Something is energetically shifting strongly as I could not sleep at all, which is perfect regardless because work on the farm begins bright and early at 6:30 am at the goat house. A kind Lao man is directing all the chores that need to be completed for the friendly animals. We sweep the pens of all the poo and old hay after releasing the animals into the field (the ram was particularly itching for a stretch, standing on his hind legs reaching six feet tall knocking on his gate). The poo piles were placed in compost and the old hay returned to the pig pens. Chubby piglets bury freely into the earth, snorting away with pleasure; soft eyed baby goats scramble at our feet and gently nibble for a scratch behind the horn or a belly rub. The fur is fluffy and white and incredibly soft. I want to squeeze them all they are so damn cute!
I am full of excitement and want to scream MOOOOO, although that would be strange, of course, for there are no cows here. There are nonetheless friendly mixed breed dogs, kittens, guinea pigs, some kids, in addition to the rows of mulberry trees with plump sweet berries, durian, rambutan, pomelo, star fruit. I am Eve in the Garden of Eden.
As we head to the main building we observe women drying the mulberry leaves for tea in large metal bowls over low fire, tossing the leaves by hand in rhythmic circles. The process for making this green tea takes four hours for drying, a patient practice that requires careful attention. The tea is a green tea and not black and consequently the leaves should not be too roasted.
Under the main building where the reception desk and restaurant is located, a large open aired dwelling surrounded by jack fruit trees, hammocks, 360 degrees views of the mountains and the Nam Song river, we sit and package the dry tea into plastic bags using a chopstick to push in the label. Then it is time for breakfast. We have completed four hours of work and it is only 10:30 am. I commend the farm life with great admiration.
My baguette is warm and chewy, soaked up with local honey. Some enjoy plump mulberry pancakes in the same fashion. We share fruit plates with black and white dragon fruit, rubbery yellow jack fruit, sweet baby bananas, and watermelon. Fresh mulberry tea over ice is refreshing and well deserved hydration before we head out for more work.
Some of the guys clear a ditch using picks while others move the earth. We are digging a hole to use as a place to mix the ingredients for mud bricks. The ladies are assisting too but not as fervently it seems for an Australian woman, one who assists with the organization of the farm volunteers and the community in general, snatches the two of us away in her car to take us to her house down the road. We cut scraps of fabric and sew the ends, stuffing the squares with plastic bags to make homemade chalk erasers for the blackboards at the local school.
Our Australian sister has the biggest heart. She and her husband have been coming to Laos for years, donating their time and resources selflessly. Years ago in Northern Thailand she and her husband fell in love with an 18 year old monk who was keen on practicing English with the foreigners, remaining in contact with him for a period of time before purchasing a flight for him to come to Australia to continue learning. This monk is now their adopted son, who has disrobed as most do after receiving a period of education, and is living full time in the capital of Laos. His sister was also later adopted by the Aussie couple, who returns to Laos for approximately three months per year to lovingly assist with the local school and other community necessities.
The poverty and disorganization is extensive in the schools. Often the young and inexperienced teachers do not show up. There are days where chalk is scarce. The couple shares that the school has not had running water for over a year and only required their personal investment of $35 to mend the problem. Lack of resources in addition to fear of the government prevents most difficulties from getting fixed, roads remaining unpaved and schools/hospitals inadequately supplied. This is the way of life under communism in Laos.
Secondary education is often a privilege of the few as most families need their children to work in the fields to assist with income. Girls are sometimes shipped off to work in factories and end up in the sex trade industry. It is no easy life.
Lao people are overall happy people regardless, satisfied by the simple shelter and adequate food present (for most). The people here are sincerely connected with the land, live in harmony with the seasons, and predominantly remain unscathed by Western consumerism… chiefly because no one can afford televisions and thus have little contact with evils of modern life. Lessons of gratitude are abundant.
I rest for a short nap in the afternoon, the noise of the ugly bars on the riverfront distracting. The farm staff breaks too, laying under a shaded bridge out of the midday sun. I bet the goats and piggies are snoozing as well.
The evening is peaceful and relaxing, us all eating together and enjoying the organic ingredients of the farm (and optional Lao beer). It is communal and lovely, an international family. We share the chores of cleanup before heading to bed under our mosquito nets. Another early day commences tomorrow!