It is going to be a good Christmas season in the village going by signs from Wa Hellen’s cow shed.
One of her prized cows is heavy with calf, and we are expecting a bouncing offspring around the first week of December.
The cow’s udder is engorged with milk and the teats are taut and looking excited to nurture and nourish a new life. Its belly looks like a well inflated bouncing castle.
This means that milk shall be plenty in the homestead during the season of good tidings.
It also means that when we finally pack our bags to return to the city after the merry making season, we shall load a jerry can of milk in the boot for a full week consumption as we acclimatise back to the city life.
These are tense moments in the neighbourhood. The birth of a new calf is a communal activity.
Sometimes, an overzealous Christian is likely to offer prayers of the faithful in the local church and fervently pray for all pregnant cows in the village to deliver safely.
At any moment of the night, you are likely to encounter your good neighbour knocking on your door and telling you in a concerned tone that he was just passing by and he heard your pregnant cow moaning, and he thinks it’s that time.
You never question what he was doing near your cowshed at such ungodly hours. He could be a member of the local Nyumba Kumi group, and looking after your cow’s welfare in the middle of the night is part of his job description.
Such a message is not to be taken lightly. By the time he mentions your cow, you are already fully dressed and out of the house. He shall accompany you to the cows shed and help you to shine a bright torch towards the cow’s vulva to confirm if indeed the young one is about to arrive.
Half the time it turns out to be a false alarm, and you all gladly go back to bed and wait for the morning so that you can reconvene and analyse the false alarm in full detail.
Being woken up in the middle of the night is not a big deal for the ordinary village man. The number of times that the average village man wakes up to patrol around the house are countless.
Sometimes I tend to think that keeping the man warm at night must be a full time career for the dutiful village wife.
The good neighbour who gave you the false alarm shall pass by again in the morning for updates on the status of the cow.
He shall be accompanied by the local veterinary officer. Although he wears the hat of a renowned animal health specialist, no one has any evidence of him ever attending any veterinary school. Luckily for him, local farmers are not your ordinary panel of experts who vet members who have been proposed for a plum ministerial position. Therefore, the veterinary officer continues to treat mad cow disease and even carry out complicated brain and spinal surgeries on goats, roosters and pigs.
Finally, the day shall come to pass. The cow’s vulva shall dilate significantly and a clear fluid shall be observed coming out from its rear signifying the onset of breaking of water.
The whole neighbourhood shall miraculously show up, each full of expertise in calf birth.
Due to the recent drought times, the cow is likely to be weak and lacking the energy to push even as the calf’s legs are already half way out. This is where you realise that everyone in the village has a PhD in advanced veterinary medicine with majors in cows reproductive health.
You will be advised to assemble a bowl of salty water, pliers, scissors, razor blade, soap, a bucket, an old blanket, an empty soda bottle and sisal rope.
You shall stand by but look away as several strong men hold the calf’s legs and pull it out as the mother makes woeful moaning sounds.
With a 50 per cent degree of luck, all will go well and both mother and child will survive.
The neighbours shall be entitled to daily updates on how the baby cow is doing and how much milk the mother is producing. The updates are not complete if you don’t accompany the same with a kettle of hot tea for the visitors to sample some of the cow’s product.
The more experienced ones shall nod their heads with approval as they sip the hot tea, and they will be heard analysing the fat content of the milk and conducting a sensory taste for any off flavour parameter in the milk.
After the milk supply has died down, they will disappear and only reappear the following year when the cow is pregnant again.