We walked past one-room houses of bamboo stick walls, straw roofs, and dirt floors.
Chickens scampered and clucked about.
Children played barefoot and parents in flip-flops tended to the babies, prepped meals, or conducted other daily chores.
This was a quiet lifestyle. No machines–though it felt as if we had entered a time machine and gone back to the days when my great grandparents lived in similar conditions, minus the bamboo of course.
This was a hill village in Southeast Asia, and we wandered it on May 11.
All this day–sports day at our sister school, about which I shared last week–I had been teased with images of the adjacent village activity. Then by mid-afternoon, after the students had kicked their last goal and shot their last basket, it was as if life heeded the call of these photographs, and Kazoua, our trip supervisor, called out, “Okay everyone, we’re going to tour the village!”
All 37 of our students, us six chaperons, and a village guide began the walk the village, Huai Khu near the Thailand-Laos border.
We walked down the hill atop which the school was perched. Nearing the bottom, we took in the activity of main street, a tar road lined with concrete, painted buildings with metal corrugated roofs.
Huai Khu is a young municipality–maybe 40 years old, a settlement of Hmong former refugees after their refugee camps were closed, and so the Hmong assimilated within Thailand.
Though the people here identify Huai Khu as a “village” rather than a “town,” I admit this part feeling more “townish” with the convenience stores of food staples, cold sodas, and candy; mopeds zooming along the road; and electricity powering the lives along this stretch.
Then things changed.
We went off the main road, and as happens in cities all over the world, a mere minute of walking can see the scenery adjustdrastically.
Bamboo chute walls replaced the concrete. No more cement floors. Floors were earth. Overall, people lived with less distinguishing between work and home.
And then we really went off the beaten path.
Our guide, an employee at our sister school, directed our group of students and chaperons up a hill path. Heading deeper into the woods of the hillside while climbing higher, the path became narrower and even a bit treacherous as one feared slipping and tumbling down unless a tree should interrupt your fall.
And the crazy part was that this was the route some of our sister school children took every day to get to class.
Eventually, moving a few, eye-level branches out of my way, I had reached the plane of the hilltop where things opened up. There were several simple buildings.
Fowl waddled about.
Children looked at our group–especially at white man me.
And as was apparent with the girl above watching her younger sibling, the ways of life here were evident.
The Hmong are known in Southeast Asia as “Hill People.” It seemed that after leaving the refugee camps, they assumed their ways up here.
The views were lovely.
After several minutes wandering, we made our way back down to one of those convenience stores for some refrigerated water.
The average American has compartmentalized the elements of life: work, family, vacation, spirituality, leisure. I believe this demarcation is in line with the American strength of productivity. Separating these element leads to more impact for each.
But while life is enriched by these impactful elements, and while it can be cleaner to organize them exclusive to one another, there is also something relaxing and calming and serene about the way things were done here at Huai Khu.
Don’t worry about having to look the part, impress others, meet the deadline–often all at the expense of missing out on our breath, our existence. To soak in the pleasure of feeding chickens or sharpening a blade is to realize the joy in life’s fundamental elements. It’s really about being in touch with life. Heck, up here even the line between civilization and nature itself was blurred in ways further than I was used to.
It’s a blessing to experience, and then understand, how different lifestyles exhibit different strengths and expand the potential for humankind.
After the tour, we made our way back to our motel in the nearest city a hilly hour’s drive away. The next day we’d drive both schools’ students a couple of hours away to a place where we could see three countries standing in one spot.