Village welcome

Sometimes people’s kindness overwhelms me. Sometimes I don’t trust it, but when I do I literally feel it in my heart. It’s hard to explain such a feeling with words but it’s like a connection between all the good in people.

The Van Kieu ethnic minority group live in Quang Tri Province. I was on an early morning ride from Khe Sanh. High in the mountains, off Road 9 on the Ho Chi Minh Road heading south to A Luoi. The scenery was spectacular, a river winding through jungle covered mountains and craggy peaks. Farming and resource exploitation, however, has started taking its toll on the natural appeal.

At a Van Kieu minority village, I stopped.  I had left the hotel early, determined to get a better start than the day before; feeling hungry for some breakfast and thought they might oblige a lone traveler. After a bit of banter between an old betel nut chewing grandma, her husband came out of the house and invited me in to eat rice.

The beautiful house with its darkening split bamboo floor that has been polished by many feet soon started to fill up. Men and women arrived of all ages. A man about my age was one of the first; he spoke a little English and I came to rely on him to translate. Young women with thirsty babies, middle-aged and old women with teeth as black as mica turned up with their husbands.

The women smoked special pipes designed to accept a rolled up wad of tobacco leaf that was more out of the pipe than in it. The men settled down to enjoy some rice wine, despite the early hour.

It was a large room with two double beds. The women sat up one end of the room smiling happily and the men sat at the other. One of the women went into the next room and dished out rice in a special bamboo basket and some fish caught in the river beside the house.

We ate and talked and when I left the old man wouldn’t accept any money for the food. I said I would drop in an hour two on my way back.

The return visit was something I will never forget. It was a special day – one of the men’s 17 year old daughter had come back from her new husband’s house far away to visit. She was the reason for the drinking and festivities and I was warmly welcomed into the center of it.

We ate these long sticks of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and a myriad of fish, chicken and pork dishes and talked and drank in the village’s communal house. It was full, maybe 30 people and more were arriving. The old man who had invited me for breakfast was getting drunk and his high pitched laugh was infectious.

When I left the young girls were pounding grain and the men were offering more food and drinks. A few minutes down the road I began to miss their smiles and considered returning a third time. By Michael Smith in Khe Sanh

The communal house at Van Kieu Village near Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province – Photo: Michael Smith

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