III. Praxis
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127  III Praxis Health Theatre in a Hmong Refugee Camp Performance, Communication, and Culture A Hmong widow walks to a crossroad in Camp Ban Vinai, surveys the scene, and then settles herself on a bench outside the corner hut. Bracing her back against the split-­ bamboo wall, she begins to sing. At first softly, as if to herself, she sings a Hmong khy txhiaj (folksong). Aware of a gathering audience, she raises her voice to fill the space around her. She sings a lamentation, carving her personal anguish into a traditional expressive form. With exquisitely timed gestures, she strips and peels with one hand the branch of firewood she holds in the other. Tears stream down her face as she sings about the loss of her husband, her children, her house, her farm, her animals, and her country. She sings of war, and flight, and breaking, and of a time when she was a wife and mother in the Laotian village where silver neck-­ rings were worn. She punctuates each refrain by tossing away a sliver that her strong fingers have torn from the wood she holds across her lap as if it were a child. The sad beauty of her singing attracts a crowd. She never makes eye contact but acknowledges the crowd’s presence in her spontaneously composed verses, subtly at first, and then more confidently. She is both lamenting and entertaining. With nothing left to tear away, she makes the final toss of the last splinter, rises, and begins to sway with the rhythm of her song. People set out food for her. I give her the few baht I have in my pocket. Her face still wet, she breaks into a broad smile. Strange laughter interrupts her otherwise balanced verses. She thanks us for listening to her sadness and tells us how happy it makes her to sing for us. Then she crosses the road to where I am standing and gives me a blue sticker the size of a nickel, with a crescent moon on it. It is one of the stickers the camp hospital puts on medicine bottles to indicate when the medicine should be taken, morning or night. With her thumb she presses it onto the page of my journal in which I am writing field notes on her performance. I notice that she has blue moons and golden suns stuck to her cheeks and forehead. ...


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