Stickman Readers' Submissions March 20th, 2004

Gone Fishing (In Isaan) Part 5

Sis and I jumped into the truck and headed down the street toward the store on the corner that shoulda been mine. I turned right onto the dusty red dirt soi that leads through the older part of the village and empties into the farmland surrounding the village to the south and east. The only road paved in the village is the main road that runs through it. Everywhere else is just dirt and mudholes. Lining the soi are ramshackle wooden houses on stilts, some with a cinder block foundation, most just open air with hammocks strung between the poles which support the house. I dodged the occasional soi dog lying in the now dry mudholes looking for relief from the heat. The mudholes are pretty large, and I go slow trying to keep from bottoming out the axles of the truck in the dirt. We bounce along as Sis chatters and babbles in Lao to those she knows.

I honk the horn at friends and neighbors, slowing and stopping once in a while to let a mother hen cross by in front of us trailing her passle of stumbling chicks behind, not wanting to run over and kill someone's future dinner. Roosters cackle and crow under woven bamboo conical prisons. Palm trees and banana trees arch over the road, their broad leaves filtering the harsh noontime sunlight into a mosaic of shadow and sunshine down the passageway of dirt and greenery. I breathe in the air, which smells of earth and water, and cooking Lao foods, and smokey fires. Half naked little boys romp on the side of the soi, eyes wide and wonderous at the sight of a falang in their part of the world. One tyke shoots a streaming arc of golden water into the dust from his little forward pointing prick, while pointing at me and crying loudly toward his mother, who is standing nearby in front of a huge old tree stump, using it as a chopping block and table while slashing the tops off of green coconuts with a wicked looking cutting utensil. All seemingly effortlessly, with a grace and fluidity belyed only by the rippling muscles in her golden brown skinny arms as she weilds the weapon expertly. Another Thai lass I wouldn't want to piss off when she has something sharp in her mitts.

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She grins at me as we pass slowly, and spits a stream of betel nut fluid from her mouth unerringly into an old dried coconut gourd at her feet in the grass. A nasty habit this is. She's still fairly young, maybe forty, at least still of child bearing age, and her habit has only stained her teeth lightly so far I notice as she laughs again and admonishes her son in Lao for his whining. I guess seeing the falang scared the piss out of the lad. Being the only farang about this village, and an ugly and scary looking one at that, the kid might have something to piss about maybe.

Puppies wrestle in mock mortal combat in the dust, growling, and nipping, and yelping, posturing and submitting, educating themselves for the real life battles to come in their fight for dominance in their soi.

We break free of the foliage protecting the village, and before us lies a vast seemingly endless golden checkerboard of fully ripened rice lying under the frighteningly huge glare of the sun. I pull my sunglasses down off my brow and save myself a few more years of eyesight in my old age. The sun hangs over the landscape, brutal, yet somehow beautiful in it's intense shimmering heat. A huge swirling yellow glob of burning gasses looking like something depicted in a Van Gogh painting. The coolness of the early morning just a memory now, fading fast into the blazing tropical afternoon.

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The farmland is dotted with sparse green patches of bamboo stands, and a few silent sentinel trees of differing genus, the names of which are unknown to me mostly. The landscape is something out of the distant past, forever old, yet the sustenance of life for generations to come. Age old, yet still fertile. Looking the same now as centuries past, and hopefully centuries into the future.

Along the road old rusted bicycles stand and lie forlorn at lengthy intervals, waiting for the distant straw hatted owners to finish their labors in the fields and to transport them back to their shaded homes at the end of the day. Their once oiled chains caked with dust, their saddles broken and swaybacked, spokes pitted with future rust, at least their owners won't have to walk all the way back home after a day's back breaking work. Sis and I trundle slowly down the meandering track, finally reaching the family rice plots after fifteen minutes of jouncing along.

The twenty or so family workers and their friends are still in the fields toiling away. Our arrival is noticed, and catcalls and greetings assail our ears from the distance. Everyone starts collecting their bundles of picked rice stalks and move them to the roadside for later collecting. Sis and I park near the shade of a huge old tree and begin taking out the foodstuffs and drinks for the workers lunch. Blankets and straw mats are placed around the tree in the shade and they all come chatting and laughing, slowly walking toward their repast. They look tired and hot, but smiles flash and jokes abound, it's break time. Thank Buddha.

The wife comes walking over. She's clad in old clothes, her work clothes, seldom used as of late, her head swaddled in cloth to ward off the skin darkening rays of the viciously biting sun, a wide brimmed straw hat, newly bought atop her head, her hair done up in a bun, only her eyes show. I'd know her slouching walk and swiveling hips anywhere though, and pick her out from the crowd, her body is as familiar to me as my own. I greet her and hand her a cold glass of beer Chang, which she accepts gratefully while peeling off her sun protecting outer layers of clothing. She's hungry and thirsty, as is everyone else. They sit and start to drink and eat from heaping platters of rice and chillies, and veggies and meats, all the time laughing and chattering away. My wife loves rice picking and planting time. She says it's fun. I can see why as I look around me at their smiling, joking faces. These are good hard working people, who love life and enjoy the company of others, simple, happy farmers who I've come to love and respect myself. The salt of the earth. The heart and soul of Thailand.

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Sis and I would go fishing once the lunch hour was over. We had all afternoon still before us. Plenty of time until dark.

(to be continued)

Stickman says:

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