Like birds under the sky

So we rented a scooter and drove criss-cross over the Island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam. Here’s two pictures where the ever present, extreme environmental destruction and extreme littering is drowned out by the magnificent colours of the land:

While driving two things impressed me, monumentally:

1. On the side of a road I saw a small sized, yet grown cow. Not one of these over-engineered industrial cows from which 10 gallons of milk are drawn every day of their short lives, but a cute little cow. And with her was a calf, a cute litte baby cow half her size. The calf was busy drinking her milk. What a sight! A natural sized cow roaming about under the sky, not in a box, not barb-wired in, with her calf, which was drinking its mother’s milk! This truly touched me.

2. Then later, on the side of the road, I saw children playing, jesting, running about. They were maybe 3 to 8 years old, with strong black hair, barefoot, with no other things on them than simple clothes. I saw children playing with sticks, children riding bicycles, and even some children riding 50ccm motorbikes, all making joyful faces. These children are not locked in, not confined to gated spaces, not under surveillance, neither under supervision. They are roaming about freely under the sky, making up their own games and stories. How amazing is that?! This almost blew my mind, I haven’t seen such a thing in—what seems like—decades.

These children reminded me of my own childhood on the countryside. The stupid school I had to endure was in one town, my family’s home was in the next. My father used to drop me off at school in the mornings. And every day, after the unnaturally long hours were over, the ordeal of sitting still in the government’s indoctrination facility, the time that was stolen from children, families and communities, I had the free choice of walking home. Or riding my bicycle, or taking a bus. Even hitchhiking was an option. I was free to make my own choices and to design my own routes. I would walk and wander and think, let my mind run loose, try different pathways, experience all weather and seasons. The road went alongside the lake, then up the mountain, through the lower part of the forest. I would play with the children from the farm that was on the edge of the forest, explore the forest with its ants and insects, foxes and badgers, trees and dying streams. The only thing that was expected of me was that I be home before dinner.

While we were driving on a scooter over that island in Vietnam, at least for some long minutes, I went into a mode of thoughtfulness. I was thinking of the essays of John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down; about the differences between networks and communities, between institutions and families, and how compulsory schooling took down the world as it was for millions of years. A quote came to mind:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.”