Wednesday, October 27, 2010

H'Mong Village Life: Living with the locals

Ker's House

Ker and her family live in a village of about 500 people; houses scattered around a few kilometre radius, sitting on hilly terrain, surrounded by rice fields. There are two other houses that could be considered close neighbours. Ker lives with her husband Hung, their two kids, Hung's younger sister and Hung's parents. Following tradition, Ker lives with her husbands family.

Surrounding rice fields

About 5 kilometres out of Sapa we turned off the main road onto a rocky dirt road which wound up, down and around hills, through running streams and over bamboo bridges before arriving at Ker's village. It was a tricky ride. It was slippery and muddy and at times Celine had to get off and walk. It was only a few kilometres from the main road but the trip lasted 45 minutes.

Ker lives in a traditional H'mong house. The house has one main room and 3 small rooms. A ladder leads up to a second floor. This is used for storage. The main room, about 6m by 8m, is for cooking, eating and socialising with friends and family. The small rooms, about 2m by 2m, are for sleeping. Hung's younger sister gave us her room to sleep in. The family cooks from an open fire cut into the ground. The earth floor is hard like clay and uneven. As Celine mentioned, leftover food is thrown on the ground for the animals to eat. This may give the perception of a dirty place but this is not the case.

Our bedroom

The main room has a small table and some homemade benches. A light globe is the sole source of light and it is moved often from the cooking area to the eating area. Washing hangs throughout the main room. There are stools, spades, pig food and cooking pots in one section of the room. Bags of rice sit under a calender, a clock and a collection of old but happy family photos.

Family and friends enjoying a meal

The small sleeping rooms have a wooden frame bed and an area to hang clothes. There is a small side room to wash the dishes and prepare some of the food. Much of their work is done with little to no light. There is no running water and the toilet is the nearby trees.

Cooking dinner on the family fire

The families rice fields are nearby and Celine and I helped for a few hours. It is a completely manual task, harvesting the rice with a sharp curved knife, putting it in piles to dry. They harvest about 600kg a year which is all for the families consumption. They have two different types of rice. Ker earns the money for the family as a tour guide. As she is recovering after the birth of her second child, Hung does all the work. He is a helpful and caring husband; even when he receives a bit of lip from Ker. They don't own a buffalo, they can't afford one, so they borrow a friends. In return Hung will help other families when it is time to harvest.

Celine the harvester

Everyone is incredibly friendly in the village. I successfully made at least three kids cry. A tall, bald, white guy with a big nose must be a daunting image for a little one. If the kids weren't crying they would stare in complete amazement. I really enjoyed walking around watching everyone live their simple happy life. They didn't have or seemed to want much but were content living their village life, growing their crops and living with their families. In saying this, technology is not lost on Ker and her village. Most have a mobile phone and three days before we arrived at the village her neighbour had a TV installed. With a DVD player to go with it the locals were hooked. As we waved goodbye about 30 locals were sitting inside the neighbours house watching a Kung Fu movie. It was a contrasting image.

Ker's closest neighbours

We left very happy, enjoying a truly authentic experience while at the same time catching up with a friend and meeting her family.

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