Home on the Range

Oumarou with some of his cattle
Cows are loved here, and while they aren’t revered as much as in India, they are nonetheless very prized possessions here in the Adamawa. I’ve even seen men who, instead of having their phone backgrounds set to pictures of their wives/girlfriends/children, have them set them to their favorite cow, Bessy, or probably a more accurate name, Brown #054.

Cows are a livelihood here. At the village level, when people don’t have access to bank accounts or Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), people store their family’s wealth in cattle. Cows range in price from between $175 for a baby to nearly $1,000 for a big fat one. If a family gets some money through work, family, or whatever, then they often buy a small cow with the cash, let it grow, sell it for three times the price, and then use that money to buy three or more babies, and so on and so forth.

It’s honestly a pretty creative way to save money and gain interest in environments where traditional banks and such don’t exist, rather than storing money in their homes and risk spending it - which they inevitably would. That is, it’s a good idea unless your cow runs away to greener pastures or dies, which happened to my landlord’s cows.

Oumarou and his cattle at the watering marsh

A few months back, when it was dry season and he didn’t have his supplementary income from the farm, two of Oumarou’s 1 year old cows ran away, perhaps in search of some non-existent water source. Oumarou searched throughout the week, but no luck. After a week of riding his bike far from where his cows normally roam, he finally found one of the cows dead of dehydration. The second was never found.

I’ve been wanting to visit Oumarou’s cows for a long time, and I finally got the opportunity to do so the day before fete de mouton, the Muslim holiday Feast of the Sacrifice.

I met Oumarou at his house as he gathered a sack of salt to feed his cows. It’s the day before market day, where Oumarou occasionally sells his large cows. By feeding them salt, they become insatiably thirsty and drink a ton of water, causing them to enlarge and look fatter and bigger than they really are, so when they go to the market, they’ll fetch a larger price than what they might have otherwise. Oumarou’s a pretty tricky little guy!

Oumarou walking with the salt to find his cattle

Oumarou and I exited Ngatt and headed out en brousse. After passing the manioc, peanut and folere fields, we came upon a swamp, through which Oumarou waded through with speed and agility, and through which I proceeded with unskilled caution and clumsiness in my heavy rain boots.

After the swamp, we walked another hour or so through the savanna and the termite hills. I soon succumbed to the ‘Are we there yet?’ phenomenon. I’ve previously almost made it to Oumarou’s cattle storing area during my runs, but since he keeps them a bit off the main path, I’ve never seen them. Judging by what I knew from the distance and time it takes me to run to near where his cows are located, I figured we would have to be soon approaching, but yet we weren’t even close. Oumarou insisted we were taking a short cut, but I could swear that shortcut was longer than the normal path.
Eating Salt

After another hour or so we finally reached it. All 40 or so of his cows were fenced up within some barbed wire, with two babies tied up outside the pen, and with one big ole cow who escaped the barbed wire happily eating on grass nearby.

Oumarou left to go find his guard, a man from Maroua. Meanwhile, I played with the babies, much to their dislike, and watched the male adults with their penis’ out trying to hump any and all cows in the vicinity. After watching this vulgar scene for far too long, Oumarou returned with his guard. He then sprinkled the salt in 2 troughs and freed the adult cows as I worked to untie the babies. The cows ate forever. They lapped up the salt, walked away while their mouths foamed, and then came back and ate some more.

Meanwhile, Oumarou walked among his cows, checking the health of one that was ill, tapping ones he wanted brought to the market on Thursday, and generally commenting about every cow, similar to how my dad waters all his orchids and talks about how each is blooming/smells/is growing etc.

The cows soon grew rowdy. A few started butting their horns into their compatriots’ sides and others engaged in yet more sexual debauchery. Sensing things would soon turn out of hand, Oumarou ordered that they be led to the marsh so that they can drink, while he led us to another cow pen where an Al-Hadji keeps his cattle. After releasing the Al-Hadji’s cows, we walked over to the guard’s house, which is in a small little Mbororo encampment of 4 small thatch huts. The guard and his wife served us fresh milk, couscous and folere, which I ate with pleasure as I watched the house kitten play nearby, who was Metis’ doppelganger. After we followed Oumarou back to the area where the cows ate the salt, we found it empty, so he began to lead me to the marsh where they were drinking.

Oumarou with the guard's kids

Oumarou quickly disappeared into the trees and brambles and left me behind stumbling through the thicket. Eventually I hear ‘Aisha, Aisha, Ici!’ off to my right and realized that I had led myself in the wrong direction. After retracting my steps and following Oumarou’s voice like a giant game of Marco Polo, we were finally reunited. As the cows drank from the marsh, Oumarou requested that I take photos with him among his cattle, while another cattle herder kept shouting over at him to take his photo as well.

The herder led the cows away as Oumarou and I headed back to Ngatt. We decided to take my running path back to Ngatt, which Oumarou insisted was longer, but which was, as I suspected, shorter and faster. When all was said and done, we walked a nearly 14 kilometers round trip and were exhausted, but it was a blast spending time with Oumarou and his prized cattle, not just because spending time with Oumarou is always amusing, but also because any experience that is reminiscent of a petting zoo, in my opinion, is awesome.

Sometimes you just have to pick your nose with your tongue


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