February 7th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
Lihan emptying the fish trap

In the morning after breakfast, we paddled over with Lihan to the school building – he had decided to take a roll-call + then cancel school for the day.  He was nervous, understandably so, that one of his pupils would drown.  Once he’d finished some administrative work he had to do, we accompanied him when he took some kids home on the longboat.  The school is also a boarding school for kids from the longhouses in the immediate area – Lihan didn’t want the responsibility of having to amuse this lot in especially difficult circumstances.  While we were there, Lehan took the opportunity to buy a couple of fish from them.  They had to be scooped out of the bamboo fish-trap submerged in the river – a sure way of keeping them fresh.  We also called in at another longhouse, but there was virtually no-one there – apparently, even in these flooded conditions everybody is very busy getting in the rice harvest, or padi.

We returned for lunch, + did virtually nothing for the rest of the afternoon, which turned out to be an anti-climax.  Lehan busied himself with some repairwork to the jetty, Val + Telun started to get to know one another better, using Val’s well-worn technique of communication via handicrafts.  She was learning from Telun how to make the beadwork headbands.  And I read, dipping into Lehan’s extensive collection of back numbers of Newsweek, Shoot, etc.  Quite happy really, except that I thought that, having travelled all this way, I should be doing something a little more exciting.

At around 5, Val + I wandered over to the river to take a bath – you could tell it was the river because there was a sign sticking up above the water-level announcing the school on the river-bank.  You would also find out, of course, if you stepped a yard beyond that line, for instead of being 2 or 3 feet deep, the water would be… I don’t know… 12, 13, 14 feet.  All in all, however, a most satisfying bath.

Tea with the headman

After dinner, when the rain had begun to fall once again, Lehan invited us to come out to another longhouse.  “Sure,” we said, tho’ to be honest I was quite happy to stay where I was, especially with the cold + wet outside.  In fact, the longhouse was no more than 50 yards away, so it was no more than a 3 minute punt – the place was absolutely enormous, + we hadn’t even known it was there.  Which just shows how much the rain restricts one’s movement.  It was a longhouse exactly as we had read about, with the long veranda running the length of the building, closed in from the weather, on which groups of people sat to chat.  This was lit only by small oil lamps, + the sight of these twinkling down the length of the longhouse was magical.  At first, however, we went to visit with one of Lehan’s friends in his private quarters.  Or not so private, in fact, since it was jam-packed with people, mostly kids, watching telly.  As usual, we were made very welcome, + given Milo + biscuits.  Later on, we paid our respects to the Headman out on the veranda, + joined his party for a time – he apologised for not having any tuak.

A quiet enough day, but pleasant, with a jaunt down the river, a welcome to the longhouse, and Val managing to break the ice with Telun.

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