The next morning at breakfast, we were talking with Joyce and the team about the american phenomenon of summer camp. Michael recounted his experience at “Mount Misery” and Joyce asked how this experience at the excavation camp compared. He said he was having some difficulty, digestion-wise, and suddenly his face iced over and his hand dropped to his stomach. He backed his chair out from under the table and said, “Excuse me…” The timing of his response got a loud collective laugh from the table, all of whom are well acquainted with digestive issues of all kinds and drop the “d” word without any hint of shame. Michael spent the rest of the day alternating between the hut and the bathroom which was not the nicest place in which to be sick.
The film crew arrived before noon. The crew quickly began filming Norseng and Mu drawing the flakes and the Buddha offerings found in the caves. Phou also showed them the ins and outs of his GPS recording process. They were enwrapped. Although Phou could recite the Luang Prabang phone book and I would still hang on every syllable. They gathered with their cameras and recording devices around the women from the village washing the finds in the field area on the tarp right in font of the bathroom. Michael’s digestive system picked this inopportune moment to inspire him to go to that very spot. He emerged from the hut like a creature from the abyss, white as a sheet, his hair still formed to the shape of his make-shift pillow of bundled sweat shirts. He froze as he downloaded the crowd of reporters. The giant video camera swung around to witness the pale giant american standing in his pink linen pants before them. Half delirious and half embarrassed, he pretended to have other business to attend to and started slowly in the opposite direction from the bathroom. The reporters returned to the matter at hand and Michael eventually wound his way to the bathroom. Hopefully they had high quality directional microphones that didn’t pick up ambient noise. Otherwise the network news watching population of Laos is in for a auditory treat.
Stephanie gave Michael some rehydration pills and we wondered why the travel medicine people hadn’t warned us to bring these along when they seemed to embellish all the other potential horrors we’d encounter. Several of the Lau guys paraded past Michael’s room throughout the day, rubbed their stomachs, nodded and said, “Too much Beer Lao…” Michael tried to explain that it was a crippling bout of food poisoning, not a hangover: “No no, I drink all the time. No hangover….” he tried to absolve himself, but only confirmed their conclusion that he had a “mau khan.”
Today, the Director General of the Department of Heritage in Laos, Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy visited MMAP. Emil Robles a Ph.D. candidate in archaeology from the University of the Philippines, also arrived to assist in mapping and GIS, or as he put it: “Make pretty maps and spatial analysis.” Emil and Stephanie showed Dr. Sayavongkhamdy how the GIS process works.
The film crew returned from their trek up to Tham An Mah a little winded and flushed. I’m not sure they were warned they’d have to drag their equipment up such a steep incline. One of the reporters was giving his seated friend a quick massage and furtively stuck a post-it note with a cartoon drawing of a guy playing the guitar on it. It was amazing to me how a media team could be so professional and so playful at the same time.
Michael was helping the team enter bags into the database. Amid random measures of the tinny pop music coming from Pong’s laptop and the upwelling of scuffling ducks from the nearby farm, Michael’s attempt to remember and pronounce the words in Lau provided endless entertainment. He picked up a bag of bones. “DOO!” They all laughed and annunciated properly.
It will be pretty obvious by the end of this trip that my Lau vocabulary came from an archaeological dig:
shell – hoy
bone – dook
crab – pooooo (not to be confused with mountain which is a more abrupt “poo”
charcoal – tahn
seed – kah pah root
monkey – ling
rock – hin
More functional words I’ve managed to glean are:
drink – doom
good – sep
yes – jao
no – bhoh
stupid – gnoh
good morning – sah bai dee bahn sao
Another linguistic point of confusion: “Boh” at the end of a phrase indicates that it is a question. This is not to be confused with “boh” at the end of a phrase which would be a negative, so it’s quite easy to confuse “Is the buffalo hide I cooked for you good?” or “Sep boh?” with “No, it is not good.” “Boh sep.” Not a mistake I hope to make.