| October 20, I believe 
Dear Mother and Clare,
Well we are really at it now... we
are in the village of Vang Vieng, hard at work doing what we came here
to do.... And we love it.
Let me start from the beginning. This
letter will probably go on and on, as I can't mail it for over a week.
We have been here a week so far, and no jeep ( ours is the only one here
save a few military ( Laotian Army) but our jeep will go to Vientiane
on Friday for mail, in and out.... And to buy zome supplies as there is
ABSOLUTELY nothing here whatsoever.
We loaded up last week to begin the
drive up this mountainous area. On the map it is between Vientiane, north,
towards Luang Prabang. The road distance was only about 100 miles, but
it took us two days to get here. The road is absolutely the worse one
will ever find, here or in hell. There are literally a hundred bridges
over small tributaries of the Mekong. About a dozen were out completely
which means that you have to carefully walk in the water to waist distance
to find a hard bottom then ford across the river. This isn't nearly as
difficult as it sounds as the water is low, and the bottom is always rocky,
but it does entail getting out, and walking through the streams. The road
has enormous ruts, in one of them the jeep turned over on its side, which
is an indication of the depth. No one was hurt cause we were progressing
at the fantastic speed of about one half mile per hour.
Several parts of the road are through
the jungle, replete with screaming monkeys, and some tiger ( though we
never say any, we did stop and visit with dozens of natives working on
the road way, choping wood, and the other "jobs" of the jungle
people..... through the interpreter... they all told of various tiger
problems in the area, warning us not to sleep in the open etc....
To my men it was great! Each visualized
a tiger skin in their living room. I visualized a dooley-skin in some
tiger lair, so spent the trip being scared to death.
We arrived at the village of .... Forgot
the name...scent it in a hut belonging to the village "chao Muong"
or village head chieftian. It really wasn't a bad little hut as huts go.
A straw paillotte type, with three round huts stuck together with planking
and high up on stilts, about eight feet off the ground ( tiger prevention
week) Our dirvers wouldn't sleep in the jeep and truck ( we borrowed from
the Lao Armh) in spite of the formidable arms they all carried... and
there was no other hut to stay in, so two interpreters, one nurse ( male)
my three men, and I all slept on the poarch of one hut ( about a third
of an inch between bedding rolls... and no mosquite nets.... ' ugg...
The following morning we came to a
beautiful suspension bridge, which we cross3d a few days previous in the
jeep when we came up to check on the village. We thought at that time
the truck could pass, but the drivers recused. It was not until we poonted
out to them that it was absolutely impossible to turn around cause the
road was a single lane road, deep thick jungles on each side... ( one
never meets other traffic, we didn't see another vehicle the whole trip.
So very very slowly he took the over loaded truck over the under nourished
bridge, and we made it..... but none of we four rode in the truck, we
walked over first. If the truck was going to drop through the bridge,
we were NOT going to go with it.
We arrived here in the early afternoon
of the second day, with a beat up jeep, two exhausted drivers, and we
were the dirtiest, most exhausted quartet of americans anyone ever did
see. After the jungles one went through what is called the Bamboo Jungle,
which is just solid walls of bamboo on each side of the road which is
sort of cut into the center like a snake, following no obvious pattern
whatsoever. It is magnificent, and eeire. The walls of the road are about
fifty feet in height. When we hit one spot where the ruts were too deep
to pass in the truck we had to machete down some bamboo to make a little
circle ( half circle) around the ruts. What happens is the ruts from the
dry season which ended in may last, form little riverlets which become
larger and larger as the monsoon season continues, so by the end of the
monsoons, when the rains leave ( this month ) the ruts are little streams
all of their own.
A hut had been prepared for us, which
means "vacated." It is the dirtiest ( it WAS) the dirtiest,
filthiest, mouse infested, rat overrun, spider inhabited hut I've ever
seen though one of the better in this village of Vang Vieng.
We are in the foothills of the mountains
and all around us on three sides are the jutting mountain tops. ( you
will soon get two rolls of films, one beginning at the depot in Vientiane
when we began the trip, the other showing the arrival the next day)
The hospital area is a little solid
type of building, not on stilts or anything, and one of the three such
buildings in the village. There is a main road down the middle of Vang
Vieng, and all the other roads are trails which lead off into the mountains....
The Chao Muong, of Village Chief lives
in one of these hard hourses, made of mud bulkhead which is in turn white
washed. Of such construction is the second building.... which is the Village
Dispensary, soon to become the second Hospital in the Kingdom of Laos.
The first thing on the books was to
make our hut livable. We rounded up plenty of helpers as we are such a
strange lot, these foreigners..... who are not frenchmen, and who work
Out hut is diagrammed below, but the
living room is about twenty by twenty five feet. It has walls made out
of woven bamboo, the deck is made of trees roughly cut down, and sawed
into planks, none of the fitting together at all so that there is a spread
of several inches between them all over the deck. There are four main
poasts in the front and the back and one in the middle of the side walls,
and a cross bar across the top at about seven feet level. The roof then
angles up to a point, the top part having been attic... This large room
was divided into several small rooms with bamboo leave walls, all of which
we tore out. Adjoining the main room which was the whole hut, we had the
village build a "bed room" which extends the same width, but
another ten feet in length. The room has a sloping roof so it is about
seven feet high where you walk in, but it dwindles to about four at the
end. ( that is ok because of the bed arrangement, as you shall see)
Our washing area consists of a fifty
gallon empty gasoline drum that we had the foresight to buy in Vientiane
and lug with us. This is filled by some kids we have hired from the nearest
well, buy the bucket load. Quite a task. We scoop the water out to wash.
No shower is rigged yet, we bath in the river every evening, which is
wonderful fun ..... lots of laughs... and quite refreshing... The water
comes directly down from the mountains, and the whole village swims in
the early evening. We load the jeep and trailer with hundreds of howling
kids and drive in the river, turn the jeep around and Baker backs the
jeep straight into the water, and submerges it, much to the wild ectasy
of the kids in the trailer...
We have no bathroom as yet, so we walk
into the bushes.... but not too far, those tigers are suppose to be around....
Pete Kessey hasn't had a bm yet, claims he isn't going to have one until
he can go to the head in peace and without fear. We think he will break
down soon... Rather earthy I suppose...
So we began to put Operation Cleanup
into focus.... First of all we cleared out the attic, and all the partitions.
Then with gallons and gallons of water and soap and Chlorex ( Eau de Jauvel
here ) solution we scrubbed and scrubbed, and the house whitened up considerably.
All the water of course washes out between the planks and falls six feet
to the ground bdlow ( where the pigs, cow, two water bufflo, several chickens
and a small pony live...)
By the next day we had it all srubbed
up, and the neighbors had finished the bed room.... That night we slept
next door. Now the painting.
We painted each pose a different color,
yellow, green, red, and cream. The boys painted the entrance door with
a sign. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the inter reter painted below
Friends wove tatami mats for our deck.
Our little ice box that I had bought in Bankok and carried all the way
here in the jeep worked in spite of the roads. We made a little bar, and
put two cots up in the room along the bulkheads for "couches"?
I'm perched on one now with this machine balanced on my lap.
The bed room is like this... we have
four spong rubber mattresses on the deck, with the mosquito netting hanging
from the roof... and a cot for the interpreter, whose name is Chi, spelled
differently I'm sure.... It is spelled Chai I believe, but sounds more
New spets were built ( steps ) and
a small bamboo bar also, to store the beer and the Orange Drink next to
the ice box. We live on the floor on the mats in the oriental style. We
have bought a dozen or so papier maiche lanterns a la style chinoise to
decorate the overhead, about the cross rafters, but below the celing.
It brightens the place up, and Shepard claims it gives it more of a Circus
We have coleman lanterns that run on
kerosene hung from the rafters in two places and this gives quite good
light4ning, which does not flicker too much.
It has been terribly hard work but
a great deal of fun and the place is quite livable. The villagers are
grand, and can't get over this place. You will see all the photos that
We will send the jeep into Vientiane
every 10 days or so as the jeep can make it is about six to eight hours.....
The next thing on the agenda after
a day off tomorrow is to go to work on the hospital building which is
very run down, and the only male nurse in the area hasn't done much of
anything .... We shall give it the same treatment, and then open it up
Every couple of hours people come for
treatment of this or that. A man was badly chewed by a tiger north of
here, but was dead when he got here. A child nearly drowned today but
artificial respiration and some stimulants did him okay... Lots of cut
feet, infected ulcers so far..... but this has only been temporary...
All the medicines are still in cases to be opened when we get to work
on the hospital building proper.
The word has spread like the veritable
wildfire that we are here. We show a movie every night using our front
poarch as a screen. It literally attacts about 800 people who sit in the
front facing our porch. It is wonderful as they have never seen such a
thing. USIS had been here last May and showed some propaganda movies,
but other than that few had ever seen such as this.... and the light reflected
from the screen into the eyes of the kids who watch Fantasia, the little
dancing elves, and Mickey Mouse.... This is heartwarming... and pathetic.
The boys have been grand, working and
working, eating C rations heated on a camp stove, and rice brought to
us by the villagers. We have paid our respects to the Pagode here, and
are trying to follow all custom.
I'm going to stop here... sketch our
house.... And continue tomorrow, a it is late.....