How to Cross A River

20 Oct

I swim in the cool mist of the dark and early morning. The gentle knowledge of an imminent sunrise is tucked back in my heart and mind while the residue of recent sleep tries to wear itself off. My host and I walk through the quiet village and past the temple to the steps above the river – she, a forty-eight year old grandmother and a villager of local repute, and me, a guest whose history and knowledge have no bearing on her acceptance of me. We slowly move down the steps with baskets of goods for the market and step into a long, wooden boat. There, on the river, we sit and wait.

Waiting is one of my favorite activities in this part of the world. I live different lives in different places, and my life in the United States has an impatience for waiting. If I am early or on-time to a lunch appointment and my colleague has not arrived, I feel nervous. I pull out a phone or find something to read, anything to be sure I am not “waiting.” In Laos, something shifts and waiting becomes okay. Perhaps it is how this part of the world helps me remember that I will not die even if nothing is happening.

After some time, my host pulls out her cell phone. The world is still dark but for a flash light from a boat floating down the river about one-hundred meters away. The light reveals more fog upstream, giving the impression we are in a room on the river. She calls someone, speaks a few words about who is coming, where we are, and so forth. Then, silence and waiting on the long, wooden boat.

Thirty minutes or so after walking down the steps to the river, we have navigated our way upstream through the eddies near the bank and are in the middle of the river’s channel, powering forward but going nowhere except to the other side of the river. The pilot, a younger woman in her thirties, has angled our boat 45 degrees off the current, allowing the water to push us to our destination. The boat itself is a sleek craft, one meter wide by almost ten long, allowing it to cut through the water and maintain a rather straight course even when varying currents, boils, and eddies try to push it off.

As we near the other bank, I note nothing that appears to be a destination – no other boats, no break in the trees above, no dock or building. Except for the contours and bends in the river, there is no sign of a landing. But our pilot knows, perhaps by feeling, and we hit the muddy bank just beneath a little trail up to the market. Standing up, my host and I gather our baskets of goods and step onto the muddy shore. She hands the pilot a few bills and mumbles something to me about the mud and its inconvenience. We then begin the slippery walk up the path to the market in the big town above. The soft light of morning opens and the mist locks into its position in the surrounding mountains, as though preparing to fend off the sun.  And I think, this is how someone ought to cross a river.

2 Responses to “How to Cross A River”

  1. Danielle Kammerzelt October 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    You’re a gem, and vastly inspiring (not to mention, an amazing writer).

  2. heather bair November 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    max, thank you.

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