Lisu Other Tribes

Where's the Grass?

Growing up, I took a lush, green lawn for granted. When I hit my teens, I also took for granted my rite of passage to start making money by mowing my neighbors lawns (twenty years ago I made in one hour of listlessly pushing a self-propelled mower the same amount that hilltribe people earn nowadays from four days of back-breaking labor). What I didn't realize then was that not all of the world puts financial and emotional priorities on a well-groomed lawn. In fact, I have come to think that the whole lawn industry in the US is more than a little strange.

When you enter a hilltribe village in Thailand, even though the hills surrounding the village will be a lush green, you won't see much grass, just expanses of red earth between houses. One dry season, when the dust in the village was becoming overwhelming, I asked why they didn't just plant grass, and received a response thoroughly pleasing in its practicality: "Why would you plant grass? In the rainy season you have to always cut it or it becomes full of mosquitos, in the dry season it creates the risk of the village burning if one house catches fire. Plus, it doesn't look good." To me that makes much more sense than a manicured lawn of designer grass maintained by chemicals.