Monday, March 1, 2010

Life Along the Water - It Is All About Water

It is already March here in Thailand. Today is a holiday - the start of Buddhist Lent. It is also the start of the four day Mango Fair in nearby Non Wai in Amphoe Nong Wau Sor. We will go to the fair later this afternoon.

February went by so quickly. It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were returning home from our trip to Luang Namtha. Perhaps because the trip was so enjoyable that our memories and thoughts over the past month numbed our consciousness to the passage of time.

Throughout our trip, I was impressed with the importance that water played in the day to day life of the minority people of the Luang Namtha region. For many of us, water is taken for granted. It is readily available and at our disposal by merely turning a faucet open in our kitchen, in any number of our bathroom sinks, flush one of our toilets, our bath tub or tubs, our shower or showers, and the valves outside our home for watering the lawn and plants in our yards. Many of our refrigerators automatically create ice from the water that is hooked up to the appliance. We have no reservations about pouring a glass and drinking straight from the tap. The water is always there. The water is always potable.

That is the way that it is in our world. We may have concern regarding the availability of oil and its associated products. We are definitely concerned about the price of oil and its associated products. Seldom and perhaps never, are we concerned about the availability or cost of water. But this is not the way it is in most of the world.

We can live without oil albeit not as comfortably as we do now but all people, all creatures as well as plants, must have water. Unfortunately, for many people in the world access to water is not often reliable, convenient or even potable. To address some of the water issues, many people have settled alongside sources of water.

Every village and settlement that we came upon in the Luang Namtha region was along the banks of a river, stream, or spring. These sources of water were heavily utilized. In the late afternoon, we could see the villagers bathing in the flowing water. Typically in the morning, clothes were washed in the water although some people multi-tasked by washing clothes as part of their bathing ritual. No matter the time of the day for bathing, buckets of water were gathered and carried back home. At the Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant, small pumps take water directly out of the adjacent Nam Tha River and lift the water to elevated storage tanks to be used as required. In some of the settlements the source of household water was nothing more than a slow flowing drainage ditch between the road and the house. The same water used for washing clothes, and bathing is often is also used as a food source and for drinking water. The same water is often used by children as a playground. The same water is also used by the villager's livestock. What water is readily available is well utilized.

There was photographic opportunity that most likely will forever be fixed in my mind. Outside of Xieng Kok on the road back to Muang Sing, we came upon a mother standing in a shallow ditch in front of her home no more than 12 feet from the edge of the main road. She stood ankle deep in the water, having completed her bathing, wringing the water out of one side of her sarong that due to some semblance of modesty she was still wearing. Joining her in the ditch were three little boys and a little girl - all under three years old. Watching over the scene were three other little children. I often write about the lack of privacy here in Isaan but this scene often repeated during our Lao trip exceeds what is the situation in Isaan.
Once in Peru, my wife at the time remarked about the personal hygiene of the local people in Cusco, Peru. Shortly after she made that remark, I saw out of the train window, a small girl, perhaps 6 years old, struggling to carry two filled yellow Prestone Anti-Freeze containers of water from the small community water tap in the middle of a flat compacted bare earth area at the edge of the village. I pointed the scene out to my wife and remarked that the child was bringing water back to her home for cooking as well as bathing. I asked my wife how many baths would she take and further pointed out the water was cold. Again, for much of the world bathing is not as convenient nor as private as is our experience. Most people do not have the luxury of closing a door, turning a faucet or two, and enjoying an unlimited amount of hot water upon demand. Our Lao experience reminded us of our fortune - a fortune that we should not take for granted.

So today as I wind up reviewing and editing the photographs from our Luang Namtha journey, so many of them having water in them, I reminisce about the experience mostly of life along the river.

Life along the river, life along the stream, and sometimes life next to the ditch - I can almost hear once again the sounds of clothes being slapped against rocks, the soft ruffling of clothes being hand washed, the occasional plop of a fish as it reentered the water after catapulting upwards to snare a meal, the sharp staccato of rocks hitting upon each other as village women wade upstream overturning them in their search for food to bring back for the family meal, the sound of wet clothes being beat with a wooden club to clean them, the excitement as well as exuberance of young boys and girls exploring the banks together - each discovery evoking a conference as well an animated discussion with one child naturally evolving to be the group's leader, the sounds of community gossip in a six tonal language by village women as they congregate in mid-thigh high water to bathe, the soft crescendo of mono filament fishing nets being flung over the waters as the sun sets and a full moon rises ... Yes it is all about the water. - Life along the river in Laos.

We will hopefully never take our water for granted again.

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