God and the Animals
Statues of Buddha sit all around us, displaying the mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism that once mixed effortlessly in Laos. Garudas and Nagas are scattered in between the statues of Ganesh, Shiva, and the many different visages of Buddha. We eat fried bananas and French-Laotian sandwiches, a cultural remnant from before Laos’ Independence. Laos is a patchwork of influence from other countries; The road we travelled on was donated by the Germans, the hydro dam in the distance was donated by the French, and the prosthetic legs of a land-mine victim was funded by American relief (although sadly that relief will end this year, but the U.S. cluster bombs that still litter the fields will not). With so much global influence and guidance in Laos, it is difficult to determine the origins of his humorous story:
“A long time ago, God asked to meet with Man, Water Buffalo, Dog, and Monkey. When man and all the animals arrived God finally spoke, “Man, to you I will give thirty years of life, so that you may explore and enjoy the world that I give to you.” Man replied, “Thank you, God. I will enjoy these years.” God then turned to Water Buffalo, “To you water buffalo, I give thirty years so that you can help man work the fields.” Water Buffalo shook his head, “Thank you, God, but I do not need thirty years, it is too much. Please, let me only have ten years of life.” God agreed but asked, “And what shall I do with the other twenty years?” Water Buffalo thought carefully but couldn’t come up with an answer. Man spoke up, “If it is alright, I shall take the twenty years that Water Buffalo doesn’t want.” And so, God gave man the extra twenty years. Then God turned to Dog, “To you I shall give 30 years as well.” Dog quickly shook his head, “I feel the same as Water Buffalo, please let me live ten years and give the other twenty to Man.” God agreed and then turned to Monkey, “And you Monkey, will you take the thirty years I give to you?” Monkey said, “No, no, no. Please, give only ten years to me and give the rest to Man.” So, God gave Monkey’s twenty years to Man. In the end, Man was given ninety long years to live. And so, for the first thirty years of life Man lives his own life, doing only what he pleases. Then, when he is 30-50 years old Man borrows Water Buffalo’s years. During that time, Man must work very hard, never complaining and always struggling to do his best. When Man is 50-70 he uses Dog’s years. During that time he follows the younger men around barking at them to work hard and growling when they don’t. Then, when Man is 70-90 he uses Monkey’s years. During this time, he hunches his back, sits around all day, and yells loudly when younger Man does not give him the food he wants.”
He finishes with a flourish and then turns to me, “Are your parent’s on Dog years or Monkey years?” I smile because I was half-expecting the question, “My parents are on Dog years, but they aren’t the barking kind of dogs. They are the kind who get really excited to see me and go play outside.” Our Laotian guide smiles without saying a word, then we pack up the rest of our lunch and head to our next stop in Vientiane. As I get in the van to continue my journey through Southeast Asia, I can’t help but think that I only have a few years of my own left; Water Buffalo’s years are coming.