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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

The Rooster

Cuck-a-doodle doo squawks the rooster in the early morning announcing its presence to the world along with that of the rising sun. It proceeds by checking its surroundings in quick sudden rotations of the neck. Once ensuring no threats lie hidden in the shadows it plunges its head downward towards the ground and begins pecking at what I’m assuming must be appetizing pieces of dry brown dirt.

Each peck or two is followed by a step, a few more pecks, another step, and eventually the chain is broken by a gaze up at the surrounding terrain. It is trying to figure out what patch of ground is now deserving of his restless search for food. Predictably this pattern of activity will go on for the whole day. What could be more important than consuming that which allows life to continue? In the case of the rooster, the answer is simple: mating. Every once in a while the rooster will puff its chest out, stretch its legs fully, expand its wings for balance, and release a world renown Cuck-a-doodle doo to assert its dominance above that of all the other roosters in nearby houses. Once completing this signature move, it appears to have the right to physically chase after any hens that could help him satisfy a need for progeny.

The life of a Rooster is simple, it wakes from a night of slumber in order to feast upon whatever the earth provides that day, occasionally checking for its safety and with least frequency of all diverts some energy to ensure his genes carry on to the next generation of Ban Dhon Don chicken. After a long days work of mixing and matching these three activities it returns to a place of comfort in order to welcome a blanket of darkness before surrendering to the care of its owners till dawn the next morning.

The existence of a chicken is so routinely predictable, that one begins to wonder whether it is in control of its own life, whether it has any choice on how to fill its days or if it is merely playing a video game where four buttons on the controller determine the entirety of its actions. It appears as if the individuality in a chicken can only be measured by how is assembles squawk, peck, run and sleep into the simple permutation that is its life, helplessly bound to its nature.

In thinking about the freedom or lack of freedom that chickens have, it becomes increasingly evident that humans have been gifted an evolutionary blessing: choice of action. At every moment of every day we are acting, even if there is no external manifestation, one is still thinking and breathing. It is the insignia of life.

Humans, unlike chickens, don’t seem to have a preprogrammed set of potential actions. We can choose from the actions we know and even have the freedom of generating new actions previous generations didn’t have the tools to preform. At this moment in time humans are crèm de la crèm of evolution. We have been given the keys to our own destiny. The question then becomes what should we do this gift?

From an individual to societal point of view there are many potential answers and philosophies to this question. So far it seems volleyball crazed evenings, early morning fishing, post lunch naps and a never ending kindness are my host family’s answer to the question.

In my own never ending quest for an answer, the lessons learned from community add a fresh perspective and nostalgia for our departure tomorrow.