Lahu Tales

Copyright 2012 by Virginie Noel, all rights reserved.
First touch with the Lahu village.

Driving up into the mountains of northern Thailand in the back  of a pick-up truck, every cell in my body says yes. It’s my first real encounter with such primitive life, dense jungle and spiritual teachings. I am overwhelmed by how many different shades of green I can see. During my time in the Lahu village, I slowly become Lahu. I adore all the animal sounds of this sleepy, smokey mountain village, built from bamboo. I absorb every moment and I am filled only with gratitude that my life brought me to this place with these people as I awake with the first cock’s crow, before sunrise, and fall asleep by candlelight. I feel a deep sense of something new being born inside of me, like a candle, which has long been waiting to be lit.

Copyright 2012 by Virginie Noel, all rights reserved.

I stay in a room of a bamboo hut that belongs to a beautiful, humble Lahu family. The children are curious, playful and respectful and we spend hours together. I love the way everyone’s house is everyone’s house. I love the solid, earthy walk of the women. I love the way they spit, snort to one another and give off the impression that they are in charge. A matriarchal tribe. They sew and cook. The men hunt and build. Pigs live, snort, eat, shit and have sex under my hut. Chickens dance along the mud pathways. Dogs bark like dogs do all over the world. Every Lahu is a master at peering through the cracks of their bamboo homes to see what is going on outside. Every Lahu can know and feel the different walks of their neighbors. Every Lahu knows they belong…there and to each other.

Copyright 2012 by Virginie Noel, all rights reserved.

The spirit of the tribe is so strong. The bond of the people is unbreakable. They have their differences, their squabbles, their gossips but they are one. One force. I spend hours sitting with the women, chatting in Thai about nothing. Just being with them, they are grounding me, they are earthing me. They are nourishing what is missing in my life. I feel so deeply connected to them. Much more than to the many westerners here, also, like me, studying massage. These people are so rooted and thus deeply connected to spirit because of it. They know and instinctively feel many things. They delight in simplicity, which gives them space for intuitive guidance and not much space for mind-chatter.

Meeting a Lahu boy.
Copyright 2012 by Virginie Noel, all rights reserved.

There is one boy. He is 7 years old. Maybe. I say maybe because nobody really knows how old they are here. They make up birthdays in order to get a Thai ID card. Sometimes I am talking with some friends from the massage class and he comes and sits and silently watches. He comes into my hut and sits there and watches. He is so beautiful. So calm. So graceful. We begin to love each other. He follows me. He appears and disappears. He has the most beautiful smile. And he has a very big, open, ugly, puss-infected wound underneath his chin. I try everything. Alcohol, betadine, tea tree, propolis. The local doctor cannot help. It has been there for a very long time. Growing bigger and bigger. I am afraid that it may infect his bloodstream. One day I ask his mother if she would like me to take him to see a doctor in Chiang Mai. She tells me that he is my son too and I should take him and do what is needed.

Going through adventure with Jagat.

Me and Jagat arrive at the hospital. A very clean and sterile Thai hospital. We have a lot of strange looks and curious, big smiles. We are a sight. A foreign woman dressed in hill tribe clothes with a very dirty looking hill tribe boy. The Thais are fascinated by mine and his communication in basic Thai and together we try to explain the story. I don’t trust the first doctor we see. I go for a second opinion. We do an X-Ray. He has a rotting milk tooth stuck in the base of his jaw bone. He needs surgery to take it out. There is a 50 percent chance of facial paralysis. There are no mobile phones. I cannot ask his mother. I have to take the risk. This doctor is a facial, plastic surgeon. I kind of trust him. If we don’t do it, he runs the risk of severe blood infection. I say yes. I give him a good scrub and show him how to work the tap in the sink to brush his teeth. I also show him the flush on the toilet. All the wonderful Western inventions to keep us separate and detached from nature. I copy the rest of the Thais in the children’s ward and place a bamboo mat on the floor next to his hospital bed and sleep there. I bring him local food in little plastic bags from the street vendors and we eat there. We do this for several days. And then he has the surgery. All I can think of is that beautiful little face being destroyed or distorted somehow by my heroic intentions to save him. I should have let it just be. If nature gives him an infection that nature cannot cure then that’s the way it is meant to be. Why am I involved? What am I doing? If his face is paralyzed I will never forgive myself. They must be wondering what has happened to their little boy. Kidnapped. Missing for days.

As the anesthesia wears off he begins to cry. He is in pain. I try my best to console him. I can feel he is too many days without his mother, without his tribe. No facial paralysis. Thank God. And then I see them. A group of Lahus walking down the corridor. Tribal clothes, machetes, bamboo food parcels. They walk as if they own the hospital. Full confident strides. They have no sense of not-belonging. They belong wherever they are. How did they know where we were? How did they know which hospital, which ward, which bed? They just know. There are no big reunions. There is no drama. There is no lengthy speech of gratitude or appreciation. What needed to be done has been done. They offer me endless amounts of spicy Lahu food and we all sit together on the floor of the hospital corridor enjoying our meal. Talking, laughing, sharing. This night his mother sleeps on the bamboo mat and I go to a Western guest house. The next day they load themselves into a pick-up truck. I tell them how to take care of the scar so there is no re-infection. I wave them off with a tear in my eye.

They teach me more than they will ever know. I spend the last of my money on his private hospital bill. When I go back next month the scar has completely healed. I am now known as Jagat’s mother. There is an unspoken bond between me and his family. Whenever I go back they shower me with handmade clothes. They dance with me in their tribal circle dances. He picks me up on his motorbike and I am now friends with his 7-year-old daughter. He is still beautiful, peaceful, shy and full of respect. He is Lahu.

Photos with Kerys, Jagat and his daughter after some years.