I just came back from a three-day trek in far north Laos where I went up and down majestic mountains’ steep slippery slopes, crossed thigh-high waters, fought hundreds of little leeches, walked through thick jungle and stayed overnight in minority ethnic villages. It was foreign, challenging and so special.
Before setting off on my trip, I visited Big Brother Mouse, a publisher of Lao kids books whose mission is to bring literacy to all corners of Laos. Unfortunately, the organisation doesn’t visit far north Laos and so when I told them I wanted to buy books to take with me on my trek, they were so happy! So I purchased 20 kids books which I carried over the mountains to distribute to cheering teacher and village chief in the two villages I stayed in.
At Big Brother Mouse, a little book called ‘Lao proverbs – The wisdom of our ancestors’ also caught my eye… Children and young adults were asked to discuss with an elderly their favourite proverb, then write about it and draw it. The result was a collection of 26 proverbs written in Lao, English and illustrated by the children. I bought the book!
Some of the proverbs brought a smile to my lips, others a giggle, but they most certainly all shared a lesson we can reflect on and get inspired from. Here are 12 of them I choose to share with you:
1. Create virtue while you are here. They will miss you when you are gone.
Virtue conquers all. Family, sisters, brothers, friends and others… we need to help each other, to be real human beings. When we leave, they will miss us and remember us forever. – Mr Xengxong, 16.
2. Beautiful to the eye, but not a good smell for kissing!
However beautiful someone is on the outside, if they are rude, lazy, selfish, unfriendly, or speak badly, they will not be desirable. – Miss Ammala, 14.
3. If you have fruit, remember the grower. If you are happy, remember where it comes from.
Today we live comfortably and happily because of the ideas and hard work of past generations. We should be grateful to those who have made our lives better. – Miss Sintala, 14.
4. The animal with four legs still slips; scholars still forget. The gold swan is still trapped; the old buffalo is still scared by the plow.
Everything that lives on the earth, both animals and humans, will make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t give up. – Miss Yeng, 14.
5. Fill the harbor with boats. Fill the city with rice.
Whenever you can, and wherever you go, do good things. Where there is happiness there will be progress. – Miss Gouli, 14 and Miss Chandy, 13.
6. When there is flooding, fish eat ants. When it is dry, ants eat fish.
Helping others is important, especially in Lao society. Some of us are rich, some are very poor. When you see someone with a problem, help them as much as you can. Tomorrow, it could be your turn to need help. – Mr Saengdao, 19.
7. Don’t blame the buffalo if your fence is not good. Don’t blame the gnats if your shirt is open.
If you create a problem, don’t blame others. – Miss Jin, 14.
8. When going out, step on the dog. When coming back, step on the frog.
This saying illustrates the diligence and the work ethic held by Lao people through generations. Get up and go to work early, while the dog is still sleeping. Come back home when the sun sets, it’s dark, and the frogs are out searching for food. Sometimes, by chance, you might step on one! – Miss Nukham, 23.
9. The same bamboo but different part. The same brother but different heart.
Even bamboo that comes from the same place will be different. Humans born to the same parents will also have different hearts and ideas. – Mr Anusone, 15.
10. Cool water, fish live. Hot water, fish escape.
When our country is at peace, we will live happily. People will not move to other countries. They will have schools for their children, and good jobs when they grow up. Then the country will flourish. – Miss Kemphet, 14.
11. If you want to eat rice, you have to work hard. If you want to be a real person, you have to learn.
You need to be diligent to grow as a human being. If we want a good education we have to study hard, with parents, teachers, and the wider society, and we must discipline ourselves to be clever, good and worthwhile. – Mr Kongli, 10.
12. If you don’t leave the village you won’t see other villages. If you don’t attend school you won’t acquire knowledge.
We should go to school and study hard, so we will be wise when we grow up. We should acquire knowledge, wisdom, good habits, and wide experience. We can also seek out new experiences by visiting other villages – Mr Taeng Thaotueheu, 18.
So tell me, which one is your favourite?