10 March 2010

The Buffalo

Last week, I spent three days living in Yasothon Province living on a farm with a family and another CIEE student. My family consisted of my host Meh (Mother), Pa (Father), a very yippy dog, and a buffalo.

On the first morning of the homestay, I awoke at six to find that my host parents were already up and about. My Meh had already been out working in the garden and had started making breakfast; it had rained the night before, so my Pa had started out early to plow the fields with the buffalo. Having never seen an actual buffalo before, I was quite surprised to start my morning with one. The buffalo, however, seemed quite unfazed by my presence. In fact, the buffalo seemed quite unfazed by everything going on around him; we walked through the fields, and didn’t seem to mind much when he was stopped to turn, or encouraged to keep going.

After watching the buffalo a bit, we headed out to spend the rest of the day viewing the farms. We encountered some more CIEE students living nearby, and after spending the hot morning walking around in the sun, we all thought it would be great to find a place to go swimming. After multiple attempts asking our hosts where we could swim, the six of us were lead away by my host Meh towards a swimming spot. We headed back towards the house, and my Meh indicated that the small pond behind our house would be a good place to swim. We all got ourselves ready to swim, and returned to find the buffalo looking up at us, up to his neck in water, in our pond. Based on the communication with my Meh, we understood that the buffalo was swimming in that pond, and we could find another pond if we wanted to swim.

After our swim, we all returned to our respective homes. I spent the afternoon lounging around in the shade, reading and napping in the pleasant afternoon heat. The buffalo did the same. He sat next to his tree all afternoon, and occasionally wandered around to find some grass to nibble on. For the rest of the homestay, the buffalo stayed by that tree. He was there in the morning as we were preparing breakfast, and he was there in the evening as we hunted for the bathroom in the dark. Though he never acknowledged my presence, I felt comforted knowing he was there.

Upon returning to Khon Kaen, I was puzzled that this buffalo was still on my mind. The buffalo was cool, and I didn’t feel like I really needed to dwell on him. Upon thinking it through, I realized that this buffalo was much more than he appeared. The buffalo plowed the fields with the family, he lived with the family, he swam with the family, the family used his manure in their compost. There was no separation between the buffalo’s domain and the domain of the family. They lived together. This together-ness was something I had never seen; as an animal I had never had any previous experience with, I couldn’t imagine a buffalo playing an integral part in the household.

My host family lived with the land; they grew all the food they ate, they made their own compost, they barely used electricity or gas, and they lived with this buffalo. The buffalo, to me, came to represent the reciprocal relationship between my host family and the environment around them, a relationship I deeply respect and hope to one day emulate.

Maggie Pearson
Macalester College


Callan Elswick, Davidson College said...

Insightful post, Maggie. I found your story about the connection between your host family and the buffalo particularly interesting, for it reminded me of the symbiotic relationship between the Amatlán community and their corn. Several weeks ago, my classmates and I spent four days in Amatlán, which is an indigenous town of 1,000 inhabitants in Morelos, Mexico. In addition to studying the effects of globalization and migration on their people, I learned about their cosmovision of the land. According to one political and spiritual leader of the community, “nosotros no somos dueños de la tierra; somos de la tierra” or “we are not owners of the earth; we are of the earth.” After speaking to us about land rights and the history of Amatlán, this same man led us to a religious site in the mountains. While we made a circle around a rock, he placed three cobs of corn in the middle—yellow to the east where the sun rises; red to the south where the women and soldiers reign; and black to the north which is the realm of the dead. After we celebrated the land and the corn, this community organizer described his people’s connection with the corn that they harvest and how his “ancestors told us that we are brothers and sisters of plants.” After recognizing the spiritual, emotional, and physical connection that Amatlán has to their corn, I better understood their battle for land rights. It is not only a political and economic struggle. They are fighting for their culture and heritage. Similar to the way the buffalo symbolically represents your host family, the people of Amatlán are of the corn. In fact, they embody the maxim of the indigenous land struggle in Mexico: “Sin maíz, hay no país” or “Without corn, there is no country.”

April said...

Great post, brought me back to the organic days of Yasothon. For a country that barely ever takes into account animal rights, I was surprised on the large role many animals play in many Thai farmer’s day to day lives. The buffalo you describe is one of the many animals with large roles on the farms. When I stayed in Yasothon, my family had four cows, a buffalo, three pigs, three dogs and too many chickens and ducks to count. Me, never being in such close range to a water buffalo, and the fact that I am a “chicken” I was very nervous at first, but once I realized, as you did, that the buffalo paid no attention or even acknowledged my existence I became a lot more comfortable with the family farm animals. We too took our family buffalo swimming, but the fact that the buffalo peed for about ten minutes right when it touched the water left us weary of swimming ourselves.
April Morris