After the goat feast, the festivities continue with music and games. Behind our table is a long strip of dirt where men gather for a petang match, one of Lao's favorite past-times. It's a holdover from French colonization, known there as boules or petanque (in America, it's bocce ball). I've played once or twice, but I don't know the rules.
It seems like whichever team gets closest to the smaller ball wins, but there is more nuance to it than that. The score is kept on an aging wooden sign, and the game is presided over by the same serious man who refereed the soccer match. Competition is anything but fierce, and the stakes are low: whichever team loses has to put beer money into the pot.
That man's forearm was blown off by a UXO when he was a boy—it was probably one of ours.
After the first round is over, Pete and I form a team with a really friendly guy named Deat. He is alarmingly cross-eyed, but incredibly good at petang and the depth perception it requires. Try as we might, Pete and I never really figure out the specifics of the rules. In the end, it doesn't matter; we toss the heavy silver balls wherever Deat deems the most advantageous.
Thanks to beginners luck (or Deat), we win!
Amidst the laughing, teasing and pleasing "ka-thunk!" of the petang balls, the people still sitting at the long table begin to play music, creating instruments from basically anything in sight. A boy uses an upturned bucket as a drum, while his father taps out a rhythm on a beer crate. Silverware on glass creates a "ching ching ching" noise, and several men unearth guitars from who knows where.
Everyone uninhibitedly belts out lyrics, as if they've been singing them for their entire lives, like they've all been friends forever. The resulting music is as lively, carefree, and breezy as a summer's day. Soon, people are inspired to get up and dance. Save for a brief encounter in Greece, we've never meet such jovial, open and musical people!
While the music goes on, and the petang shows no signs of letting up, children run around playing, women socialize, and a few stray dogs sniff around, more enthusiastic about eating the goat remains than we are. Meanwhile, quite a large collection of empty beer bottles is amassed in a pile of wreckage, the remains of a weekend party in Laos.
Though there's talk of a women's petang game, and Natasha and I are eager to join in, the four of us need to get back to town. We've got plenty to do in preparation for our motorcycle trip together, so unfortunately, we have to bid everyone goodbye. After many, many thanks to these people for inviting so warmly into their lives, we don our helmets and ride away.
We will cherish the memory of this vibrant welcome to Laos for the rest of our lives!