Martha | Maggie
| Jeremy | Nico
| Dylan | Pakou
| Pao | Mariah
| Cristina | Jenny
| Izzy S. | Sara
K. | Nate | Erika
| Benjamin | Abigail
| Sarah M. | Gabby
Sue Bassett came into our class today
to talk about people called “highlanders.” Highlanders
are people who live high up in the mountains of Thailand and
Laos. There are many Sue mentioned like Mien, Akha, Hmong,
Yao, etc. All these people have different styles of living,
each as unique as the next. One of the different things was
that babies wear nothing; toddlers wear just a shirt, kids
wear pants and a shirt and adults wear pants/skirt and a shirt.
People sleep in big beds with many people in them. They don’t
use mattresses. They use bamboo. Sue said it gets comfy after
a while. One of the highlander villages was so high up in
the mountains that it took twelve kilometers to reach. There
are three seasons: cold, dry/hot, and wet. All of these seasons
can be enjoyable including the hot/dry season. The main reason
Sue was at our classroom was to talk about the refugee camps
and refugees. The difference between an immigrant and a refugee
is refugees are forced to leave their homelands and immigrants
have a choice to leave. She worked as a nurse at a refugee
camp called Ban Nam Yao.
Sue Bassett, a good friend of Mr. Wagler’s,
took a trip to a Thailand Refugee Camp. She met Akha, Thin,
Lisu, Mien, and Hmong people and worked with most of them.
Sue worked in a clinic, medicating people who had been shot,
people with measles, people with health problems, people with
bad burns, people with lost body parts, people who did not
have enough nutrition, people with skin problems or diseases,
and lots more. Sue and other doctors and nurses brought shamans
and Hmong elders over to help them. Some people who needed
medical care however, refused to go to hospitals, perhaps
thinking that it was only a place for people so sick they
might die. Or, perhaps, they wanted to use the old spirit–contact
way. Who knows?
The Thai people provided the refugees with building supplies:
bamboo, grasses, straw, thatching, and more. In summer, the
refugees used screens and blankets to keep out malaria-carrying
mosquitoes. Usually, there was only 1 table. The people would
eat in this order: Elders, men, women, then children. Beds
were made of bamboo slats. You got used to the bumpiness after
a few nights. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees
provided food, machinery and building supplies.
There were also signs-flags, signs, wreaths, etc. that people
used. For instance, a white thing on the roof meant that you
could trade for toys there. Toys were made of stuff found
lying around: Bottles, lost flip-flops (shoes often worn by
Hmong people), wood, pens, and other things. A wreath of leaves
and branches on a wall meant that there was something like
a disease inside, and the mother and child(ren) couldn’t
In all the seasons, the highlanders
use houses to store their food. The houses are on stilts and
on the four corners of the house, there are metal poles so
rodents can’t get in to poop and/or eat their food.
(The metal poles are there because they are slippery to animals
other than humans.)
Akha is a type of mountain person. Thin
is another type, and so is Lisu, and of course, Hmong. Mountain
people use gourds to collect water. The roofs of houses are
made of grass and the walls are made of bamboo. In each house
there is a bed, a table and a kitchen in the corner. There
are nets over the beds to block mosquitoes from biting people
when they are asleep. If you saw a pole with a bag on it stuck
in the ground by a house that meant that people were selling
toys that they made. Kids play with chickens, geckos and chameleons.
Hmong mountains don’t have very good roads so the villages
are hard to get to. Animals run free in the villages.
Because of war, people had to cross the Mekong River. The
Mekong River was a fast running, deep river with “licensed
to kill” killing guards on the other border. Practically
none of the people could swim when they crossed the Mekong
River separating Laos from Thailand. Elders had to cross as
well as strong men. When they got across they became refugees.
In the camp people were provide with thatched roof covering
and long sticks of bamboo.
Lots of people had health problems. Most refugees didn’t
have very many vegetables and fruits. Lots of kids had malnutrition.
That means that they had a bloated stomach with teeny arms,
legs and feet. A way of Hmong traditional healing is using
an animal’s horn to bring the blood cells up to the
skin, and doctors have found that it actually works. Lots
of people also lost legs and arms because of left over land
mines, and got sick because of that.
Today a woman named Sue Bassett came
into my class and showed us slides and talked about Thai refugee
camps and the people that live in the hills. Sue used to work
in a refugee camp as a nurse in the 1980’s.
In the hills, there is lots of grass and there are dirt roads
that are easy to get stuck in when it is the rainy season.
In a village, most of the houses are made out of bamboo and
thatched grass roofs. There are dogs, pigs, roosters, and
chickens all over in villages.
Most of the people in the villages had a field to farm on.
There was always work going on in the villages. They would
also have a rice pounder that would be done by having a long
piece of wood with a big stick coming out of the wood that
would hit the rice. There was a corn grinder that would be
done by putting corn between two stone flat plates. They would
move and crush the corn. The women were sewing a lot.
When America gave up the war and came home, the Communists
killed everybody they found in the mountain villages. So the
Hmong and other people had to run away to Thailand. But to
get to Thailand they had to cross the Mekong River. They couldn’t
swim, so they had to go across by holding on to bamboo. Once
they got to Thailand (if they made it) they had to go to refugee
When they entered, they would be registered and given supplies
to build a house. There wasn’t much food, so a lot of
people got sick. The refugee camps had lots of people in them.
Sometimes if there would be a fire, there was nothing anyone
could do. So they had to get away from the fire.
By what Sue showed us and talked to us about I think I understand
villages better, and how hard and confusing it was for them.
Laos and Thailand have a lot of low lands.
Both lands have high mountains and a lot of mountains. Lots
of Sue Bassett’s pictures showed Akha or Hmong women
carrying their babies or feeding them. I think Lisu is Hmong
green because she is wearing Hmong green traditional clothes.
An Akha woman was using a dry empty pumpkin cut in half to
get water and she was carrying a basket on her back. She was
also wearing a traditional Akha hat that has lots of designs
and coins on the hat. There were a lot of houses being built
or rebuilt. They were made out of bamboo and straw. There
was a picture of a little boy holding a kind of fruit; I think
it may be a pineapple. A lot of Hmong women do a lot of needlework
each day because in the refugee camps it’s very boring.
There are lots of cages for animals. There was a rice pounder
and also a corn grinder in the pictures. Lots of families
were really farming to get food. There were lots of fences
around gardens because lots of animals are mostly outside.
Now many houses have electricity and phones. Two Hmong men
were blacksmiths and I think they were making tools like knives.
Mostly people need wood for fire, not electricity. A lot of
women do different needlework with wax. Some pictures showed
the bathrooms back then, which was in the ground. A man was
making a qeej and two other men played the qeej in different
places. There was a dry and wet season. Kids played in the
rain. A woman sold vegetables at a market. Another woman was
carrying a basket filled with bananas. Two pictures showed
the Mekong River in the south side. Two men were smoking a
bamboo pipe. Lots of women were getting glasses from the nurses.
There was a hospital called Tom Dooley Hospital that let refugees
in to make the refugees healthy and safe. Lots of refugees
got shot by the communists. Some people even lost their legs
or arms or some other body parts. When Sue Bassett first came
to the refugee camps, lots of people looked at her as foreign.
She only learned Thai words because she was in the refugee