As I start this week’s column, I have a lot to say and it is because I met a pig. Yes, you read it correctly; I met a seven-year old pig – a giant 300 kilogram animal with huge ears and a bright pink nose.
She lives in Toul Tom Poung pagoda and belongs to a monks’ helper called Som Sopheak. The pig’s name I learned later is Ouk Ouk. And her story makes me reflect on many things we do not normally associate with a pig: humanity, compassion, active kindness, unity, devotion and dedication.
Ouk Ouk has been living in a pagoda since she was about four weeks old. According to local beliefs, she was born as an “unlucky pig” – with one black hoof, while others are a regular pink. So, from birth, she was deemed unacceptable for the dinner plate and to kill her also meant risking being cursed (one lucky pig, if you ask me).
A pig farmer had no options, but to bring her to the pagoda, where all unwanted animals in Cambodia are usually dumped. As a “twist of fate”, Sopheak adopted the little piglet, bottle fed her, and cared for her. She soon became a part of his pet family, with his dog and cats.
Sopheak’s kind gesture made me think of humanity: if each of us just took on one homeless life and cared for it, the world would be a better place.
But Ouk Ouk was not always welcomed by all residents and visitors of the pagoda. Let’s face it, having a giant like that as a pet might seem strange. People bullied the pig, tried to chase her out, and even made attempts to physically hurt her. They did not give much room for kindness to Sopheak either: he was quickly labeled a “crazy man” for his devotion to the pig’s well-being. Unmoved, he persisted to feed, clean and care for her, despite being bullied and insulted.
Sopheak persevered and people ultimately accepted Ouk Ouk as a resident. I asked him why he continued and ignored negative public opinion. He said simply: compassion for all living beings is the true path of Buddhism.
This made me think of compassion: when did compassion for another life become so selective and why isn’t violence that is committed daily not condemned? Also, why is a person who shows a true benevolent act of compassion berated?
I first heard of the pig few months ago through my friends Lucy and Lee, who visit pagoda often to care for the abandoned animals there. They told me the pig was not mobile due to her oversized hoofs and no one was able to help. It has been nearly seven months since Ouk Ouk has been lying on the ground, unable to get up.
Lucy and Lee made a plea through social media to help the pig get her manicure and therefore, maybe, mobility, but it took a while before we found the right person with the right attitude and tools. We searched across the country – at the equestrian clubs and private vets and many were willing to help. Finally, I asked my good friend and a true wildlife welfare hero (but don’t tell him I said that) Nick Marx of Wildlife Alliance to send one of his vets from the Wildlife Rescue Centre to help the pig.
This made me think of active kindness: living in Cambodia each of us has some capacity to make a positive difference for the betterment of another being’s life. Yet, the acts of kindness are regarded as if they are something odd, when in fact, they are being kind. That is the natural state of being.
So, on January 6, in the narrow dark hallway of the pagoda’s mazed alleyway, I finally met Ouk Ouk. She was laying flat on one side with hooves sticking out 7 to 8 inches unevenly on each leg. The muscles at the side she rested on were tripled in size. I was amazed at how clean the pig and the entire hallway were: no smell, no dirt anywhere and the pig looked really well fed and cared.
The team of us quickly got into action. We thought we came well prepared: we sedated the animal, put her on IV fluids and the vet used a small manual saw to start the work. We had to move fast to ensure it was done before the sedation wore off, but with hooves of that thickness and size, we were making little progress. One of us suggested an electric saw and the other quickly jumped on a bike to get one from a local shop. Local monks gathered and helped us connect the electric saw to extension power cords to make it work. Another local resident appeared with an electric filing tool. So while the vet was working on making correct hoof trims (there is a protocol to it and you have to know what you are doing), others were changing the IV bottles, checking her pulse, filing the hooves already cut by the vet.
It made me think about unity.
Our team comprised Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Atheists coming from Britain, Canada, US, Iran, South Africa, Singapore, Germany and Cambodia. Some vegan, some meat eaters, but all there united to help.
Once finished, we turned her over the other side – amazingly there were no bedsores, although some shallow skin infection was setting in. We washed it with soap and iodine. We pulled the pig onto the wooden pallets to allow all the skin on her body to be aired. In five hours she woke up with a fresh whole body bath and a perfect manicure. Obviously she did not get up and just walk after being completely immobile for seven months.
We are now dedicated to her physiotherapy to get her to walk again. Together with her caregiver, Sopheak, one of us makes her move using positive reinforcement (bananas) daily. Sopheak has been doing most of the work, four to five times daily.
This made me think about dedication and devotion.
I know what you are thinking: who cares about a pig in the country where poverty, violence, and disease take human lives daily. You might say this whole thing is entirely a feel-good story, and that people mentioned in my column are a bunch of a tree-hugging, bleeding heart foreigners with privilege and nothing better to do. And, it is indeed, crazy to spend our time helping a man and his pig when we could do something better for the greater good of mankind and to save the world.
But here is a question for you: where do you start when we set out to save the world? And what did you do today to be actively kind to another life just because you could? I keep asking myself this question.
This makes me think of a simple man and his pig.
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