Scott crossed the border on foot,
and with his guitar slung across his back
he set off into the jungle
without a plan

♫ ♫ ♫

ສະ ບາຍ ດີ

Sa bai di

Do you speak English?

A little

My name is Scott

I’m Syri
Would you like some coconut water?

I’d love some

So Syri climbed up the nearest coconut tree,
unsheathed her machete
and cut down a bunch
Then she climbed back down,
opened one of the coconuts
and offered it to Scott

Thank you
Mmm . . . It’s delicious

Fresh is best

Syri cut open another coconut for Scott
and then one for herself

What kind of guitar have you got in there?

Steel-string acoustic

Feel like making music?

I do

So Scott took out his guitar
and began to play
Among the Coconut Palms,
and after a while Syri took out her ncaas
and played along

♫ ♫ ♫

We’re having a party tonight in my village
Want to come?


Syri then shouldered the remaining coconuts
and set off down a path


And so Scott followed Syri
deeper into the jungle
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Your village is beautiful


And quiet

We’re Lao
What’s the point in being loud?

Silence is cool

We like being able to hear the animals sing
And when we party,
we sing too
That’s my dad over there
I’ll introduce you

Dad, this is Scott
I found him in the coconut grove
and invited him to the party

Scott, this is my dad
He’s the village chief

Welcome, Scott
You can sleep in the guest hut tonight,
and we’ll build you your own hut
if you decide to stay for a while

Thank you, Chief
You’re very kind

I see you come from the Bedhead tribe

Yes, sir
I’m pure Bedhead

Scott set down his gear,
took a feather out of his bag
and then offered it to the chief

This is for you

It’s beautiful

Peruvian parrot

Thank you, Scott
Do you smoke pot?

On occasion

Let’s smoke then
Syri, could you roll us a peace joint?

Sure, Dad

 I’m horrible at rolling

Me too

Let’s smoke down by the river


So Scott, Syri and the chief
went down to the river
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

The sound of a gong
rang out three times

That’s the dinner gong
Let’s head back

So Scott and his hosts
returned to the village circle,
where Scott was introduced
to the rest of the village

Welcome, Scott

We’re glad you’re here

Make yourself at home

Would you like some soup?

I’d love some soup
What kind?

Tomato space soup

You guys know how to start a party
What’s the celebration?

Your arrival

How’d you know I was going to be here?

Our shaman told us

That’s . . . impressive

She told me to wait for you
in the coconut grove

I’m glad she did

You’ll meet her later
She’s meditating now

This soup is really good

My mom made it
Have some more

So Scott had another bowl
of space soup

as the villagers began
to tune their instruments

♫ ♫ ♫

Gongs began
as the sun lay down
and soon they were accompanied by drums
and a stone xylophone

One of the men handed Scott a drum
and invited him
to join the circle
And then they all played
while the moon began to rise

♫ ♫ ♫

You play well, Scott
You fit right in

You’re too kind

How about singing us a song?
We hear you’re pretty good with a guitar

I think I might have a song or two in me

And so while one of the men made a fire,
Scott went to get his guitar,
and when he returned he began to play
New Friends

And after a couple minutes
some of the others took out their ncaases
and added another dimension

♫ ♫ ♫

Nice song, Scott

Thank you, Syri
That’s some pretty strong soup your mom made

It’s a tradtional Lao recipe
Would you like another bowl?

Thank you
I think I’ve had enough soup for now

Would you like to try our homemade liquor?
My dad just went to get a couple bottles

A little home brew would be very welcome

There’s my dad

Hey, Scott
You sing well

Thank you, Chief

Would you like a drink?


Shall we begin with a banana liqueur
or some jackfruit wine?

Both sound good
Let’s start with the jackfruit wine

Jackfruit it is

The chief poured three glasses
and then lifted his and said,
To impermanence,
without which you would not have been able
to join us this evening

To impermanence,
said Scott and Syri

And then the three of them
had a bit more to drink

♫ ♫ ♫

Do you dance, Scott?

I’ve been known to move to the groove

We don’t completely trust people
who don’t dance
It’s time for the lam vong

 And then Syri led Scott back to the fire,
where they joined the circle
and began to dance

♫ ♫ ♫

What a great dance:
slow and graceful

We like to do things slowly
What’s the hurry?

Slow is good

I see my grandmother over there
I’ll introduce you

So Scott followed Syri
to a big tamarind tree,
below which sat an old woman
embroidering a shirt

Grandma, this is Scott
Scott this my grandmother
She is our shaman

Good evening, ma’am

Good evening

That’s a beautiful design

It tells a story

In Peru there are women who drink ayahuasca in ceremony
and then the next day embroider their visions

This story is something like that

Do you use sacred plants?

Plant medicine is a part of our ceremonies
We’re having a ceremony the day after tomorrow
and you are welcome to participate

Thank you
I’d like that very much

Go back to the party now
We’ll talk again

So Scott and Syri took leave of the shaman
and headed back to the fire

Feel like playing us another one of your songs?


So Scott took out his guitar
and one of his harmonicas
and began to play
The Long Way Home

And after a while
some of the fiddlers and khene players
joined him

♫ ♫ ♫

That was a pretty long song, Scott

I like to enjoy the journey

You’re beginning to sound like one of us

Maybe we’re not so different

We are different expressions of the same thing

We interare


The harmonica and the khene sound good together

Yes, they are in harmony
Will you sing us another song?


And so Scott played and sang
song after song
together with the villagers
until almost everyone
had wandered off to bed

♫ ♫ ♫

Are you going to stay up a bit longer, Scott,
or shall we let the fire go out?

I’m about ready to lie down

How about singing us a lullaby?

I think I can do that

So Scott took out his guitar once more
and sang
Lullaby for Māyā
for Syri and the few others
who were lying around the fading embers

♫ ♫ ♫

Thank you, Scott
for sharing your music with us

Thank you, Syri
for inviting me to the party

I’m off to bed



As Syri walked off to her hut,
Scott packed up his instruments
Then he went to his hut and lay down
and listened to the frogs and crickets sing
as he drifted off to sleep

♫ ♫ ♫

Good morning, Scott

Good morning, Chief

How’d you sleep?

Very well, thank you

Would you like to come with me down to the paddies
and watch the rice grow?


So Scott and the chief walked down to the rice paddies
and watched the rice grow
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Morning, Scott

Hi, Syri

Morning, Dad

Morning, Syri

Are you hungry, Scott?
Breakfast is just about ready
Fruit and soup

Fruit and some soup sounds great

Papaya and banana are in season now,
and so is magenta dragon fruit
It’s great with goat’s milk,
and our goats eat weed,
so there’s THC in the milk

Right on

So Scott had breakfast
with Syri and her family,
and then he went back
to watch the rice grow
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Notice any change?

I think it’s grown a little taller

The more you pay attention and observe,
the more you’ll see
Is that a flute in your bag?

It is

The rice might enjoy hearing you play

You might be right

So Scott took out his flute
and began to play
for the rice

♫ ♫ ♫

That was beautiful, Scott
The rice will probably grow a bit more than usual today
You play your instruments with love
It can feel love and responds

Do you talk to the rice?



Would you like to go see some caves?


They’re about two kilometers east of here
It’s a nice walk through a banana grove
On the way back you can help me carry some bananas


So Syri and Scott set off for the caves,
listening to bird calls
along the way

♫ ♫ ♫

This cave was used as a shelter
during the war
Now we just come here sometimes
and hang out
The acoustics are pretty good,
so sometimes we music here
Can you play a ncaas?
I brought two

I can try

So Syri and Scott made music with the cave
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

It’s almost lunchtime
Let’s get some bananas and go back


So Scott and Syri climbed down to the banana grove,
cut down a few bunches of bananas,
and headed back to the village

♫ ♫ ♫

Do you have a knife, Scott?

I’ve got a pocket camping knife, Chief

You’ll need something a bit bigger
if you’re going to stay here
I’ll be right back

The Chief headed off towards his hut
and shortly returned

This dagger belonged my father
He made it himself
and now it’s yours
Keep it sharp and carry it with you when you go for a walk
If a python grabs you,
don’t hesitate to use it

It’s beautiful

The handle and sheath are rosewood
and the blade is steel

Chief, you’re too kind
It should stay in your family

You are part of the family now, Scott
While you were at the cave we had a meeting
The village has adopted you

I’m honored, Chief
Thank you

And you’ll be needing a machete
This one will serve you well

She’s a beauty too

Cocowood handle,
water buffalo leather sheath,
and the steel is very strong

You’re too generous

Not at all
How would you be able to cut down a bunch of bananas
or open a coconut
without one?

Thank you, Chief

That’s the lunch gong
Let’s go eat

And so Scott and the chief
joined the others
and ate lunch

♫ ♫ ♫

The papaya salad is delicious

It’s my grandmother’s recipe
Have some more

So Scott ate a bit more,
and after lunch,
while the others were napping,
he tied his dagger to his belt,
picked up his machete
and went for a walk

♫ ♫ ♫

Scott made friends
with a number of dogs along the way,
and one of them decided to tag along
Together they walked
through fields and among trees,
collecting seeds and flowers
as they wandered

♫ ♫ ♫

Hey, Scott
Nice flowers

A few are for my hut
and the rest are for you and your family

Thank you, Scott

And I got some seeds
from a few of the plants
If you don’t mind,
I’ll plant them around my hut

Go ahead
Plant whatever you like
I see you’ve met Mango

Yes, she joined me on my walk

She’s a good companion
We’re shelling peanuts under the cashew tree
Want to help?


So Scott joined Syri
and a few other women
and shelled peanuts
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Good afternoon, Scott

Good afternoon, Chief

I would like to show you something

So Scott followed the chief
into the jungle
to a clearing

Seen one of these before, Scott?

That’s a pretty big bomb, Chief

There’s a few them around here
Presents from the CIA
One guy opened one and lost his life
Since then, whenever we find one,
we just clear the area around it
so that nobody bumps into it
by accident

Good idea

I’ve heard there are NGOs that go around defusing these things,
but they never come here
Do you know how to read and write, Scott?

More or less

A friend in another village found this book in Vientiane,
but the language is a bit technical for me
Do you understand it?

The Chief handed Scott his copy of
How to Defuse Unexploded Ordnance

Scott had a look
and then said,
Um . . . I understand most of the words,
and in theory it seems pretty straightforward,
but this bomb has been here for quite some time
and it is probably not very stable
I suggest we get an expert to help us

Yes, that would be best

Perhaps for now we could plant a ring of trees around it
to absorb the shrapnel if it explodes

Good idea, Scott

Perhaps even a triple ring

Yes, three rings would be good:
teak for the inner ring,
rosewood for the middle
and lenke for the outer ring

Good choices
I didn’t know that lenke grows here

The French brought it with them
from colonies in Africa
It’s great for drums

It would be nice to make a drum

We’re planning on making some more soon
You can make one too
There’s a lenke grove in the Valley of the Elephants


We’ll plant the trees the day after tomorrow
The medicine ceremony is tomorrow night,
so we’ll rest all day and not eat

Sounds good, Chief
How did you learn to speak English so well?

I spent a year in Luang Prabang
during the civil war

At a school?

No, working
I didn’t go to school
I’m natural

I think I spent way too much time in school
There’s not much I learned there
that I still use

We homeschool our children
and teach them practical things
like how to build a hut,
grow food,
make clothes
and kill a python

A roof to sleep under,
food to eat and clothes wear,
What more do you need?

A good knife and a machete

And maybe some flowers

Yes, some flowers
and bees

Bees are cool

In a day we can build a hut that will last about five years,
we make our clothes from hemp,
so they last a long long time,
and most of the food we eat grows by itself
We encourage it a bit with buffalo dung and compost,
and sometimes we apply a mixture of oils, herbs and spices
to keep pests away

Organic and sustainable

The traditional way


We live simply and have a lot of free time
to meditate,
make music,
do nothing
and just be

What a great way to live

Would you like sit in the sauna before dinner?

I’d love to sit in the sauna

It’s in the hill near the big avocado tree

So Scott and the chief walked back to the village
and over to the big avocado tree
Then the chief led Scott into a small cave
and down a few meters below ground
to a sturdy wooden door

Here we are:
our subterranean sauna
There’s a cold spring just a few meters further into the cave
and a deep pool
We can bathe there before going in

It’s surprisingly light in here

There’s a natural skylight above the pool

So Scott and the chief disrobed
and jumped into the cool pool
before heading into the herbal sauna

♫ ♫ ♫

It’s pretty hot in here, Chief

We’ll take a break and jump into the pool again soon

And it smells really good

We use a lot of herbs
Some people say thirty-two is the the perfect number,
but in our village we use thirty-three

Scott and the chief sat in silence for a bit longer,
and then they went out and jumped back into the pool

♫ ♫ ♫

I think I know what the thirty-third herb is, Chief
You put weed in the mix, don’t you?

That we do

You guys really know how to have a sauna

Vapor is much easier on the lungs than smoke
It’s a nice way to ease into the evening
Let’s go back in

So Scott and the chief went back inside
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

I think I just heard the dinner gong, Chief

Then it’s time to go back

So Scott and the Chief climbed out of the pool,
got dressed
and headed over to the kitchen

♫ ♫ ♫

Smells good, Syri

 Spicy steamed catfish
Just caught it

What can I do to help?

You could sing us a song


So Scott went and got his guitar,
and when he returned,
he played and sang
High in the Subterranean Sauna

♫ ♫ ♫

That was delicious
Thank you

My mom cooks pretty well
You’ll need to stay here about a year
if you want to try all our dishes

The temptation is strong

I’m going to the Valley of the Elephants tomorrow morning
to gather mushrooms
Would you like to come with me?


I’m going to bed early tonight
See you in the morning

Goodnight, Syri

While Syri walked off in the direction of her hut
Scott and the chief sat in silence,
observing the embers
of the cooking fire

♫ ♫ ♫

Do you know any more lullabys, Scott?

I know Lullaby for a Fire

Let’s hear it

And so Scott tuned his guitar
and then played and sang
for the chief and the fire
before saying goodnight
and going to bed

♫ ♫ ♫

Morning, Scott

Morning, Syri

Thought I’d find you here
Watching the rice grow
can be addictive

It’s very relaxing

It’s time to gather mushrooms

So Scott got up and followed Syri
to the Valley of the Elephants

♫ ♫ ♫

See the python up there?


Don’t walk under the cashew tree
It might drop down and try to squeeze you

I see it now
It’s enormous

And perhaps hungry
Let’s go this way
It’s not much further
You can hear the elephants trumpeting

♫ ♫ ♫

It’s beautiful here

The elephants keep it nice
They only take what they need,
they don’t knock down all the trees and take them away

Elephants are smart

A lot smarter than some people
Let’s gather mushrooms
I’ll show you which ones to look for
They grow in elephant dung
I see one over there

So Syri introduced Scott
to the local magic mushrooms,
and then they wandered around
collecting mushrooms
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

My basket is full, Syri

So is mine

Let’s go back

We’ve got a lot of mushrooms

We prefer to take a high dosage
Eating only a few is not enough for serious work
Mushrooms are medicine
We don’t take them for fun

Syri thanked the elephants
for their help
and then she and Scott headed back
to the village

 ♫ ♫ ♫

Here you are, grandma
We gathered the ones on the eastern side of the river

Well done, child
Scott, your medicine shirt is ready
Please wear it tonight during the ceremony

The shaman then handed Scott the shirt
that she had been embroidering

It will help you on your journey tonight
Syri helped with the translation

Scott examined the shirt and noticed among
the intricate patterns
a number of phrases on the sleeves:
Be here now
Pay attention
Have no fear
This too will pass
Observe carefully
Be mindful

It’s extraordinary
Thank you

The ceremony begins at eight
We meet in the ceremonial hut
Get some rest

Scott and Syri took leave of the shaman
and went to their huts
to rest

♫ ♫ ♫

The medicine gong rang out three times,
deeply and slowly

Scott opened his eyes,
got out of his hammock,
put on his new shirt
and got ready for the ceremony

Shortly he joined the others
in the ceremonial hut
and sat down in the circle
between Syri and the chief

The gong rang out again three times
and then the door was closed
All of the candles but one were blown out
and the shaman began to sing

♫ ♫ ♫

When she stopped singing
silence took over


And after a while the shaman went around the room
filling the bowl in front of each person
with mushrooms

And when she had again sat down,
everyone began to eat

And then while waiting
for the medicine to take effect
the villagers sat in silence


An hour later the shaman began again to sing
her medicine songs,
and the mushrooms began to teach their lessons

♫ ♫ ♫

Scott opened his eyes,
looked at his shirt
and knew that all was well
And then the night continued
in silence and in song

rest and music

And by the time the birds began to sing,
the mushrooms had made everything clear
and Scott understood his true nature

He noticed that his guitar case was near the door,
so he got his guitar and tuned it
and then played and sang his own medicine song,
a song that had come to him in the night,
a wordless chant called
Beyond Words

♫ ♫ ♫

Afterwards Scott and the other villagers
wandered back to their huts
to rest
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Good morning, Scott

Morning, Syri

How’s the rice?

It’s growing steadily

Lunch is almost ready


So Scott walked with Syri
to the kitchen
and enjoyed yet another
fabulous meal

♫ ♫ ♫

That was delicious, ma’am

I’m glad you like our food, Scott

Is it time to plant the trees, Chief?

That it is
Some of the guys dug the holes this morning
We can dig up some saplings now

So Scott, the chief and a few others gathered
33 teak,
66 rosewood
and 99 lenke saplings
and then replanted them around the bomb

They’ll grow quickly here
Everything grows quickly here
And if we give them a bit of compost now and then,
they’ll soon be able to protect us from the bomb

Are there any other bombs around here, Chief?

They’re all over the place

If you show me where they are,
over the coming days I can plant trees around them

Sounds like you’re thinking about staying with us for a while

This is a great place to be

You’re welcome to stay as long as you like
And if you design a hut,
we’ll help you build it

I’d love to design and build a hut

Let me know where you would like it to be
and I’ll put it to the Council of Elders for approval

Thank you, Chief

Let’s go bathe in the river
before the sun goes down

So Scott and the chief put away their tools
and then walked down to the river
and had a bath

♫ ♫ ♫

We should celebrate your decision to stay, Scott
We’ll make a fire after dinner

A fire would be great

Let’s head back
It’s almost time for dinner

So Scott and the chief dried off,
and as they were getting dressed,
the dinner gong rang out
three times

♫ ♫ ♫

This bamboo root is delicious

It’s one of my favorites dishes

Your mom is an excellent cook

She loves to cook
She puts love into everything she does
That’s why it tastes so good

You want to build the fire, Scott?

Sure, Chief

So Scott prepared the fire,
and soon it was burning nicely
All the villagers came with their instruments
to welcome Scott again,
this time as a new member of the village

I’ve got a big pile of rocks you can use for a foundation, Scott

And I’ve got plenty of reeds for a roof

And there’s a lot of dried bamboo behind my hut you can use for framing

If you prefer mud bricks, we can make some tomorrow

Thank you, friends

How about singing us a song, Scott?

I’d love to sing a song

So Scott went and got his guitar,
tuned it to the Laotian vibe
and then began to play and sing
Welcome Home

♫ ♫ ♫

The party lasted for hours,
and finally only Scott and the chief were left

The fire has gone into hiding

I’ll see if I can find it, Chief

Scott blew on the embers
and a small flame arose

Tomorrow morning we’re going to look for a lenke tree
to make some drums with
You are welcome to help us choose one,
and you can use part of the tree for your drum

Thank you, Chief
I’d like that

It’s bedtime for me, Scott

Goodnight, Chief

So the chief wandered off to bed
and Scott kept the fire company
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫