village life
Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

“Don’t play in the street!” is one of the first things we learn as kids growing up in the Western World. In developing countries around the world, however, village life is much different. The streets are where life happens. I’m not sure if new highways were built through the center of small towns and villages, or if these small towns and villages have realigned themselves along the path of least resistance. Either way, the middle of their streets are the equivalent of European plazas or American shopping malls.

Village Life Happens in the Streets

In some countries driving down their highways entails overtaking a wide array of vehicles. You encounter everything from motorbikes loaded with 4-foot by 6 -foot loads and tractors turned into public transportation, to buffalo-drawn carts and bicycle-powered cabs. Honking and waiting for all sorts of livestock (goats, camels, sheep, cows, donkeys, buffalo, etc.) is the norm. But what surprises me, is how often the honking, waiting, and overtaking is not for livestock or vehicles, but simply due to village life happening in the middle of the highway. It’s almost as if they don’t see a speeding vehicle coming their way. It seems like their attitude tells the truth, though. They don’t give a fuck who has to wait for them.

village life

It’s where adolescent boys gather in hoards to gawk at tween girls doing laundry across the road. It’s where toddlers learn to walk. The streets are where women gather to gossip about the community happenings while teenagers hold hands for the first time. It is where men share pulls of home-brewed “moonshine” and where children test out their homemade wheel and stick toys. It’s where the elderly sit and watch the world pass by. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where farmers and herders gather to sell and trade their goods. Hell, it’s where the community water supply is. As a result, you’re likely to see the locals doing what westerners would consider to be one of the most intimate actions…taking a shower…in public.

It’s a Different World

While life in “The West” happens behind closed doors in comfortable living rooms and landscaped backyards, life in developing countries happens out in the open for all to see. Cruise up a village street and you’ll be inadvertently invited into their lives. You’ll see all the colors of their laundry hanging, inhale all the smells of their food cooking, and take in a slice of all that happens in their world.  Maybe if you’re nice, you’ll be invited to share this special slice of village life with them!

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