Notes From The Subterranean Part 3
There was only one road that went through the village, a fair stretch of cracked and sun-baked concrete, which diesel trucks used to transport goods from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The homes of the village people speckled the flat land on the sides of the road under canopy of coconut palm. Homes of wood, corrugated aluminum, plywood, mud stucco, mortar, brick…poorly built, constructed upon stilts in preparation for the flood season. The horizon was not jagged, like most of the countryside, but flat, seamless, and dominated by the draws of the rice paddies and manmade canals. At dusk the night bugs swarmed the reddened sky. When night fell the darkness was briefly interrupted by the spark of hundreds of florescent lights, soon snuffed out by night bugs that descended by the thousands and gathered near the lights. They rapped against boarded and screened windows. They died almost as quickly as they hatched, the bugs, clogging drains, bug carcasses piling up on doorsteps, frozen in lit up ice coolers.
It was an old house the foreigner lived in, near a canal at the edge of the village, built of cheap plywood, and raised on wood stilts for the rainy season when the canal flowed over. The rainy season had come and gone. It was October. It would be cool soon.
The people who lived in the homes in the village were poor subsistence farmers. There was no running water in the homes unless there was a pump and if there was a pump it often needed repairing. Some people caught the rain water during rainy season and stored in it ceramic jugs the size of small automobiles. The electricity was generator run and the fuel it used expensive and hard to come by. No one used the electricity in the days. Many of the villagers didn’t even have TVs.
There was no contact or much knowledge of the outside world except the foreigner who lived in the house near the canal at the edge of the village. The villagers called the foreigner a ‘farang’ in their native tongue, which was a word that derived from a time when the French colonized South-East Asia, ‘farang’ – as in an outsider. Someone who didn’t belong. Thus the farang who lived in the house near the canal at the edge of the village lived alone, and while the villagers were welcoming and friendly, he wasn’t one of their own.
It was a strange culture, this rural village culture. Funerals, where people were supposed to be mourning, often became celebrations. People drank whiskey and the men gambled until the early hours of dawn. Men arrived in the night at funerals with carpets with dice in them, and at the end of the night, collect the winnings and divvy out 10% to the aggrieved.
People in the village didn’t do much in the hot season, which was from March to May, and all work stopped for two weeks so the Thais could celebrate Songkran, their New Year. Then began the wet season, from June to November, and culminated in monsoons in October.
The foreigner was accustomed to the villagers' ways, even though the culture was much different than his own, and participated in the festivals and gatherings of the villagers but he never found anyone and stayed alone in the home near the canal at the edge of the village.
In the dry season he worked in the secondary school in the village and taught English. During the rainy season, and especially in October, he helped the villagers build small dams to prevent excessive flooding. Once, when the farang fell ill and was unable to move, they sent one of the village girls who was also one of his students to care for him. In a few days, when he was well, she returned home, and left him alone to the house on the canal at the edge of the village.
The farang had always comported himself well in public. When he worked he was a diligent worker, and when he drank he drank little, and while the villagers did not think of the farang as their own, they respected him in their own way.
It was October, as I mentioned – the rainy season, and it had been raining for days but that was not the problem. Problem was, in a word: Dogs. Long been the time when there was any kind of animal control and dogs were left to dogs doing. They roamed the desolate highways. They scavenged. Never was there a problem before with the dogs, because the villagers understood the cycle of life – you lived and you died…and it was the same with dogs.
But in the past few months the dogs had become cruel and aggressive and roamed in packs. Normally, the children of the village left the home to go out and play in the numerous canals that lay beside the highway and were ideal spots to cool off in the mid-day heat.
In recent months there had been a rash of dog attacks, some leading to rabies infections. This village wasn’t a part of the developed world. The villagers had little money, and even if they had some money, the nearest hospital was over 50 kilometers away. When you got sick you got well or you died.
Because of the problem with the dogs the villagers were forced to keep their children indoors. The streets emptied in the day when there was no school. There was a school bus which was a run down van that was used to transport students to and from school on days there were classes. Sports day was canceled. The school closed the gates while classes were in session, something they never did. Even the teachers were afraid.
It had gone on for months, the dogs roaming the village. At first, people believed the dogs infected with rabies would die but that didn’t happen. Infected dogs infected more dogs.
The problem with the dogs was not localized to the village. Everywhere, it seemed, dogs gathered in packs and havocked the villages they roamed. It was on the verge of becoming an epidemic. Already dogs had bitten and infected nine children with rabies in the province.
Because the families were subsistence farmers and poor, some of the children infected went into a coma, and later died. The children, of course, had never been vaccinated. There were rumors that several communities near the village had been decimated by rabies.
It was a wild phenomenon in the developing world, a place vaccinations were common and people died less and less of illness. But it was something that had caught the villagers off-guard and now they needed a solution to this unorthodox problem.
The obvious answer to the problem of the rabid dogs, and what had worked for the villagers in the past, was to simply poison the dogs. This could be accomplished by leaving poisoned meat in the area you knew the dogs frequented. The dogs would eat the meat and in a few hours they would collapse. It was a common tactic to a problem that had plagued the countryside since the introduction of the domestic dog.
The problem with poisoning the dogs was twofold. First, there was no guarantee the dogs would even eat the meat. In fact, the dogs had been seen in the village hunting live prey, children included. And second, there were also cats and other animals that would eat the meat and thereby die consuming the meat that was meant for the rabid dogs.
Next, they tried to shoot the dogs. Several of the men in the village grabbed their rifles and tried to find the dogs on the road in the back of pick-up trucks. They drove around for hours in an attempt to find the dogs but were unsuccessful.
In the meantime more children were getting bit, infected, lapsing into a coma. More and more vaccinations were ordered by the clinics in Bangkok but the shipments would take weeks. The villagers in the village didn’t have weeks. They had precious little time before more children were infected.
It was a dire time in the history of the small community. Sure, they had experienced floods during the flood season, and famine during a drought. But these things passed with time. The villagers understood the cycle of life – it rained, it flooded, it cooled, it dried, seasons came and went, you lived and you died…but this somehow felt different. The dogs didn’t seem like dogs at all. Many of the villagers were superstitious and a few believed the dogs were not of this world. Demons, wraiths, and spirits were among things that every villager would tell you existed and sometimes crossed over to this world.
Word of the dogs spread to the farang who lived at the edge of the village on the canal. Of course, he knew well the problem of letting too many dogs go feral. He’d seen it before, in other villages halfway across the world, but he’d never seen or experienced something to the extent of the problem of the rabid dogs.
The farang decided to go to one of the elder, most respected farmers in the village. The farang couldn’t understand why the villagers weren’t taking more aggressive steps to solve the problem of the dogs. There were men in Thailand – killers – who could be hired at a minimal cost to kill people, even dogs maybe. He didn’t understand why the elders in the village didn’t contact the right people to get rid of the dogs. Hell, even the farang had been a killer at one point in his life. There were plenty of options and he didn’t understand why the villagers weren’t trying more of them.
He went to the elder and asked why the villagers hadn’t gone outside the village to solve the problem of the dogs. He even offered some money if that was what the villagers sought. It was his home, too, he explained, and he would do what he could to make the village right again.
“No,” the elder statesman told the farang. “It is not your problem. It is our problem.”
“But there are cities only a few hundred kilometers away. They have vaccines, manpower, money. They can solve the problem of the dogs.”
“No,” the elder villager reiterated. “We will deal with the problem ourselves.”
“There will be more death. More children will die.”
“So it will be.”
“They could infect the livestock.”
“So it will be.”
“The rabies could spread from child to child. Even village to village.”
“So it will be.”
“Your people will suffer until you decide to change.”
“So it will be.”
"So it will be" does rather seem to be a prevalent attitude here.