Earlier this spring, we followed a bomb clearance team working high in the mountains near the Lao/Vietnam border. We all camped in tents
pitched inside a village schoolhouse that offered shelter from the wind, rain, cold, and critters outside. One rudimentary room with a stellar view served as the camp kitchen. Cooking took place over a fire on the floor in the corner,
and on chilly nights we gathered around the flames to keep warm. Bathing took place at a communal spigot across the schoolyard. On many misty evenings, the mere the thought of a shower brought shivers of dread.
But the days always turned sunny as the team set to work, back and forth with detectors across fields
with flowering coffee plants
and crimson pineapples. This work happens every day across Laos: teams searching for old US bombs rusting in the earth, 40 years after the airplanes dropped them. This particular team was hired by American Jim Harris, founder of the nonprofit We Help War Victims, commissioned by the NGO CARE to clear agricultural fields in this remote area so that villagers can finally—finally—work the land safely and maybe—just maybe—plant cash crops for the first time in decades.
The team worked all day, then headed back to camp for a wash, a rest, and dinner.
We all ate Lao-style, communally, dipping little balls of sticky rice into the day’s offerings of soups, stews, salads, and
chile pastes that lit the mouth with heat, filled the nostrils with fragrance, and warmed the insides with all the freshness that makes a Lao meal. I took note of everything we ate the entire time we camped with the bomb clearance team. Today, that food diary is posted on my blog, The Human Palate, over at SAPIENS. Have a look if you want to know more.
(And stay tuned for Part 2 on eating forest meat….)
(And check out the rest of SAPIENS, if you haven’t already, for a look into the world of anthropology today.)