4 March 2015
Ba Bernardi just spent three hours chasing two heavily pregnant goats all over the village: through fields, forest, wetlands, and a poorly timed rain storm. He returned shoeless, wet, and dirty, shaking his head. But he brought back the goats.
These are no ordinary village mbushi. They’d been impregnated by meatier, faster-growing South African Boer goats to produce cross-bred offspring that might do well in a Zambian village. Ba Bernardi had been prohibited from tying them up to graze until after they give birth, lest they somehow strangle themselves. Hence the goat-chase.
Such is the price of ubuyantanshi (development) in Mfuba Village. Piba ilibe icuma tacimona umunan’gani. (No one gets rich by being lazy, only through his own sweat.)
And boy has Ba Bernardi sweated these past two days.
The quest to bring cross-bred goats to Mfuba began way back in May 2014, when Ba Bernardi and nine other local farmers visited Miasamfu Agricultural Research Station. Among other projects that grew out of this visit, like the community demonstration field, the Mfuba Co-op decided they want to raise improved goat breeds.
Miasamfu livestock researchers had been giving out cross-bred goats to farmers in some communities, to study how well they grow in a village setting. But Mfuba wasn’t on the list, and Miasamfu didn’t trust that a large group would effectively care for their precious research animals. They wanted a dedicated individual.
Enter Ba Bernardi.
The Co-op elected him to deal with the goats with the understanding that some of the future offspring would belong to the group.
Then the petitioning and finagling began. Ba Bernardi and I made a second trip to the research station together, and were told: hey, we’re having a three-day goat-keeping workshop about 100 kilometers away from you. Come join us, and we’ll see.
Ba Bernardi abandoned his usual duties for three days, and we went. There he was advised to build a secure, raised enclosure for the goats, which he did, with help from the Co-op.
Months passed. No goats. No promised visits from livestock researchers. No reliable vehicle, they said.
Finally, Ba Allan (who’s played no small part in this adventure) convinced the Co-op to shell out 350 kwacha (more than $50, and no small chunk of change here) to transport the goats themselves.
But all this was just a prelude to the real, sweaty work.
Yesterday, Bernardi, Allan, and I travelled to Kasama to finally get the goats. This mission, which might have taken four hours in some parts of the world, turned into a 16-hour ordeal.
First a combination of the usual Zambian concept of time and a morning rain storm delayed our departure from Mfuba from 06:00 to 08:45.
Then Allan and Bernardi wanted to stop along the way to look at and analyze the demo field. I was so happy to see them engaged in conversation about the different techniques and their plans for weeding and fixing up ridges that I couldn’t imagine protesting. And anyway I’d carefully switched my brain into patience mode for the day. I’d known it would be like this.
Once we arrived at the tarmac we stashed our bikes with a friend, the guys set off in two different directions to find baskets in which to carry the goats, and I engaged in the usual amount of village pleasantries while our awesome driver, Bashi Nevis, set about filling his truck with as many other people as possible. This all took about an hour.
We then made the requisite dozen or so stops along the way, with the truck moving at a steady 70 kilometers per hour in between (50 kph on the hills). All of which got us into Miasamfu at 13:00 – just as everyone was leaving for lunch. Livestock researcher Ba Kasamu had already left, but as soon as I called his cell phone, he came right back to help us out.
He did the necessary paperwork and led us out to choose two very pregnant goats. So pregnant that Ba Kasamu advised us they could give birth within the next two weeks. And said we should travel carefully with them, lest they get too stressed and miscarry.
Then we tied each goat’s legs together, laid each on its side in a large basket in the back of the (luckily tarp-covered) truck, and proceeded to drive all over town. First to get permits from the district agriculture office that allowed us to transport said goats. Then to the local market to pick up more passengers. Then all over various rutted dirt roads to find fertilizer and other goods.
Then we sat around and waited well over an hour for Bernardi and Allan, who’d gotten off at one point to attend to other business.
At this point, the goats had been tied up on their sides for four hours. On their behalf, for the first time all day, I got upset at Bernardi and Allan, snapping that after all the work we’d put in, how could they let their purchase of random household goods keep these poor pregnant goats suffering?!
“Ah,” Ba Allan exclaimed. “Ba Bernardi met some family at the market. But goats are very strong. They’ll be fine.”
Unexpectedly, one of only two other female passengers jumped in: “If you were pregnant and tied up, would you feel fine?”
I could’ve hugged her. We re-situated the goats.
Finally, at 18:30, as darkness descended, we left town. With only a few short detours, we drove all the way back to Mfuba and arrived at 20:30.
Then followed the kind of minor chaos you’d expect from unloading two exhausted, freaked-out animals in the midst of a dozen neighbors and five dogs intent on herding.
But finally – finally – we got the pregnant ladies fed, watered, and into their comfortable accommodations for the night.
Then it was time for a little celebrating, and some late-night ubwali! None of us had eaten much all day, and we were giddy with hunger and excitement. We kept slap-shaking hands, and I couldn’t stop exclaiming, “We have goats! We finally have goats!”
Of course, the work of caring for, weighing, and measuring these goats has only just begun – as evidenced by Ba Bernardi’s goat chase this afternoon.
But no one ever got rich without a little sweat.