As the little matchbox car made its way down the tracks toward the village I noticed a few things: Every small enclave along the way seemed to have a cell phone store, a karaoke joint and a bridal shop; right-of-way is determined by Gross Vehicle Weight and I couldn’t feel my legs…
Eventually, we came to a masonry arch over the dirt track that announced Commune 2 of the village. The laughable designated “road” was a muddy, deeply rutted track that split at a tumbledown sprawling shack that served as the commune’s convenience store. Down to the right sat a street lined with houses packed fairly close together. Some were new and of “modern” masonry construction. Near the end of the street, near the narrow bridge that crossed a wide stream sat the municipal building that housed the administrative offices of the People’ Committee and the local elementary school.
On the left fork, which was even more deeply rutted so as to make travel by the little car impossible, were less densely packed houses set on the slope of the mountain that rose behind them. We came to a path off to the left that led to my wife’s family holding. There were three houses, one largish masonry house and two wooden shacks. Lan’s oldest brother lived in the big house while her youngest brother lived with his wife and 2 daughters in the first wooden hooch and Lan’s mother lived in the last which was Lan’s.
Maybe Uncle Bon’s tacit approval of me had reached the people but in any event, we soon began to have visitors, more curious than anything, to witness the strange American who massed out at double the weight of the larger of the villagers.
I kept a supply of Tiger Beer or Bia 333 on hand. (Yes, my Vet friends. Ba Moui Ba was rehabilitated into Beer 333 because of its close association with American Troops…) A couple of bottles of Jim Beam and I made friends quickly.
After a few days we were “married” in traditional mountain fashion. We threw a party. Lan’s older brother “donated” a pig which was killed. The ASPCA would not have approved. PETA would have gone apoplectic. More than a few chickens gave their all for the festivities. Woven bamboo mats were spread the length of Brother’s house and set with dozens of different dishes. Little bowls and chopsticks completed the “table” setting. Sitting on the hard floor was torturous to my Western, geriatric, obese body but I prevailed. Uncle Bon had journeyed from his home 25km away for the occasion and sat across from me. In the fashion of the Vietnamese, those around me kept my little bowl filled with, very often, things that I would probably rather not know. But I ate what they ate and even drank the locally brewed rice paint thinner and wart remover. They seemed to have never heard of not mixing their booze so ba si dai and beer and Jim Beam were consumed together with predictable effect. A good time was had by all… and my position in the village was cemented.
A few weeks later, Lan and I were honored guests at the wedding of Uncle Bon’s daughter and it was then that I met the little man with the black, black eyes and shuffling gait.
I integrated to the commune because I did not question or judge their ways. I am a firm believer in “When in Rome…”
It was around this time that I had learned most of the story of Miss Tu, Lan’s mother, local traditional healer and war hero. It was then that I, trepidatiously, asked Lan how her mother could stand to have me and what I represent in her home. Lan spoke quietly to Miss Tu for a minute then, Tu glanced at me and said to Lan:
“Chúng ta giết chúng; họ giết chúng ta; không giết người nữa.”
“We kill them; they kill us; NO MORE KILL.”