To visit isolated Hmong villages, I got http://sun-bird.net/ payday loan online and joined Father Luke Bouchard—known as Father B, the Walking Priest of Laos—on a visit to remote regions of his vast parish. John Everingham, an Australian journalist studying the Hmong culture, joined us. A helicopter “inserted” our party into the mountains 75 miles from the Laotian capital of Vientiane. Another aircraft would pick us up four days and five villages later at Air Strip 258, a landing area in the jungle. John and I were landed first, while Father B went on to deliver fingerlings to a fishpond only a few minutes away by chopper, but several days on foot.
The unexpected presence of strangers in the village of Teu La must have seemed propitious to the local spirit doctor, or tu-uaneng. Within minutes of our arrival he has seated us alongside four men in the gloom of a Hmong house. We become part of an animist ceremony already under way.
Wearing no sign of authority, and dressed in the Hmong’s traditional black shirt and flaring trousers, the tu-ua-neng practices his art by the light of a single oil lamp. He mixes spoonfuls of rice with a clear liquid, apparently an offering. Then he pours a tumbler of the liquid and extends it to the man on my far right. The man stands, utters a few words, and gulps it down. From the darkness a sort of amen chorus of ten chanting men rises and sits again three times. Their voices resound eerily in the hut.
John, who speaks with them in Lao, says that the service is to thank the spirits for healing a sick baby. Man by man, the glass and the ritual move down the line. As the tu-ua-neng drifts to another world, so does my imagination. I am back in my childhood, at Communion in a Baptist church. Deacons stand before the pastor and one by one down tiny glasses of grape juice while a choir sings songs of faith.
My turn. I rise, say a short prayer for the baby, and tip up the glass. The Baptists’ gentle grape juice represents the blood of Christ. This raw Hmong whiskey could warn of the fires of hell.
John’s turn ends the ceremony. The baby’s mother serves bowls of rice, boiled pork, and boiled vegetables.