During one of my many travels along Route 1, in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam (1971), I came upon this fellow. He was a Montagnard tribesman. Known locally as “mountain people”, the Montagnards are a totally distinct ethnic group from the Vietnamese, with their own language, culture, etc. Their fierce independence has kept them at odds with the Vietnamese throughout history, regardless of who ruled the country, and they became dependable allies to the U.S. during the Viet Nam “conflict”.
It was rare to see Montagnards along the main roads as they were farmers and liked to keep to themselves. Travel was slow along this dangerous stretch where the dense jungle came right up to the curvy steep mountain road. We were glad to see him for this was a good sign that the Viet Cong were not in the vicinity. He was short and wiry, tight-skinned with not an ounce of fat. His small frame belied his strength.
Mimicking a drill sgt., my buddy yelled, “Smoke ’em if ya got ’em”, and offered him a cigarette; he accepted it and enjoyed it without ceremony — no lavish thanks, cheesy smiles or phony deference. Conversation was zero, but he was at ease with us. I sensed that we appreciated his presence more than he did ours. He carried himself like he was at peace with himself(note the hole in his ear lobe), had no regrets, and feared nothing.
I don’t remember much about the encounter; e.g. what was in his basket, what his long knife (visible over his right shoulder) looked like, his walking stick or footwear. I wish I would have taken better notes of this encounter.
Thought for the Day: What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined … to strengthen each other … to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories. George Eliot