Friday, April 28, 2006

shoo fly, don't bother me

i have just returned from Ban Veunh, on the west bank of the Mekong, just north of Meuang Khong in southern Laos. reference the map previously posted, and see how far south i got; i think the map is archived now...

southern Laos is beautiful. i am captivated by the calmness of the islands and the slow-paced feel to life down there. as the Mekong river flows south to the Cambodian border, it widens, and in the middle of the river are all these small islands. but many are still without electricity and potable water. most of the villages on the west bank of the river are also without electricity, and such was the village where i stayed. (in case i didn't explain before, i went to southern Laos to catch up with a former client; he moved to Laos about a year ago, and since has gotten married. they are currently expecting a baby in january.)

i stayed at his mother's house, and she has a generator that is turned on for a few hours each night so they can have light, a fan, and Thai tv in the main room of the house. she and her husband live in the usa, but they had a sizable house built there in the village a couple of years ago. and when that tv comes on, the neighborhood all shows up to watch. its just like a movie theatre, but the seats are on the floor and are free.

the first night of my stay there at the house followed a day when a sizable rain storm had come through the area. so when the lights were turned on, the bugs were came out in full force. i've never seen so many bugs swarming around a light before; the doors (more like a cage gate) of the house are constantly left open, and the windows don't have screens. so i just sat there in awe as the bugs just poured into the house. i figured this is how Noah gathered the bugs for the ark, because at least two of every type of bug in Laos were flying around in that front room. and they would fly in so fast that they would hit the light and then fall to the floor. every 15 minutes or so, one of the girls would get up and sweep up the pile of bugs gathering in the center of the floor and try to push them out of the door. at one point, the girl screamed cause she found a scorpion crawling in (towards my sleeping palate, i swear.) that scorpion is no longer alive. it was squished with the end of the broom stick.

i kept wondering how this problem would be dealt with once the lights went off. bugs just don't leave because you turn off the light. but i tried to have some hope that maybe Lao bugs are different than other bugs... and when you turn off the lights, they all go home (like the kids did when they turned off the Thai tv...)

well, i probably don't need to continue this story, because you already know the ending. besides, karma comes back at you in interesting ways. (reference the story i told that made fun of jacob for his little episode with the striped bug on the boat in halong bay; thus is my reward for a story that put him in a bad light; but he is kinda wimpy though when it comes to bugs - but i guess i am kinda wimpy when it comes to a swarm of locusts sent to chastise pharaoh.

well, the lights were turned off after another futile attempt to sweep up the ugly bug ball in the middle of the floor, and the three cousins and i tried to get to sleep. problem #1: it was HOT. i cannot tell you when i have been that hot before. no air... just dead heat. the whole room was thickly sticky and dark, and i had no fan on me. problem #2: bugs. i have never had to sleep with bugs crawling on me before. at any given moment, i had 5 bugs on me that i could feel (and another 20 that i couldn't). i just lay there, picking them off my skin and flicking them across the floor. most of them were the jacob-scared-of-the-striped-bug size, but some were the size of a four-year-old's fist. i tried to spray myself with mosquito repellant, but that only seemed to attract them more: what scares off mosquitoes seems like the call of the wild for every other bug. the cousins were cracking up at the whole thing. they seemed to think it was funny... (and i guess i did too, until i decided to slap one that was crawling on my head - and it let off this stinky stinky death knell smell... that was the last one i decided to kill.) the cousins informed me that i had killed a meng kheng; they didn't see the thing, but you don't need to see the jar of mustard to recognize the smell. (too bad kim wasn't there to help me with this one).

i finally fell into unconsciousness, half laughing, half crying, thinking that i would assert myself the next day and demand to sleep somewhere else (in the upper room maybe? or at least request a mosquito net... ) but of course, the next day i just let it go; the feel of the country side down there does that to you. it's almost like nothing can bother you there; valium's in the air, and time just stops. and things like unfinished case notes at work, the iraq war, and missed episodes of "lost" don't matter... and true to form, it all worked out ok in the end anyway: the next evening saw about 10% of the bugs of the first night. and i can sleep fine when, at any given moment i have 0.5 bug(s) crawling on me that i can feel (and another 2 that i can't feel).

and with all this talk of bugs and opressive heat, i am sure nobody wants to visit Laos anymore ... and i would tell you another story about a big bug (meng valy or vady, not sure on this, cause the southern Lao change their d's to l's) that i was coerced into eating that grossed me out so bad i left the house so i could spit it out, but my blog is losing subscribers fast, and i can't afford to lose any more.


plainoldsarah said...

this is the best bug story ever! i'm going to share it with my students.

ewesa said...

joseph, seriously, you should write a travel book. not many people can remain interesting three paragraphs into a story!

jrm said...

thank you sarah! (but wait till you read my latest post... it garauntees to put one to sleep!)