Saturday, November 7, 2009

Village life in the Laos lane

Nayang village in Northern Laos, surrounded by glistening green crops, looked like a stage set in a BBC medieval drama. Rice wine boiled on a cauldron as it was funnelled into a line of waiting bottles. At up to 70 per cent alcohol it’s a lethal concoction, drunk readily, and known as lao lao. Under a large stilted house a three-month-old baby swung in a bamboo cradle, hitched to the raised floor of the house, while her grandmother heaved-ho at the loom. Bicycle wheels stripped of their tyre, had been converted into spinning wheels and an upturned bomb used to sharpen knives. All around the clickety-clack of the looms drowned out the roosters as pattern upon pattern evolved on the freshly-made textiles. Barefooted women sat around coiling the cotton on to tiny bamboo yarn sticks.

In the neighbouring house, while chickens stole sneaky pecks at drying scarlet chillies, another Tai Lue woman thrashed at giant cotton balls to thin out the cloudy fluff before it would be sent for spinning. Mid-morning the children were in school so the only movement in this small village were piglets on marathon runs.

There are hundreds of villages like this across northern Laos. Many are strung out along the roadside where Hmong and Tai Dam ethnic minorities live. Incredibly they all have electricity but their lifestyle is simple and as far removed from urban graft and grime as you can imagine.

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