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Dang and Dam

A day in the life of two Lao children
Dang and Dam

Dang , a girl, and Dam, a boy, are ten-year-old twins. They live in a Lao village in a small bamboo and thatch house built on stilts. The house is one big room open on one side to the front porch and the village street. They must climb a small ladder to enter the house. At night the ladder is pulled up so outsiders can't enter the house. There is no furniture in the house and no running water or electricity. Under the house are pens for some chickens, a pig, and the water buffalo used for plowing the fields.

Dang and Dam live with their mother and father, a younger brother and two younger sisters as well as their grandmother. Each day they get up early. The rooster under the house begins to crow, the sun shines, people begin to move about, and the dogs bark. The twins fold up their sleeping mats and put them away along the back wall. 

Dang helps her mother and Dam helps his father with the morning chores. Dang takes a bamboo shoulder pole with a bucket on either end and goes to fetch water from a nearby stream. Carrying water is hard work, but it is considered women's work. The two buckets of water weigh around thirty pounds, and Dang has to walk carefully so the water will not slop out. Her shoulder hurts by the time she gets the water home, but she must make another trip or two to the stream to get water for the day's use. She will go again in the evening to fetch water. Dam lets the chickens out of their pen and gives them a little rice. They will run around and hunt insects during the day. He takes the water buffalo to the stream for a drink and ties the animal up in a grassy area to graze.

Breakfast is sticky rice with hot sauce. Dang has stopped going to school because her mother needs her at home to help with the younger children while she works in the fields. Dang feeds the younger children. She will carry her fifteen-month-old sister around on her hip for much of the day when she goes to play with her friends. Dang hasn't learned to read much. There are no books or newspapers in the village except for a few the teacher owns. Dang can add and subtract small numbers, but she is starting to forget what she learned. Her mother never went to school and cannot read or write at all. Her father can read a little, but he has trouble spelling words when he writes, but he rarely needs to write anything.

Dam is in fourth grade at the village school. There isn't a real school in the village, only a thatched roofed building with no walls. There are no desks and no chairs. The students sit on the floor and chant together the lesson that the teacher has written on the blackboard. The children are supposed to wear school uniforms, but they are expensive to buy. Some children wear clothes of homespun cotton that their mothers made. Many wear hand-me-downs from older brothers and sisters. Most of the children go barefoot.

The teacher is also a farmer, and he wants to work on his farm today so he lets the children go home after a couple hours. They are happy to be out of school. Dam and his friends decide to set some traps for rats in the fields and then take nets and go fishing. They want to catch something for their families' suppers. They use banana leaves to wrap some sticky rice and pla dag, a salty fish paste, to take for their lunch.

Their parents go to work in the fields. Their father will plow the rice fields with the water buffalo. Their mother will plant a vegetable garden. Everyone in the family works. When there is a lot of farm work, Dam doesn't go to school either but helps on the farm. Dang and Dam help transplant the rice seedlings when they are about two feet tall. They place them in rows in the soft mud. They like to see the bright green of the rice plants as they grow. When the rice turns golden and the stalks are heavy with grains of rice, they will help with the rice harvest too.

Dang and Dam have never been far from home. They have never seen a TV, and they have no toys. Their village has only an elementary school. If Dam wants to study further, he will have to pass a test to get into a middle school in a town far away from his village. There aren't many schools and the test is hard, so Dam will probably stay in the village. Dang and Dam know a lot that they didn't learn from books or school, however. They know a lot about plants and animals. They know how to help their family grow food and how to find food around the village in the forest, the fields, and the stream. They know how to care for the younger children. They enjoy life, and they are proud that they can help their family. But sometimes they wish they could see the world beyond the village.