The Festive Season in a Part of Africa
If you are a poor farmer and you only have one cow, it is important that it doesn't get sick. Because if it does, and you need to get a vet to come and see it, that can be very expensive.
But if you are afraid that your cow will die, then you must send for the vet - even if it is the festive season and Christmas was only two days ago...
Two days after Christmas a Zulu woman and her schoolboy son sat waiting for me to finish my morning's clinic in Ondini. She wanted me to visit her old mother's cow, which had a calf waiting to be born. But for two days now the calf would not come out, and the poor cow was getting very tired. 'We have heard that you are a good vet,' the woman said to me.
So off we went. The schoolboy in the front of my pickup, to show me the way, and the woman and my assistant Mbambo in the back. An hour of driving on bad roads full of holes and after that on dirt tracks. Then we stopped at an old empty kraal.
'Where's the cow?' I asked the boy.
'We walk a bit,' he said.
So we took my vet's black bags and we walked. Past other kraals with their fields and their fruit trees, and many of them with huts not lived in and falling down. We walked over rocks and by the side of rivers and after about forty-five minutes, we came to a lonely kraal. There were three white huts, a clean tidy yard, and there under the fruit trees was the poor old cow, looking very, very tired.
They brought out two nice wooden chairs with colourful seats from the middle hut. I put my black bags on them, but first, I said hello in the proper Zulu way to Granny, who owned the cow. 'Inkosikazi' I called her. She was a very small woman, but she was the head of her family in the kraal.
Then I looked at the cow and found that the calf was still alive, and very, very big. So, with Mbambo helping me, I put the cow to sleep and did a caesarean.
When I finished, there was a crowd of about fifty people watching - men standing, older women sitting on the ground, children sitting in the fruit trees. Now the bull calf was trying to stand on his feet, and shaking his head from side to side.
Someone brought a chair for Granny to sit on.
'We must talk about money. Is business now,' she called out so everyone could hear.
'Well,' I said, 'you nearly had a dead cow and a dead calf, but I came and got the calf out, and so now they are both alive, not so?'
She agreed, and fifty other people agreed too.
'And I drove all the way from Ondini in my pick-up which is a thirsty car - as thirsty as an old man drinking beer on a Sunday.'
Smiles and laughter.
'And if you take good care of this calf and he grows into a strong young bull, when he is a year old, at the market in Ondini, they will pay you 1,500 rands for him. Not so?'
'Yes.' The old men in the crowd nodded their heads.
'And the cow... she is old and tired, and the flies are very bad this summer. But if she lives, next autumn you can sell her for over 2,500 rands.'
Loud noises of agreement from the crowd.
'So then, Inkosikazi, my work has given you about 4,000 rands that you didn't have before.'
'So how about we go halves - and I take 2,000 rands?'
Much whispering between Granny and her friends.
'That's lots of money,' she said.
'Yes, it is,' I said, 'and we have just had Christmas and soon it will be New Year, and maybe the cow will die. So it is better that I don't ask for so much. You can pay me just half of that - 750 rands.'
Louder whispering and nods of agreement.
'But!' said the schoolboy, who was standing behind his grandmother, 'half of 2,000 is not 750, it is 1,000!'
'Oh-ho!' I said. 'I can see you are a clever young man. I made a mistake, but if I said 750, then I shall still say 750 and not change it.'
Well, what a noise there was after that! Everybody was smiling and happy. Granny pulled out a great big handful of 200 rand notes, and she gave four of them to me, with her other hand open upwards next to the giving hand, in the proper Zulu way.
I took the money from her with my two open hands side by side, in the proper Zulu way, counted the notes and said, 'Inkosikazi, you have given me too much.'
She stood up and said, 'Keep the 50, it is for your assistant Mbambo.'
Man, the season of goodwill is amazing.
Then we walked back for an hour, mostly uphill, with a long line of helpers carrying my bags. We stopped sometimes to eat the sweet wild fruit that grows around most of the old kraals in this part of Africa...
... in the festive season.
- THE END -