Sights and sounds of huay pakoot
I was prepared for life in the village to be somewhat challenging being a world away figuratively and literally from home, but it is also more rustically charming than I had envisioned too. Even the chill of a bucket shower after a long, hot, dusty hike has become a magical thing.
My homestay family provided me with a thin mattress on the floor covered by a mossie (mosquito) net, typical of what you might find throughout Southeast Asia. It sits upon a colourful rug, and a comforter, fleece blanket, bolster and pillow complete my bedding. When Mimi showed us my room, Phoebe pointed to the hanging rack in the corner and said this perk was “quite flash” and not many of the homestays provide one. On the wall, a laminated colour photo of an elephant crossing a river. I have since added a couple photos of my own and a picture coloured by Casey. A single light bulb throws light from the center of the ceiling, a double outlet is at the entryway, and my door is outfitted with a padlock and key on the outside (as all of the rooms at the home are) and a latch on the inside. I have one key and my family has the other, just in case I should lose it in the jungle or a rainstorm comes through and the windows need to be shut.
My windows are two sets of three wooden shutters that push out to a view of the home next door and the dusty ground below. The homes are built on risers, and underneath roosters, chickens, chicks, pigs, piglets, cats, kittens and dogs roam on the loose. Buffalo and the large hogs are either penned or tied up. In other parts of the village you can also find beautiful varieties of ducks and, of course, our elephants. And everywhere, butterflies in colour combinations that are so bright and vibrant – greens the colour of deep velvet, purples of lavender, yellow like buttercups, blues in every shade of the ocean from the deepest to the aquamarine of coastal reefs.
In the night, crickets and cicadas and geckos eliminate my need for white noise from a fan I would use at home. Wooden bells around the necks of the buffalo clang rhythmically as they walk and settle down. Occasionally the dogs might tussle with each other or they may pick on someone smaller than them too – not just the cats, but the pigs and chickens are on their list as well. Several run from their homes to bark at passerbys, and others run into the street to dissuade the barkers from carrying on. When I walk down the hill from base camp to my house, not only do the dogs greet me, but sometimes I’ll hear the tick tick tick of a rooster’s claws. Or I’ll dip as a bat swoops down.
Until around 10pm, the villagers pop into each others’ homes to watch a show or catch up on gossip. Most of the living areas have one wall open to the street, which makes dropping in for a quick chat easy. My teenage neighbour, Chew Dama, who was Down’s syndrome, can be heard singing her soothing song day and night. Lots of extended “laaaah! loooow!” and incredibly sweet. I’ll miss it when I’m gone.
Starting way before dawn could possibly be showing any traces of light, the roosters rise. I had read somewhere that they don’t all perform a perfect “cock-a-doodle-doo!” and I can certainly affirm that it is true and also not from a lack of trying. Many sound like “errrr-errr-eeeeh,” falling flat at the end. When the sun does finally start to come up, the pigs get busy winding each other up – or at least that’s the only thing I can figure. It starts with a few “oy! oy! oy!” – almost shy. Then more join in until the crescendo builds and my house is practically trembling from the noise. “OYEEE! OYEEE! OYEEEE!” By this time Kela and Auntie have gotten up and shoo them with their brooms to distract them from the frenzy. Pigs, I have learnt, are quite skittish. They wag their tails as you approach, and then scatter like frightened kittens once you’re within a few feet of them. Drops of water fell from the clothes drying on the rack and hit them, and they jumped up “wa-eeee! wa-eee!” and ran away.
There are approximately 40 dogs who live in the village, and only about 1/3 are deemed actual pets. You can tell which ones those are, because they don’t look as mangy and skinny as the rest. The rest are friendly scavengers, living off of handouts, but even then, most of them have names. The GVI staff members have vaccinated all and desexed as many of them as possible – only three remain as they had litters of pups at the time. There are several who hang around base camp, snoozing on the steps and standing guard of their gola (foreigner) friends. Scamp seems to always be here, and Polo and Bella are here a fair share too. I often find that I’m not walking alone, one of the dogs will tag along and give a friendly bark back at the dogs who come out to the street to meet us. Most of the dogs have gotten used to seeing me, but there are two who cannot help themselves from barking and stalking me as I walk by. One smells me, and no one else that I’ve seen, and starts barking while I’m still a football field’s distance away. There are others who favor me, and come bounding out to greet me like I’ve come home for them. It’s been a long journey to get here, and I have.
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