I spent three months living on a boma (farm) in a Maasai community. The landscape was full of colour- a land of zebras, wildebeests, ostriches, lions, cows, trees, and grass. The Maasai are pastoralists. This means that they have traditionally made a living by herding cattle, goats and sheep. A friend of mine, Joseph, told me the story of the veterinarian and the Maasai man.
A man once decided to test who possessed more knowledge about a cow- the vet or the Maasai. So he took a straight pin and stuck it deep into the end of the tail of a cow. Later that day the cow began to show signs of distress and the man invited the vet to examine the cow. The vet took a look at all the things a vet looks at- heart, temperature, excrement, etc. and declared the cow fit as a fiddle. The man next asked the Maasai to take a look at the cow.
There is such beauty in the pastoralist lifestyle. Living off the land, relying on animals for nourishment, doing ones best to not waste anything. The Maasai are a beautiful people. They have taught me so very much!
The Maasai stood back and observed the cow. He watched how it moved, looked at the shine of its coat, and saw how its ears twitched. He soon noticed that the tail was not moving as it should. The tail was hanging still. The Maasai began at the top of the tail and gradually felt his way down to the tip. When he reached the end of the tail the cow began to kick and bellow. After getting men to help hold the cow, the Maasai took a closer look at the tail and discovered the straight pin. All this to illustrate what I quickly discovered. The Maasai know cows.
Life in the village revolves around caring for their herds. Families are up with the sun to rouse the animals and to prepare them to head out to graze. Cows are sometimes milked in the morning and calves are separated out from the mamas. Calves are kept at home waiting for mama to return while the cows and bulls head out to eat. For most of the day the cows are kept out in pasture. They graze and are brought to water. As the sun begins to set, the young people watching the cattle begin to move the cows in the direction of home. The way is well worn and the cows know the way. For a couple of hours each night the women and boys work hard at the milking.
Milking time was the best time of the day. Since I was quite useless at milking I would often make myself useful by guarding the gate to the calf pen. My job was to make sure the hungry calves wouldn't get out all at once. By letting them out a few at a time, they were able to maximize the amount of milk. I did learn how to milk but just found I was too slow to compete with the calf.