Part 1 – The village, the Buffalo, the Obligation, and the Incident.

The Village – Childhood Stories in Vietnam

A long time ago, in a little village, there lived a little girl and her family. There were five people in her family: her father, her mother, the little girl, and her two younger brothers.

The houses in their little village were built around the edge of a small mountain. The shape of the mountain looked like a little boat which was lying upside down. The bottom of the boat, which pointed to the sky, was the top of the mountain which was full of big trees and corn plants. The edges of the boat, which touched the ground, were a little road and then a small river before the rice fields.

The little girl’s house was on the sharp edge of the boat. It was not high up on the top of the mountain but was not at the bottom of the mountain. The house was surrounded by bamboo bushes and fruit trees. The bamboo bushes stood around the big garden like fences and beyond there were jackfruit and longan trees. A small veggie garden was in front of the yard of the house and there were custard-apple trees, grapefruit trees, and green vegetables in the garden.

The Buffalo – Childhood Stories in Vietnam

Owning a buffalo was a big deal in the village because the buffalo was the means to build wealth in those days.

The buffalo could pull the cart to transport heavy things around the village. It could help the farmer plough the rice fields and the soil in the mountain. Or it could carry the crop from the field to the people’s house. By doing all these jobs, the buffalo helped its owner to earn a little more money.

The last thing that the buffalo could do was to reproduce new generations so its owner could make money by selling the little buffalo.

The little girl’s parents were a young couple with their kids. They worked hard in the field and the mountain from the early morning till night. However, they could only manage to grow enough food to feed their family. The little girl’s parents were determined to build a better life for their children; So, they tried to save up to buy a buffalo.

When the little girl was about six years old, her parents eventually had enough money to buy a young three-year-old female buffalo. When the little girl first met the buffalo, she was so happy and excited, she asked her father to take it to the field near her house.

The little girl thought the buffalo was so beautiful and gentle. She came close to the buffalo to hug and kiss it. Then, she stood right in front of it to watch the buffalo grazing grass.

Once, the gentle buffalo accidentally stepped on the little girl’s foot. It was so painful it made her sob loudly. Her father heard this and he ran quickly down to the field. He hit the buffalo on its foot so the little girl could take her foot out.

She was crying and did not stop until her father whispered in her ear. He told her a secret to stop the pain. She quietened her crying and listened to the secret. Her father told her if she could step back to the buffalo’s foot and say out loud a secret spell, then the pain would disappear immediately.

She followed her father’s secret and stood close to the buffalo – ready to step back on the buffalo’s foot. When her father held the buffalo’s lead-rope to make it stand still, she stepped as hard as she could on the top of its foot and said out loud, “I give you back all the pain you have made to me”.

When her dad asked her how she felt, she had her big smile with the tear still in her eyes and told her father happily: “the pain has gone away… the secret worked, Dad”.  

She spent all the rest of the time that day, lying on the back of the buffalo.

The Obligation – Childhood Stories in Vietnam

As the buffalo lived with the little girl’s family, it was her responsibility to look after the buffalo. When she finished school, the little girl would take the buffalo to the rice field, so it could eat grass and drink some water.

Her two brothers sometimes followed behind her and the buffalo, and they played stone skipping or the grass-fighting game together. The three of them often would all sit on the back of the buffalo while they told each other their stories of the day and later they sang folk songs and laughed when they got the words mixed up. It was a nice way to finish their day on the back of the buffalo as they went home for dinner.

When rice was in the field, the buffalo could not go to the field on its own. Somebody needed to look after the buffalo while it was eating in the rice paddies (The paths at the edge of the rice fields). This was to make sure the buffalo only ate grass, not the rice plants.

The little girl’s main job after school was to look after the buffalo. Her weekends would be spent in the fields with the buffalo while her friends were playing games on the streets. She could hear her friends arguing and laughing from the rice field. The little girl wished she could have been there with her friends. But her job was to look after the buffalo. It was an obligation that she now had.

Sometimes, the little girl cried as she felt lonely. Her brothers were too young to take on the responsibility or even just to follow her for the whole morning or afternoon. Her parents were so busy with their planting or cropping in the fields or the mountains. Nobody in her family could help the little girl to look after the buffalo – not even her grandmother who loved her dearly. Her grandmother was also busy with her own job too as she made brooms from the rice straw to sell in the market.

The Incident – Childhood Stories in Vietnam

One day, the little girl was crying quite a lot because it was a special day in the village – it was Children’s Day. Instead of celebrating with her friends and playing games, she had to take the buffalo to the rice field.

She was tired from crying, and fell asleep on the back of the buffalo. The buffalo was gentle while it was grazing. Then the buffalo stopped eating the grass in the rice paddies and it stepped into the rice field to eat the rice plants.

Some people were nearby noticed that a buffalo was down in the rice field not up on the rice paddy. They moved closer to the buffalo then they noticed a little girl was sleeping on its back.

People were worried that if they chased the buffalo then it would become frightened and run very fast with the little girl on its back. The little girl might fall off and the buffalo could possibly step on her head or her stomach. It would be too risky to do so. So, the people tried to think of a safer way.