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A cowpat to carry a coal

Vietnam Heritage, June-July 2011 -- Fifty years ago, when I was a little child in a small, poor village in the countryside, my mother used to send me to our neighbour for a burning coal to start a fire to cook with. My family couldn’t afford a lighter and only a few families in the village had them.
In our kitchen there was always a basket of dried cow dung. The dung was firm, without cracks. I would take a piece with me. I would make a hole in its centre and put a coal into it.
When dried cow dung meets burning coal, it begins to smoulder. The dung burned slowly. When I got home, I just needed to blow hard on it once to get a flame.
Since cows are herbivores, dried cow dung doesn’t smell bad.
Usually my mother would cook, but sometimes I did, especially on afternoons when farming was at a peak and my parents were not home yet.
Though I was a child, I was always thinking while I cooked. Where does my family get money for a bike? Oh, the calf hasn’t been washed this week, I’d better wash him tomorrow. I must use an extra-clean cloth on the smoke stains on the forehead of the Buddha statue.

By Ngo Phan Luu
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