A water buffalo gave me the wisdom to see defeat’s gift. With eyes like liquid chocolate he tells me: if he could retreat he would, that turning tail is a sign of courage, not failure. Standing an arm’s length’s from me and my two daughters and blocking a pocked-marked soggy footpath high in the mountains of Laos, the water buffalo stretches his thick black tongue across his broad nose, already wet from mucus and rain, and slathers on another layer of moisture. His eyes say leave, walk away as fast as your gimpy leg is able.

Attempting to pass us, the buffalo slipped, and except for a bent knee, carrying all his weight by the look of how deep it’s sunk into the mud, his massive body balances precariously on the downhill side of a slope too steep for me to walk up. A taut rope looped through a metal ring in the animal’s nose is held by two skinny farmers…


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