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ABOUT THE PAVIE MISSION

Opium

"The cultivation of the opium poppy has an important place in the agricultural concerns of these people and clearly provides the majority of their income. At least three quarters of the Laotians in the region smoke opium. They enter into this habit for the rest of the year. For them, as for all people who do this, it is more than a need, a sort of passion which tyrannises and plagues them, even in the middle of the most absorbing preoccupations. There are perhaps two natives in my convoy amongst the mandarins, guides or coolies, who do not have in their pouch the equipment a smoker needs: a pipe made of bamboo, a stove bought in Luang Prabang, a box enclosing the precious commodity, a saucer, a scraper, a tapered metal rod in the shape of a long needle, and an oil lamp. In itself the preparation of the pipe is no less complicated than this paraphernalia. The Laotians, less well equipped than the Chinese in Hanoi and Saigon, operate in a slightly different way. As long as it is possible to lie down there, the first place that they come to serves as a place to set up the equipment. A stone acts as a pillow. The opium is placed in the saucer with a little water and placed over the fire. Once it is diluted it is passed through a filter paper, made by the Meos or the Pou Euns. The residue is removed with a scraper, replaced over the fire and cooked again. The water evaporates under the influence of the heat; the lump begins to fuse, swells up and gives off smoke. The operator must gauge the precise moment when the mixture is ready. Catching fire as well as insufficient cooking would be enough to ruin everything. However a practised eye never makes a mistake. The opium is finally piled into a cone shape using the metal rod and placed on the pipe bowl. All that remains is to smoke it. It takes 5 to 6 seconds.

Long ago I was naturally rather curious to experience for myself the highly praised sensations which make the opium smoker a morphine addict, a slave to a passion against which even the hardiest of characters are powerless to resist. I allowed myself to be tempted, seduced by the novelty of the treat and the perspective of unknown sensual pleasures that my imagination conjured up in advance. However it is not a rose without thorns. I decided to experience it. I smoked five pipes but could not finish the sixth, seized by violent nausea which obliged to me to take to my bed as quickly as possible. A dreadful sickness followed and kept me awake till morning, replacing the dreams which I expected to caress my sleep. I must in truth, however, acknowledge that once the crisis was over, I felt an exceptional well-being. I had the vague impression of an intermediate state between being awake and asleep, a sort of annihilation which removed even the faculty of thought, perhaps the Buddhist Nirvana. I delighted in this torpor, happy not to feel anything other than to want the sensation of the moment to continue indefinitely. If I had been able to double the dose perhaps the mysterious veil, which hid from me the unknown world on the threshold of which I had to stop, would have been lifted! However such an effort would have cost me dear judging by the persistent rancour which remained with me whilst the dream quickly evaporated." (Cupet)