Free-Range Porkers in a Little Lao Village
By Karen J. Coates / Photo by Jerry Redfern
May 1, 2010
The Faster Times
This is the first story in a three-part series examining the lives and deaths of Asian pigs.
Way in the northeastern reaches of Laos, along Highway 2E leading to Dien Bien Phu (think 1954, France and Vietnam), is a small village called Sophoon. Its people are a mix of the Tai Dam, Tai Daeng and Khmu ethnicities that populate the hills stretching from Vietnam in the east to Burma in the west and China to the north. Their homes are simple, mostly made of thatch and wood, with a few glass windows and concrete foundations. The residents of Sophoon live off the land, growing rice, corn and cassava in their fields and a smattering of fruits and vegetables in their household gardens. They raise chickens, ducks and pigs, all given free rein to cluck, quack and snort their way through the village at whim.
The reason my husband, Jerry, and I spent nine days in Sophoon had little to do with livestock (though my interest always turns to food and its origins, no matter where we are). We were there for the bombs. The undulating hills tracing the east-west highway through Phongsali province are littered with the remnants of the U.S. bombing campaign, which began in 1964, ended in 1973, and pummeled the country with bombing raids averaging once every eight minutes for nine years. Thirty percent of those bombs didn’t explode, and here they lay in the Laotian soil-as volatile today as the day they were dropped. In all the years since, not a single bomb-clearance team had removed a single item of unexploded ordnance (UXO) from Phongsali province until Jim Harris came along. This year, this one American brought one small clearance team to Sophoon and got to work, blowing up bombs.
Jerry and I followed.
We all camped in the local dispensary – slat beds, mosquito nets, cold baths with river water scooped from a basin – and ate the local foods prepared by two young women hired to cook. They worked adjacent the dispensary in a small hut with a flimsy door, frequently flung open by local pigs in search of edible loot. Come meal time, we always had a couple of dogs, a chicken and a farrowof grunting little piglets on the premises. Sometimes a fat mama sow would waddle through with fierce, glaring eyes and milk-filled udders swaying to and fro. READ MORE