“You Buy From Me.”

“You buy from me, you buy from me.”

The women first approached us just as we started our hike down from the town of Sapa. Dressed with their distinctive red headdress, the Dzao women followed us as we walked down and through the jungle paths, making our way to the valley floor.

“Where you from?”

“How old you are? I am twenty nine. My name is Phom.”

“You buy from me.”

They walk behind you and stay out of your way, but as you walk up and down, in your fancy footwear, they walk behind you, chatting away, in their plastic flip flops on the mountain paths. After an hour or two, the deal is set, you have their company and their questions and when you get to their village,

“You buy from me.”

As they chatter alongside, I ask Dong our guide what they are talking about, he listens a bit and responds that they are debating which country’s tourists have more money and which ones don’t. On average, each day they walk between ten and fifteen miles, making a sale or two of the handicrafts they make. As they walk they twist hemp into string for their looms.

If you ask them to go ahead so you can take a picture, they get nervous that you won’t follow, so you take your position at the lead again.

“How much farther to your village?”

“Two kilometers.”

So you walk through the rice paddies, past the huts and the water buffalo. Past the small houses, one belonging to a stone carver. In the mountains above, rain clouds are forming. Here at the base of the valley, it is completely quiet as you watch your step on the muddy paths, going up and down the hills. You have become fond of their chatter and their laughter behind.

Finally, you stop just before their village, for a rest, and Dong suggests we do our shopping now so we don’t get surrounded by other women in town. The packs come off their backs and out come the goods, hand sewn on the days the weather keeps away the visitors.

You pick a scarf and a bag, one thing from each.

“How much?”

“300,000 dong.” “The same.”

You start to think about bargaining and what to offer. Custom would say start at 150,000 and work back up, 300,000 is a lot, both items are nice, rustic, clearly hand made, all of which Dong confirms.

They are asking $15 for each piece. You’ve bargained your whole life in villages and towns especially when you were traveling with your father, your kids have already learned the craft. But today, after five hours on the trail, you wonder why you would.

“That’s fine.”

And you pay each woman. They, in turn, each tie a small bracelet on your wrist.

“For your journey” and they hold your hand in a half shake. “For your journey.” And off they go, to find another visitor, another person to walk with, another foreigner from a far away land they can walk up to and remind:

“You buy from me.”

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