During my two months in Ea Kly, I have not seen anyone read a book or even newspaper. TV watching is not compulsive, and canned music is not a pervasive, nearly nonstop pollution, as it is in much of the world. No one here is rigged to a mind scrambling headphone. Though FaceBook has made inroads, it hasn't become a serious addiction. With life much less mediated, people derive their knowledge of the world from direct experiences. In Ea Kly, birds twitter, not men. Here, many people raise chickens, ducks, pigs, goats and/or cows, so they still know how to slit a throat, gut an animal.
Though a hundred pound Ea Kly woman can lift her weight, down shots of rice wine and tell an a**hole to f*ck his own mom, she will also cook heartwarming meals for her husband, children and guests, then do the dishes afterwards. Men have other duties.
Though it took Cúc a decade to build his house, he stuck with it, doing all the brick pointing, cement mixing, plastering and painting himself. As a young man, he shot to kill at some of his current neighbors. Taking me through three Rade villages, Cúc greeted everyone. "I know them all, have worked with them all. I can stop into just about any house, at any time, and be invited for lunch."
Should war come, these men will fight, against each other if necessary, and not online either. They retain a healthy, measured dose of masculinity. Balls matter. Though notorious for their fierceness and bravery, Rade were grossly outnumbered by Vietnamese, so had to yield. For their part, Viets don't go on about historical injustices they have suffered, for it's only natural that everyone leverages his power, whether he's black, white, Chinese, American or Jewish.
Even if this wasn't coffee country, there would be cafes all over, like the rest of Vietnam. At Mr. Trang's, Ngo Quang Truong's name came up, which gladdened me, for this general on the losing side was still remembered with admiration nearly half a century later. In the US, Truong opened a modest restaurant in Northern Virginia, but it didn't do too well, for many Vietnamese were embarrassed to be served by a man they held in awe.
Land eaten away, the Rade could only retaliate with isolated acts of revenge, as when they shot a Viet former foe and strung him up. "They dared us to come cut him down. We knew it was a trap, so it took us a while." Those days are gone. Now, Rade kids go to schools to learn the Vietnamese language and history. Trading with Viets, some Rade have gotten rich. Even herding cows, some are fashionably dressed in baseball caps and hoodies. Tearing down their long houses on stilts, they erect brick and concrete ones. Poor Viets grumble that Rade get housing and educational subsidies. "They've gotten smarter too. We used to con them. Now, they con us!"
A middle-aged Viet praises, "Rade never steal, and they never turn on a friend, not even a Vietnamese one! If you can speak their language, even a bit, then they'll really love you."
Viets prefer Rade raised chickens since they're healthier and tastier. Knowing this, some Rade now buy chickens from Vietnamese, to resell to other Vietnamese at a healthy mark up.
At a Viet house the other day, I had chicken that was so tough, it's a miracle my poorly maintained teeth didn't all tumble out. It was still a lovely lunch, however, for I was with the sweetest people, nearly all of whom work at our plastic recycling plant.
The home owner, Liên, grew coffee, raised ducks and chickens, and had tilapia in a tiny pond. Though delicious, eels can't be domesticated, for they'll just burrow their ways out. In her neighbors' rice fields, I could see the bright red clumps of snail eggs. In the distance, lanky herons flew.
Full, I claimed the hammock to doze off, as the chattering, laughing women went to sit under a tree, by the pond. Coming to, I had no idea where I was for a few seconds, then realized I was home, so to speak.
Upon leaving, I jested, "Now that I know where you live, sister Liên, I'll come by often, at any time, even uninvited."
I've only lived in a place this small once before, in Certaldo, Italy, population 16,000, and though I was clearly an outsider, those two years were the happiest of my life, for I felt grounded and was sucked into the community. Not everyone wants that. This week in Ea Kly, there was a neighborhood dinner, to which each household contributed $10.78, though many gave more, to pay for extra beer. If you were a prick during the year, however, you would be excluded from this get together. These year-end dinners are common in Vietnam, especially in rural areas.
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