ELL: Akha Weekly Update Nov 16. 1999, Its the Road.

Matthew McDaniel akha at LOXINFO.CO.TH
Mon Nov 15 20:06:50 UTC 1999

Dear Friends:

My apology that it has been so long since an update and that they are
not more regular, as there is certainly enough to fill them weekly,

This time of year marks a year since there has been a truck here for an
ambulance and mountain working vehicle to support the Akha people.

It has served well to haul thousands of dollars of medicine and services
into the mountains, books, people, friends and lots and lots of Akha
people to the doctor under all kinds of circumstances over some of the
roughest roads that a 4x4 will meet.

I only suppose that it was appropriate, that as some kind of final note
on the year, the truck should take a plunge off a mountain.  It was a
road (read narrow track wide enough for only one vehicle cut out of the
mountains side) that I had been over often, and there was this one place
where the spring sometimes took part of the road out on a sharp curve as
it did on this particular day and so I accelerated through this tiny
curve of dirt cut out of the hill side out of concern that it might give
way under me, high up near the rice fields where I was just about to
arrive.  But as I pulled out of the curve and came over the rise, to the
place where the road had fallen away and we had rebuilt it by digging
the hillside deeper, the afternoon sun hit full on the windshield and
blinded me.  Not to worry I stuck my head out the window and it looked
like part of the road had given away again, and I thought I would not
make it, so I quickly pulled the wheel to the left, thinking to stop,
but before I knew it the front wheel had caught on a clump of dirt and
rather than stopping climbed it and rolled me over in a startled kind of
fashion like a tomato in water.  Course there was no road on the right
so off we went for the jungle roll, dirt, jungle, all going past the
window in a kind of preview like what they show you before you get the
real movie, and then in case any one was sleeping the truck sort of
landed hard on its head and then went rolling some more for the full
show.  By this time since I hadn't much time to adjust to the fact that
we weren't on the road any more, I found the center of gravity behind
the steering wheel, and though power steering didn't seem to respond,
took an ernest grip on the wheel, sort of like I was riding it through a
whirl pool.  Course, the damn eggs, all fourty of them, went all around,
I must have had every cutting implement imaginable going past my head, a
rice cycle, hatchet, large knife, hunting knife, machette, limb lopper,
wood carver, meat clever, medical bags, books, maps, screwdrivers,
wrenches and god knows what else time I lost my hat and with a great
startle the truck stopped, nose pointed dearly down, like I could stand
on the windshield, and us all hung up in a tree, much more of the trip
to finish, and the two flats of eggs dripping down over the speedometer,
next to the machette that was stuck there to the left.  Annoyed at what
this had done to my afternoon, I didn't much notice that we appeared to
be in a tree, cleared way, and got out the left door to the ground,
deeply annoyed, and looked up to see this great swath that we had cut,
the truck and I, down through the jungle some fifty meters from the road
above.  Down below the trip was definitely not over.  But I set out to
gather up all the maps, journals and hat, phone, couldn't find that, and
all the other stuff and packed it up to the road.  Course, since I was
most ways to the rice fields when this all occured, more than a few Akha
friends of mine had heard the great noise and thought that since a small
water buffalo had died on the road of fever that day and a big one was
stolen and walked out of the jungle the night before that now someone
had gone and done hit one with their truck and they dutifully came to
investigate.  So before I could make it to the top of this cliff there
was this row of laughing faces asking me why I had gone down there with
my truck, what I had gone to see and how I intended to drive back up
that steep cliff in reverse.  Cause believe it or not the truck and
providence had kindly at least stopped the parade wheels down.  Well, it
was a question that I would leave for tomorrow, and when they heard that
there were eggs and potatoes they all piled down off the cliff to where
I was and plunged into the jungle helping me look for all the rest of it
too.  They found the potatoes way down to the side in the jungle, the
whole ten kilo sack shooting out the window past my head and way over to
that side I will never guess how.  I had also bought a packet of knives
and they were gone, never did find them but the Akha found three eggs,
good lord, how those survived and how they could find them down in the
jungle so steep you couldn't stand up.  I was glad to let them keep them
and we pulled out some rice sacks and put all the stuff that wasn't
locked in the medical lock box in the bags and carried it all home to
the village just by dark.  The next day, like serious worker ants now,
we came and spent the day tying off the truck, digging a great hole in
behind the truck and rocking it backwards into this whole where we dug
around it till we had it level, and finally cut it out of the tree it
was still grappling with.  The great light rack that I had built of
heavy steel and mesh had saved it and I, landing on it fully and molding
it like clay a little but not doing too much damage to the truck believe
it or not.  I got the truck started finally, after adding a little water
to the battery, which had drained down from the steep angle, through the
vent holes, and then it wouldn't crank well because over night all the
oil had seeped up through number one potatoe masher to get on top of the
piston, so sort of had to grunt against that for a while till it all
drained out and then she was off, great clouds of white smoke startling
the Akha who was back there at the tail, and I still white knuckled
because I was back in this truck that was still perched on a cliff for
all that matter with no where to go but down some more.  We went back
tothe village for one more night and then the next day chopped a cut out
of the hill right there that led back up to the road, so steep, that
where there had been no time for concern before the little side trip,
there was now, and at the last I couldn't see the road before the truck
leaped up and crested over onto the other road in a pouring rain.  The
inside of the truck was now covered with this new kind of texture
design, what you might get after rolling bubble gum in dirt, cause
picking all the dirt up in the roll it had managed to layer it so nicely
on all the egg that had gone before it.

Well, a couple of Burmese men with blocks of steel had words for my
truck and last I looked they were putting the final touches in having
smoothed a few rumples and of course it was a great time for new springs
which it was now finally getting, after so many promises, so this
afternoon, there it sat, sort of like a robot that couldn't tell if it
was being repaired or finally dismantled, the axles laying on the ground
below it, all the doors and hood off, the windshield out, and people
crawling all over it where there had once been seats.
He promised me it would be done in two days, cause there were people
coming, and I had lots to do first, and I left them to it.

It is also time to welcome a group of friends who are about to arrive
from Singapore to put a well in one village and a water line from a
spring in another village, plus lots of other things we will be doing.

Blane Jackman from Oregon is arriving to work with me for a month and
also our friend Joe Cooke is arriving for a few days to take a look at
what goes on here.

In December we have a second group coming from Singapore to help build a
"gathering place" (like a little school, Akha style) in one village and
this is a bolster to our efforts to help with preserving Akha language
and traditional culture when it is so under attack.

I have been to over two hundred of the villages now in Thailand and we
are slowing getting to the last of the number on our way to looking for
a few new ones, including village fragments, where we would also like to
deliver books and medical services in the future.  A German friend has
gone along with me on many of these hard pushed forays over what I would
call severe mountain roads.  On one road, we waded the truck through a
slough and a creek and then up this beautiful road that had just been
worked yet no one seemed to travel.  We passed a little Lahu way station
where we ate a little and talked, reminded if you will of stagecoach
days in another part of the world, so far out there from anywhere, and
then got to the top and went to check on one village location, marking
this all with a GPS from Sweden, and ran into the most wonderful
untouched jungle I could ever have imagined on this narrow road grown
over with moss and plants to every edge.  We spotted the village we
wanted, and two we were told we couldn't get to.  Oh, its not far said
the little boy, like the map showed, but you can't go with a truck and
it takes five hours to walk.  So, content we were leaving something for
later down in that one valley, we headed for the top, more than 1500
meters, and down the other side.  The road was so bad and the ruts so
deep that one had to nearly do it in full throttle to get through and
yet the truck ran part the way in the rut on the side of the door, a
huge wave of mud thrown out to the side, I asked the German if the road
was rough enough for him and we began laughing so hard at how we were
being thrown around that we soon could not see, for all the water in our
eyes.  It really was insane. And then on the flat part we got stuck
before going down the grade.  So we dug all night and early in the
morning I got it moving again, and then we went down, and the ruts were
so deep and I was scared to stop because we were dragging axles all the
way, so we just heaved along, no different than a slot car being thrown
from side to side, stuck over and over, till we got to some dry road,
and then I knew why no one was up there.  Need a half track.

By the way, I would like to encourage any of you out there that if you
have any friends you know who would enjoy being subscribed to this
journal, please send me their email addresses or have them write in.

One baby had to go to Chiangrai for surgery and then post op the nursery
didn't bother to tell me that the baby had an incision infection,
inflamed they said, and then when I finally insisted on looking half the
skin on his stomach was gone from infection and so I battled the whole
day to take the child from the fools and got him into another hospital
and he will move again to Chiangmai tomorrow for further care.  I
shudder to think of how many babies die in that nursery there.

Much of the Akha rice harvest was seriously damaged by rains in mid
harvest that came from the big rains in India.  Late and long, the rain
destroyed the rice of several villages as it was already cut but not
carried out of the fields yet and it either rotted or sprouted before
the rain stopped.  For already impoverished villages this is no less
than a disaster.

We have now gotten a copy of the video we put together with Singapore TV
and it is sad to see that the plans of the Thai government are to use
the Akha as a source of labor to replace alien labor in the country.
Why not just let them live?

Akha are continuing to be forced to move by the forestry department from
lands that they have been farming for years, and what ever the argument
people want to have about that, it is further complicated by the fact
that with the backing of the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, pine trees
are being planted instead of encouraging natural jungle and native
trees.  Often pine trees are being inserted into existing jungle, not in
places that the Akha have tilled.  Since a person wants to only walk so
far from the village to till, there is only so much land that a village
uses, no need to plant more rice than you can eat?  The myth of migrant
Akhas doing their slash and burn and moving on is just that.  In almost
every case that we have checked, the Akhas have been forced to move by
the Army during disputes the army had along the border with the Burmese
or Wa or Shan armies.  These armies first pushed the Akha over the
border, no one thought of it as that some eighty years ago, and then now
in the last thirty years the Thai army moved the villages back from the
border and now the forestry department wants them out of the mountains
all together.  It is forgotten that much of Thailand, including the
majority of the flat sections, were covered in trees not so many years
ago, but it is sad that people would have that mountains and mountain
peoples should have to bear the greatest responsibility for heavy tree
growth.  And then now it is not even native specie.

Or as the Thai army officer recently said in the Bangkok Post, "How can
we expect these people to trust us when we have treated them like we
have treated them?"



Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation
386/3 Sailom Joi Rd
Maesai, Chiangrai, 57130
Mobile Phone Number:  Sometimes hard to reach while in Mountains.

US Address:

Donations by check or money order may be sent to:

The Akha Heritage Foundation
PO BOX 6073
Salem OR 97304

By Visa Card Secure Site:


Donations by direct banking can be transferred to:

Wells Fargo Bank
Akha Heritage Foundation
Acc. # 0081-889693
Keizer Branch # 1842  04
4990 N. River Road.
Keizer, Oregon,  97303 USA
ABA # 121000248

Or In Thailand:

Matthew  Duncan McDaniel
Acc. # 3980240778
Bangkok Bank Ltd.
Maesai Branch

Web Site:

mailto:akha at loxinfo.co.th

Discussion Groups:
akha at onelist.com
indigenousworld at onelist.com

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