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Kao Presents a Challenging Love Story for March 14th

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Kou and Mai A Challenging Love Story

Once upon a time there were two young people who were in love with each other. Their names were Kou, a strong, and wise young man, and Mai, a clever young woman with a gift of speaking fast and smart. Both were Hmong teenagers that were 20 years old and living in the mountains of Laos. Life was hard for them. Each morning they awoke with their brothers and sisters and worked from sunrise until sundown in the fields growing vegetables for their families, and some crops that they would take to the village market to sell.

Kou was a Yang from a large family. He lived just outside the village of Na which means squirrel, because a long time ago there were lots of squirrels that lived in this area.

Mai was a Lo also from a large family. She lived south of Kou seven whole mountains away from Kou in a village called Jay, which means fish. There is a beautiful mountain stream that runs through Jay that is filled with sunfish.

Kou and Mai had never met each other, but whenever they went to the New Year’s celebrations people would come up to both of them and tell them that they should meet each other because they were made for each other…they would be good friends.

Both Kou and Mai weren’t really interested in dating, but Kou’s older brothers and sisters (He was the youngest of 10) kept after him so much and so often that he finally had to do something.

One morning Kou got up and packed his overnight bag with clothing and soap and some rice and dried squirrel meat. He knew his father would be in the fields and he walked out to ask his permission to leave home for seven days.

“Father,” Kou said as his dad stood up from weeding the cabbages.

Kou’s father wiped sweat from his eyebrows and then focused on his son. “What you want?”

Kou was afraid of his father. He swallowed and then took a deep breath. “I would like to leave home for the next seven days and visit the village of Jay.”

“What are you saying?” Kou’s father said angrily. “We have lots of work to do before the New Year celebration! Why do you have to leave now? Why Jay?”
“People keep telling me that I need to meet a young woman and that she will change my life,” Kou said. “I feel like if I don’t meet her now I will never meet her.”

Kou’s father rubbed his chin and thought back to when he was 20 years old. He had a very similar experience to Kou and asked his father in almost the same way and at the same time of year in October. “No, you cannot go. It is too dangerous to cross those mountains by yourself. There are a lot of things in those mountain forests that can kill you.” Kou’s father watched as Kou’s shoulders dropped and a frown covered his face. “I will allow you to go to Chang if you travel with your older brother, Neng.”

Neng was 25 years old and the strongest young man in the area. He was married to a wealthy woman and they were parents to two little children, a boy and a girl. Kou respected Neng. He was an excellent hunter and fisherman and knew camping skills that would help him. Kou knew that Neng was trusted and respected by his father and that everything would work out well if Neng led the way.

Kou smiled and then bowed deeply to his father. “Thank you, Father. I shall always remember your kindness to me.” Kou turned and began to walk away straight to and then back to his brother’s home. Neng was in the yard sharpening his knife. Kou explained his story to Neng and begged him to lead him across the seven mountains to Jay.

Neng listened carefully and said, “Are you sure that Father said you could leave your chores for such a trip?” Neng nodded. “Then I will go on one condition,” he said.

Kou looked confused. “What now?”

Neng continued. “If after this journey Mai is the woman that you were destined to marry, that you will not turn and run back home like a little boy, but that you will become a real man and do whatever it takes to become her husband.”

“I promise,” Kou said.

Neng packed his bags and brought along a knife, a word, and a hatchet and the two set off toward the first of the seven mountains, a mountain called, Dangerous Mountain. Halfway up the mountain Neng tied a rope around Kou and Kou asked why he would do such a thing. Kou reacted by trying to take the rope off. Neng said sternly. “Keep the rope on. We are depended on each other. If you fall I will catch you and keep you from dying.”

A few moments later Kou saw a snake and jumped away to keep from being bitten. Neng used the rope to pull Kou back from what would have been a fall to his death. Kou thanked his brother and then learned the value of respect. One day later they approached the second mountain called, Deadly Mountain.

It was a foggy day and both were tired when they came across a cave. Neng looked into the cave to make sure that it was safe and suddenly came out running with a huge black bear charging right behind him. “Help me!” Neng cried.

Kou grabbed the sword and swung it at the bear, stabbing him through the heart. The bear rolled over on the ground and slashed at Kou leaving scratch marks across his arm. Then the bear died. “Thank you,” Neng said. “You saved my life.” Neng then took his knife and cut the hide from the bear. Both young men lifted the bear up over a roaring fire and ate as much bear meat as they could. It was delicious. There was enough bear meat to feed them for the rest of the trip to Jay and back again.

On the third day they travelled up a mountain and eventually came across a village called La, which means monkey. They saw a widowed mother of three little children who asked them if they could help her find some food for her family. Kou wanted to keep on with his journey, but Neng reminded him that they were obligated to take care of helpless people and if they did this they would receive some kind of reward later.

So they sat and ate with the family and they all ate until they were filled and then they offered their leftover meat to the family and they said good-bye and moved on again.

On the fourth day both young men were tired again and Neng wanted to quit and go home as they were climbing the mountain called, Meh, which means goat. Near the top of the mountain when both men thought they couldn’t take another step, two mountain rams walked up to them and pawed the ground and prepared to charge..

“What do we do know?” Kou said.

Neng waited until the rams were nearly upon them and swung his rope around the horns of each animal. “Grab my hand!” Neng said as the frightened rams began to run back up the mountain. Kou locked onto his brother and the rams pulled them quickly up and over the fourth mountain.

On the fifth day both young men travelled to the fifth mountain and it was a rocky mountains and as they travelled upward they noticed that rocks started coming down from the top of the mountain. It wasn’t an avalanche, but the rocks were big enough and coming fast enough that they were afraid that they would be trampled. Neng motioned for his brother to be still and quiet. He whispered, “Sometimes even a little sound can create such a disturbance that a whole mountain can come down.”

Kou nodded. They waited for a long time and then Neng slowly and very quietly led them up and over the mountain. “You can learn a lot from this experience,” Neng whispered to his brother. “Silence is a valuable weapon in reaching your goals.”

As they approached mountain number six, the mountain called Dong. Dong means tree in Hmong. This mountain was filled with tall pine trees and both men grew tired of crawling and climbing around the tall trees. “I wish we could just pull out these trees and go straight up,” said Kou.

“It would be almost impossible,” Neng said. “You can learn a lot from these trees. They have strong roots and they are big and strong. They know when to bend along with the wind and they know how to continue to be strong even when there is little water for them to drink. They save what little they have during the hard times.”

Kou nodded in agreement and after many trips in and around the tall pines they finally made it over the mountain and set their eyes on the biggest and most dangerous mountain of them all, the seventh mountain, a mountain that the Hmong call Jay which means fish. If they could make it over this mountain, they would reach the village of Jay where Mai awaited Kou.

Kou took a deep breath and looked up at the steep incline and the dark forest that spread out before them. Neng reminded him that they were almost there and they needed to continue. The two men climbed and suddenly Kou slipped on a loose rock and sprained his ankle. He screamed in pain.

“I’m done,” Kou said. “Now I can never make it over this mountain. He began to weep.

Neng didn’t say anything. Instead he walked over and picked up his brother and threw him over his shoulder like a sack of rice.

“What are you doing?” Kou said. “Put me down. There’s no way you can get me up this mountain!”

But Neng didn’t say anything. He just kept climbing up the mountain. Soon it grew dark—so dark that Kou couldn’t even see the ground beneath him. Kou remembered when he was a young boy his father would carry him in from the fields and tuck him into bed at the end of a long day. That’s what it was like with Neng carrying him. It was like he could totally trust this person to make sure that he was safe.

Kou fell asleep and all of a sudden he hear a terrible roar. It was the roar of a mountain tiger and it was the most terrifying sound he had ever heard. His body froze. He had never heard of a tiger before. He didn’t know what he would do if the tiger attacked them.

“Look,” Neng said. “There’s the village. If we run, we can make it before it gets even darker and dangerous of things out here and try look a place.” Kou’s had bobbed like as Neng began running down the mountain to the lights of the village of Jay. By the time they reached the first house, Neng’s legs collapsed and Kou rolled from his arms into the grass before a tiny hut.

Kou wiped his eyes and when he opened them he saw the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. He was too shy to speak.

The young woman called out for her family to come and help the young men laying on the grass before them. Suddenly they were surrounded by the young woman’s large family.

“Brothers,” the young woman said. “Please carry our guest into our home.”

Before he knew it. Kou and Neng were sitting at a table filled with the finest Hmong foods. The young woman explained that they had come at thje right time because they were preparing for New Year. Then she introduced herself to Kou. “My name is Mai Lo.”

Kou was speechless. He tried to say his name, but he was so nervous instead of saying Kou he said “Kong”, the name of his younger brother. He didn’t remember much after that because both he and his brother fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke in the morning he found that his ankle had been wrapped in herbs and plant. Somehow he could walk again, but it still hurt. He walked outside and found Mai in her finest Hmong clothes.

“We are going to the celebration,” she said. “Did you come here to also be at the celebration?”

“Yes,” Kou said. He jumped up on the back of a wagon that was being pulled by an ox.

That day was one of the greatest in his life. He ate with Mai, he danced with Mai, and he played the catch game that young Hmong lovers play. The game allows couples to get to know each other better. At the end of the night as they were preparing to come back to Mai’s place. Kou told Mai the real reason why he had come to the village. Then he told her that he had heard so many good things about her that he just had to meet her. She laughed and said do you know anyone who can play the qeej?

Kou nodded and said. “Please let me try.”

Mai handed him her family’s precious qeej and Kou began to play and dance around in circles. His ankle didn’t hurt anymore. When he was done., she knew. Without saying anything both knew that they were destined for each other.

“Tomorrow I must leave you,” Kou said. “But I will return in two months after the rice harvest. I will bring money and my parents to meet you and your family.”

Mai smiled and said, “Okay.” Both left for their bedrooms to sleep for the night.

The next morning he and Neng backed up and set off on their journey home. Mai walked as far as she could with them and then waved goodbye. They did not know it but a huge tiger had been following them and listened in on their conversations. The tiger waited until the two had split up and later that night, the tiger transformed into somebody that sounded like Kou. The tiger snuck up to Mai’s bedroom and began whispering to her through a crack in the wall.

“I’m back,” the tiger said. He heard Mai gasp and he continued. “I missed you so much I had to come back and get you. Do you really love me?”

“Yes,” Mai said. “I love you very much.”

“Good,” the tiger said. “You can come live with me.” AS soon as Mai said, “Yes,” her spirit left her for the tiger. The next morning she was sick and her parents asked her what was wrong and tired everything that they could to heal her. They even brought in a shaman. Nothing worked.

After two months Kou had earned a large amount of money and prepared a cart with the finest Hmong story cloths, and filled with the finest foods. He knew the route to Mai’s village so he took off by himself and was able to conquer any obstacle that came his way. When he got to Jay he went to Mai’s house and her family told her that she had died. Kou refused to believe that his love had died. He set off to her grave.

At the grave Kou fell on his knees and began to dig up her grave. Once he saw her lifeless body he began to cry. Then he heard a flash of wind by his ears and he looked around and couldn’t see anything. He put his head down and after a moment of thinking he began to see and hear Mai in his mind.

Mai spoke quietly to him and said. “I am not dead. The tiger took me and if you ever want to see me again you should wait at the tallest tree in the middle of Jay forest. One month from now on March 18th. You can see me there.”

Kou returned home and waited one month. He continued to work hard but also trained to make his mind and power strong for a battle. When the time came he raced to the exact middle of the Jay forest and looked up to see the tallest tree that he had ever seen. He sat at the bottom of the tree and waited.

The tiger had two little kids that approached Kou. The two kids (like ghosts with human form) that put a sleeping spell on Kou so Kou fell asleep and the four tigers took Mai past Kou who was still asleep. Then Mai saw Kou under the tall tree and he didn’t even move. Then she began to cry and one of the tigers said, “Let me eat him,”

Then Mai said, “No, don’t eat him. If you eat him I won’t go with you guys.”

The leader of the tigers that was holding Mai’s hand said, “No, don’t eat him and forget him and leave him here. We have a long ways to go.” He then went away.

Mai was walking and she left one of her shoes on the ground and they went farther and farther away until Mai told one of the tigers that she had to return to get her shoe. Mai ran back to get her shoe, grabbed it and began to shake Kou. “Wake up!” she said.

Kou didn’t wake up or even move. Mai returned to the tigers and then told them, “Wait a while,” I dropped my bracelet. A tiger told her that he would look for it and Mai said, “No, you don’t know where it is.” Mai returned to Kou and tried to awaken him. Nothing happened.

Mai returned to the tigers and this time the tiger was like a human with special powers. The tiger said, “Let’s go!” He grabbed her arm and began to pull her through the woods . They would sometimes rest at night, and sleep in a bamboo house. Three nights and three bamboo houses. Eventually they came to their home…a cave in the mountains.

After three days Kou woke up. He began to look for clues along the trail that Mai and the tigers took through the woods. Kou even slept in the bamboo houses along the way…for three nights, just like the tigers and Mai. On the first night he cooked food in the bamboo house . He was awakened by a super power monkey that made loud screaming noises and shook his tree. Kou shot a special arrow to try to scare him away. The tree started shaking more.

After three days Kou came upon the cave and all of the tigers were out on a hunt. Kou chopped a leaf off a tree and threw it toward Mai. She saw him and said, “The tigers are not here. Come into the cave.”

Kou walked into the cave and hugged Mai and kissed her. He whispered to Mai to act normal and then he waited in hiding until the tigers returned.

When the tigers retuned Kou jumped out with his sword and began to slice three of the four tigers to death. He slashed them across the face and throat. When it was quiet Mai stopped him and said, “You cannot kill the fourth tiger!”

Kou pushed Mai away and slashed the fourth tiger, but it was a fake tiger. Kou and the tiger began to fight. The human tiger grabbed a stick and transformed it into a sword and battled Kou. Both were jumping up as high as trees, and across rocks.

Finally Kou stabbed his sword deep into the heart of the human tiger. The tiger gasped his last breath. His eyes rolled up and then closed. He lay down on the ground, dead.

Kou ran back to Mai and held her hand. “Come,” he said. They walked back toward the village and suddenly Mai got sick and couldn’t go any further.

Mai told Kou to dig up a hole and to place her in the hole. Mai told Kou to stick a bamboo shoot in the hole and to place a bell on the end of the shoot. She told Kou that she must now go to sleep, and that he should return to get her again when the bell rings.

Three months later Kou returned to her…he still hadn’t heard the bell. The bamboo was yellow and brown and bent over. There was a pond in the hole that he had dug. Kou looked at Mai who was still asleep and yelled, “Why did you lie to me? Why did you say that you would awaken again!? He began to leave and suddenly he heard the bell ring and Mai called out his name.

Kou ran as fast as he could to Mai. He pulled her out of the hole and held her close. Together they walked back to Mai’s village. Then he took Mai back to his village to meet his family. Kou’s family thought that he had died from the tigers. His brothers were playing the qeej in his honor. “Here, Kou said. I didn’t die! Let me play that.” Kou began playing a happy song. Kou’s mother came out and said to Kou, “Are you really my son?”

He answered, “Yes, Mother.”

Kou’s mother cried happily. “It is now time to prepare a feast for Kou and his wife, Mai.

THE END