Chips of wood scatter in the air surrounding you as the axe strikes the tree. On your way home a villager calls you towards him. “Here,” he says, “hit tree.” You line up the axe and swing at a downward angle; one, two, three times. The work is repetitive but satisfying in the sense that your progress is visible and tangible. “Give me,” he states, and finishes the job. After a few swings the branch we had been working on hits the ground with a dull thump. He raises the axe above his head with both hands and celebrates his victory.
Shortly after, he leads you and your friends to a patch of earth void of grass. Nearby, he finds a stick and sits in the middle of the group. Clueless and curious, you stare with full attention. “You,” he says, and points to one of your friends. He grabs the stick and begins to draw something in the dirt. He makes a circle and divides it into 10 equal parts. “How old are you?” he asks. “Twenty five,” she replies. He begins to mutter things to himself, counting the parts of the circle using the number she provides. A
few times around the circle and he stops at one of the parts. “You marry in five years,” he states calmly, and then begins to count again, stopping at another one of the 10 parts. “You have kids in seven years,” he says, and the prophecies continue. “You,” he says, and points at yourself, “How old are you?” “Twenty three,” you reply, and he begins to predict your future. It starts to rain heavily, and yet, the man continues.
What the man says is of little interest to you. You’re a nonbeliever when it comes to fortunes and prophecies; you are neither religious nor a subscriber of fate. What interests you more is this man’s character and the fact that he is able to befriend and entertain total strangers. What amazes you is how quickly the man gains your trust and connects and shares experiences with you. Tan is 62 and has lived in the small village of Don Det, Laos all his life. He has never been to a city and knows not the western world. He is short in stature but strong as an ox. At 62, he is still able to chop down an entire tree
and saw it into chimney-sized pieces. He is quite the character; your pictures do some justice in expressing so.
Leaving Don Det for the afternoon…
Five kilometers from the village of Don Det is an impressive waterfall. You and your friends rent bicycles and make the journey. On the way there you can’t help but notice how rural the surrounding countryside is. Green grass and trees contrast with the open blue sky, water buffaloes graze freely as farmers work in rice paddies religiously, lungs delight as nostrils breathe in crisp clean air.
You spend some time admiring the waterfall. Water crashes down on and winds through rock, eroding it over time to form bends. Nature is awesome. You notice that the surrounding village utilizes the force of the waterfall through dams that provide electricity. They also place fish traps in the spaces where water rushes; the fish fall in and cannot swim out against the tremendous current.
Specs of dirt scatter into the space surrounding it as the ball strikes the earth. As you leave the waterfall, you notice two locals playing bocce ball. Familiar to you, you watch as each one of them aim their
bocce balls and either toss or roll them towards the target ball; the player with the closest ball(s) wins. Within a few throws and seemingly without hesitation, they invite you to play.
Five games in and you have yet to win a game. You’re getting your ass kicked (to say the least), but to be fair, these guys are amazing players! They toss/roll each ball with such accuracy that they often get their ball to rest touching the target ball eight meters away. If they so choose, they can toss their ball, knocking your ball away from the target ball and putting their ball close to the target ball for the win. It is an awesome sight.
Back at Don Det…
There is a silence to Don Det that you admire; it is one of the most quiet places you have ever visited. You spend an afternoon to yourself walking through the village, hitting the reset button and reflecting on your time here.
Chips of wood scattered in the air as the axe struck the tree, specs of dirt scattered into space as the bocce balls hit the earth, time passes and takes you away from
Don Det and Laos. Next stop, Cambodia.
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