Saturday, December 24, 2005

Breakfast with the Fangs-Part I

After prayer, Steve had an urge to explore a curvy trail that ran adjacent to the temple. We could see a concrete shrine not too far away, the kind the Dai people built over their wells as monuments to the water gods. The structure looked like a tall dome, with designs etched into the concrete and something like an obelisk extending from the apex of the dome. The inside was hollow and about 5 feet deep. A shallow pool of still water rested at the bottom of the hole.

Steve and I offered up another quick prayer, this one as an attack against the water gods. We prayed that the Dai would know the true provider of sunlight and rain, the two resources that enabled them to grow crops and make a living. I was reminded of Paul's encounter with the Athenians and their statue to an unknown God (Acts 17). They knew that some entity existed and provided for their needs. They just didn't know his name. That's why Paul went to them, to proclaim what had been hidden--the name of the unknown God who does not dwell in temples made by the hands of men. The parallels between his ministry and ours were obvious.

The trail curled around a fish pond and found its conclusion at a small, hut-like structure, a bit larger and sturdier than the storehouse we had seen in the field. By the ripples spreading in successive circular rings throughout the water, we could tell that the pond was teeming with life. Outside the hut, a girl of about 20 stooped on hands and knees. Every few seconds, she would grab a watermelon from the basket next to her, place it delicately on a piece of cardboard and violently chop it in half with the machete-like blade she held in her hand. I would've never expected such a fierce strike from such a dainty girl. Her action took me by surprise, but Steve and I continued to approach the hut.

Steve called out his customarily loud "ni hao," both making his presence known and conveying the fact that we meant no harm to the family by intruding on their property. Holding out a few Chinese yuan, he motioned toward the basket next to the girl, which was attached to the back of a bicycle and brimming with watermelons. She looked up from the chopping block with a confused look on her face. She didn't seem afraid, just that she didn't understand Steve's gesture. So he continued with a new charade, simulating a person eating rice from a bowl. Then he thrust the bills toward her once more and pointed at the watermelons again. Something in her mind finally clicked. She motioned toward the pond, grappling with words, trying as desperately as Steve to make herself understood. Somehow she communicated that the watermelons were food for the fish, not for people.

As Steve persisted, however, the bills started to look more appealing to the girl. The money would go into the family's treasury, so she decided to take it. There's no telling how many fish they would've had to raise and sell in order to make the amount of money we were trying to give her just for a few pounds of fish food.

I still didn't feel like she trusted us completely, but she ushered us over to the hut's "porch" where an elderly couple and a young child were seated. Pulling out those patented Chinese midget stools, she offered us a seat next to the rest of the family, who smiled happily as we crouched beside them.

Hurrying back to the chopping area, our hostess hacked a fresh watermelon in half. She gave one half and a spoon to each of us, and we dug in. I don't know if it was just the unusual context that made it so, but this watermelon was the sweetest and freshest I think I've ever tasted. It could've been the fact that this was homegrown and didn't get bounced around in a truck or tossed in a freezer somewhere. And then there's always one more possibility: Wouldn't anything taste delightful after having so many Powerbars?

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