The house fills up rapidly with people, some family, some neighbours, all come to meet the foreigners. There is an eighty year old woman who lives next door, and several toddlers. They all sit in a big circle round us on the floor. Tea is made and offered. They are all charming and entertaining and interested in us, with a lively sense of humour. They want to know where our families are, and when we say we do not have families, they invite us to join theirs. Now, as I am sure you appreciate, there is absolutely no way on God’s Earth that this is going to happen, but I manage a gracious smile, and say that I would love to, as long as they didn’t expect me to row with one leg. There is much laughter. After a while one of the daughters disappears into the kitchen and returns some time later with the most delicious potato crisps we ever tasted. She has just made them over the open fire in their tiny kitchen. Considering the place is made of wood and reeds, the open fire seems a little dangerous and we ask if their houses ever catch fire. This is cause for a lot more laughter, even though the answer is yes.
We stay well over an hour and feel very comfortable. They are genuinely welcoming and we are touched by the whole experience, particularly when we leave and the father turns to me and says that he hopes we will be brothers in our next life. They are the poorest people we are ever likely to meet, but their quality of life appears rich indeed.
After further visits to a floating farm and a weaving business, we return to our hotel for dinner. There is a card on the table advertising tonight’s special appetizer, which is mussels cooked in butter and garlic. We point to that assuming the waiters must know about it. We do get them, but unfortunately they arrive about 30 minutes after the main course. There are a total of six mussels on a plate and are served with profuse apologies from the head waiter and little else.