GOING WITH THE BUFFALOS…

By Kamila Delart

An expat living in Langkawi? Whether you arrived with a small backpack, spontaneously deciding to stay, or whether you spent months meticulously planning every detail of your relocation - chances are, becoming a ‘Langkawian’ wasn’t as easy as you imagined. The beginning is great. Sun and blue skies, the vibrant colors of the tropics, friendly smiles all around… But once the ‘holiday phase’ is over, and you get to unpacking that little box stuffed with personal views, fixed opinions and preconceived truths that we all carry around, things tend to get tough.

The handyman supposed to fix your aircon is not answering his phone. Three hours after he was meant to ring the doorbell. After driving across the whole island, you leave the bank empty handed - told that you need to issue yourself a cheque in order to withdraw money from your very own business account. Haaah?!?! Really?? And the email that ought to follow that great proposal you submitted a week ago, never quite reached your inbox. Despite the fact that the amazing idea you pitched would clearly benefit the whole island… This is NOT how life works!! Or is it?!

When a herd of buffalos attacked my garden shortly after I moved into my little chalet five years ago, I contacted the authorities. My gardener JUST finished planting some banana trees. And instead of the lovely tropical view I was looking forward to when opening the window shatters the following morning, all I got to see were a few chewed off tree stumps.

A scenario that could have been easily prevented if I had a proper fencing.

Or so I was told despite pointing out that these buffalos belonged to someone who should be held responsible for keeping them away from other people’s property…
Banana plants tend to grow back quite quickly as I learned. And since the buffalos didn’t come back, I soon forgot this brief episode. Until I found my garden badly damaged pretty much around the same time a year later. While banana trees have proven to be the buffalos’ favorite, it turned out, we generally share the same taste when it comes to plants. After a whole year of gardening - plenty of bushes and flowers to their liking! So the buffalos kept coming back night after night. And no matter how hard I tried to chase them away, they just gave me this bewildered look and carried on with their happy meal.

Having a light sleep (and meanwhile a trained ear), I usually woke up when they came. Feeling completely helpless. Yes, I could block their entry way. But then - I would lose the river view I love so much… So for the next two years, always towards the end of the dry season, I braced myself for their visit. Doing my best to keep sane when assessing in the mornings the damage they caused overnight.

Sitting on a porch a couple of nights back, I smelled this distinct odor in the air, announcing their arrival. Getting ready for my (completely useless) defense that usually consists of screaming, clapping, blowing the whistle and blinding them with a torch, I grabbed the flashlight… Just to see three baby buffalos. They were adorable! And suddenly, I didn’t have the heart to even attempt chasing them away. It has been so dry for months. There is barely anything out there to graze on. So my garden full of green and juicy plants must seem like a little buffalo paradise to them.

So instead of shouting, I started to negotiate, telling the baby buffalos in a soft voice to walk lightly, leave my plans alone and help me with the grass which hasn’t been cut for months despite me frequently reminding the landlord… Of course, I felt a little foolish having a conversation with buffalos. But then - it was a dark night with no one around and I had no intention to share my story with the whole island :-)

The next day, the baby buffalos were back. Along with the whole herd - which got me alerted. But I forced myself to keep my compassionate, welcoming attitude. And guess what! A week later - I only lost three banana trees and my lawn is perfectly manicured!! And although completely inappropriate :-), the huge fragrant souvenir ‘my’ buffalos left just in front of the neighbor’s house certainly got me smiling. The guy has been driving me crazy for months, so it was about time someone made that statement :-)

Our ways of doing things may be much more efficient than the laidback attitude of the locals. (Although… Wasn’t the relaxed lifestyle part of the appeal that made us move here in the first place?) Whatever your outlook, things are the way they are. You can get upset every time your expectations clash with the reality or you can just go with the flow. In my experience - the best policy. Only in Langkawi, we should call this life philosophy ‘going with the buffalos’ :-)