The rats have finally abated their menacing scurrying through the room-long cabinets where the eppi –a kind of hardened yogurt/cheese made from yak milk–is kept, like a good wine aged in oak barrels. I guess that’s my call to get up. – I have been eaten alive in so many lives! When will it end? When can I make the kill? –
Oh but it’s so warm beneath these wool blankets and the fog rests heavily too on the valley floor. So I lay and pray and soon stretch and dress. The momo is especially fluffy and buttery on this cold morning and the tea steams in its kettle above the coals. I will make my way to town today, and the aunties and Sadu bid “Papa” farewell. Across the bridge the first car stops and so I head north with three smoking cowboys, who, when we pass a group of several prostrating women-pilgrims, stop to hand them a few ten-yuan bills. In Xin Du Qiao it’s drizzling and the roads are muddy, but I can see the chörten-shaped flag formations on the green mountainsides and my heart feels kind. They charge me too much for the ride but I soon find what I came for. A friendly local cautions me that the conditions there are not good, but at the internet bar a painter is at work decorating two walls of neon, Buddhist-themed murals. The boy sitting beside me is Echo Poem and will be my second little brother from Yibin. He’s probably about the same age as Adolf too. (Adolf who admired Hitler not because of his inhuman cruelty and racism, but because of his power to influence people.) Echo delights in British versus American vernacular and earnestly laughs as we later share fish-flavored eggplant. “No, aubergine!” Then it’s my turn to chuckle as he proudly haggles the price of my oranges from ¥1.8/jin to ¥1.5, but is later refused his offer of my paying ¥23 instead of ¥24 at the market. In the light rain I head back towards Ritu with oranges for me and Omu and a bag of sweets for the village kids – Nanóchika—and get about one kilometer before a traveling couple from Guangdong stop and take my picture and tell me I am great and they and their driver give me a lift, in which we exchange fruit and smiles and I get out at Waze Xiang, the northern mouth of Menyak. I walk past a beautiful bride in a muddy wedding dress and then a taxi stops. They do not know Ritu but enroute to Jiulong, drop me off at the bridge. The sun barely shines and there’s no rain and I am happy. The morning wavered but after late-afternoon barley-roasting and potato-feeding to Sky, the day smoothed out like Menyak valley and my heart is warm.
You always remember the first time roasting barley. The first couple batches may burn a little and stick to the roasting-wok as you try to pour it into the large metal bowl for cooling. But after those first clumsy few, you learn to quickly grab the pieces of cloth and place the stirring broom aside, not giving a chance to the mischievous puffs at the bottom to stick in this brief moment of neglect. And you get a stirring rhythm down, making sure to equally mix the entire area of the circle of fire. Oh, and the fire. If it diminishes to a subdued glow, of course it’s mesmerizing to look at but, the barley will take all night to crack alive. So the fire too must stay alive and cracking and the hearth must be fed with dried sticks every few batches. The shack may become smoky before the newly-sacrificed wood (“Thirteen logs perished in the flame that burned Joan,” haha!) catches, but you must keep on stirring through the burning eyes and shallow coughs. One unruly cow will try to sneak into the shack from time to time for a fresh afternoon snack, so keep your ears open for that creeping cowbell and “Shhhhhah” her a good a scolding.
© 2010, Amaya Engleking