Trying to find members of the people group you’re supposed to be working with can be tricky.

– “Emma”

“Waldo” is the name I’ve dubbed the people we’re working among. Because I still do not have the visa needed to live in the hills, “Grace” and I are staying in a city where many Waldo people have migrated. Most come to work in the factories and are easily distinguished from mainstream S Asians by their Mongolian features. However, a number of other tribal groups with similar features have also migrated here. The trick is figuring out who’s who, and the only way to know for sure is to ask. Whenever we spot someone with these features, we try to do just that. It feels like a real-life hunt for the hidden but present Waldo—only these ones don’t wear striped shirts or carry canes. We did meet a Waldo monk who is willing to help with language and introduce us to his parents’ family who live in a village town.

Recently we followed our hosts to her kitchen to observe how our lunch was cooked. We found the mother roasting chicken over a wood fire built inside a block room separate from the rest of the house. A couple days later we visited the “factories” in the hills where tribal people produce woven fabric and clothing. Outside, workers dye thread in vats over wood fires, while inside the bamboo shacks they operate spinning wheels, treadle sewing machines, and giant looms with pits dug into the dirt floor where their feet control the levers.

However, even in rural areas many people own cell phones and visit internet cafes. We contact most of our local friends by cell phones or e-mail. In the city, we can eat at fast food restaurants.

Categories: NewsQuest

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