Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Delta

I arose before the sun to meet my riverboat driver for a tour down the Mekong. I was pleasantly surprised to find him sitting outside my hotel, sipping coffee, patiently waiting for me.  His name was Tom and his English was limited to "hello", "thank you", and "come back here".  In the dark we walked to the riverfront and I climbed aboard his wooden, motorized vessel.  I witnessed the intimacy of morning ablutions, teeth brushing and laundering as an orange ball filled the sky behind me.   Four miles later domestic life gave way to the hustle and bustle of a virtual farmers market at sea.  Traders paddled from boat to boat selling pineapples, squash, turnips, and cabbage.  A half dozen or so other boats were filled with western tourists like me.  At the second smaller and simplistic market I  was close enough to hear the other tour drivers giving their clients tidbits of history and information.   The female tourists were sporting interesting necklaces, earrings and rings, all fashioned from palm fronds, all gifts from their drivers, who while leisurely powering their boats folded and weaved green blades into fashionable accessories.  Trunks of pineapples and watermelon rinds were carved into animals and also given to the tourists as gifts.  Hours had passed since my evening meal, and the ripe melons were making my stomach grumble.  I noticed a couple eating a juicy grapefruit, and turned to Tom to ask if we could purchase a papaya.  He was in profile at the back of the boat, a stream of pee arcing from his pants.  Not long after I heard a voice from another boat say, "Aren't you going to eat, enjoy the market?"  Yes, I told the driver.  I'd love a papaya.  She promptly orchestrated the transaction and  graciously cubed the fruit for me when she realized my driver didn't have a knife.    After the market, we flowed away from the more urban enclaves and entered the bucolic tributaries of the Delta.   Puffy white clouds, vibrant green palm and banana leaves, murky water.  Familiar images, embedded from newsreels and war movies.  My mind wrestled with the tranquility, displacing the solitude with disturbing images of combat, and death.  The verdant landscape was fertilized with blood, American and Vietnamese.  I chased the dark thoughts away and focused on the healing power of time.  Five hours into the journey we stopped at a small crudely made dock for lunch.  Tourists from the morning market tour were dining there as well.  Seconds after ordering mango, fresh coconut water and morning glory a woman started to rub my shoulders.  Massage Madame?  Yes, please.  The tension in my neck was subsiding by the time the food arrived.  Tom and I ate in silence, smiling every now and then.  At the dock, we climbed over several boats to get to ours and that's when he swiftly pocketed two parrots crafted from palm leaves, someone else's gift and gave them to me with a hearty laugh.  Tom, the toothless fingersmith steered the boat back to town.

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