trip; we’re assigned in pairs to stay at the homes of some of the families.
Karel and I are shown a room at the house of the first chief (there are usually three chiefs), which seems to be a central gathering place rather than a traditional home. However, the chief is preoccupied with other matters, and no one introduces us to the family. There are a lot of people coming and going, none of whom speak a word of English, so we can’t figure out who lives here. I give up trying to find our host family and offer to help with preparing food for our dinner. The women give me some easy jobs and sit around me, chatting, slicing, and peeling.
Dinner is great, although the villagers serve us in the common space rather than in their homes. Then, with darkness falling, the children begin to arrive. After a few minutes of fiddling with dials and wires, someone gets some music playing over a decent-sized amplifier, and the kids show us a traditional dance. More music, and this time we’re invited to join them in the simple line dance. Next, they show us how Laotian men and women dance together. Some of the children take our hands and ask us to dance. Note: There was one light bulb, plus the light spilling from the window of the nearby building, so these photos and the video aren’t great quality. However, they give you a sense of what it was like.
My partner is a boy named Jai. My guess is that he’s 11 or so. His hand movements are graceful and precise; he seems very confident. He’s also very possessive of me, pushing away other children who try to join us. We do several dances together, and Jai takes my hand and pulls me to strategic positions in the line of dancers—far from kids who might try to horn in on his action, but close enough to his buddies that he can show off for them.
All bets are off, however, when someone puts on Gangnam Style. Jai is swept away by a mob of kids shrieking with delight, I’m surrounded by a crowd of girls, and we all do our best to mimic the moves that every human being on the planet, it seems, has seen on Youtube. Then we do it again. By the time we’re done, my clothes are wringing wet.
Now the westerners are asked to provide some entertainment. Joan leads us in the alphabet song. Karel and I sing Black Horse and a Cherry Tree, and I get the adults to provide drumming (on the picnic tables) while the children sing “woo hoo” whenever I point, which all works out very well. Then we show them a dance, and by this time, we’ve got their number, we know how to please these kids. With Ben and Daisy leading, we get everyone into three big circles and dance the Hokey Pokey (Hokey Kokey if you’re British). They love it, especially the part where we all come into the center at the end of each verse.
At last, we say goodnight and stagger off to bed.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013