The Curative Power of Cows

IMG_4163Not long into his 2019 TED talk, British journalist and New York Times bestselling author Johann Hari tells the curious story of a Cambodian rice farmer who suffered from severe pain and psychological trauma, after his leg was blown off from a landmine. Outfitted with an artificial limb, the farmer was anxious at the prospect of resuming his work in the same fields where he’d been iIMG_4482njured. He sunk into severe depression. His doctor and neighbors sat him down and worked together on finding a solution. What they did next surprised Hari: even though anti-depressants had been recently introduced to Cambodia, the doctor prescribed a local remedy instead: determining that the troubled farmer could pivot quite easily to dairy farming, the doctor and community banded together and bought him a cow. Within one month, and without an ounce of allopathic drugs in his system, the farmer’s depression lifted.

20200628_112729This story struck a chord with me; not only because it involved injury to life and limb in Cambodia, but because the global pandemic also ‘gave’ me a cow. Who really knows why my life has intersected and intertwined with Angelique’s? Yes, Angelique, the cow. But the why is less important than the how and when: The blame falls squarely on COVID19.

When everything started to shut down here in Bali, beach-side hotels and cafes included, I knew the stray dogs would suffer, seeing that they could no longer scrounge through trash bins filled with chunks of uneaten meals. Resolving to feed them regularly, I began carrying to the beach (with trespassing permission granted from the village security gang), a large container of home-cooked food for the doggies – generous bi-weekly donations whipped up by an expat restaurateur (and neighbour). Other residents also began to haul bags of dry food and leftovers to the empty stretch of sand, so I felt certain the strays would survive. 20200428_174045(1)

But Angelique was a different matter. Tethered by heavy rope to a bamboo cowshed next to a beach-side yoga studio (forced to shutter its classes and doors), she inhabits this small, wall-less enclosure without a herd or partner. Not an easy feat for a cow, known to be as social as humans. Whereas, in pre-pandemic times, plenty of people fed and fussed over her, quite suddenly, like me, Angelique was on her own.

20200611_180915I felt her pain, her solitude. Soon, this so-called ‘sacred cow’ (pseudo-yogic marketing ploy?) became the focus of my beach-going routine; after feeding the dogs, I’d break off branches and gather leaves for Angelique. A handful of sated pups would follow me to her compound, then poke around and settle down while I fed the gentle beast. Soon, produce peels, bokchoi ends, and watermelon rind made their way onto her menu – and she devoured most everything (minus the eggshells) right out of my hand.

Angelique would sniff me out (and sometimes let out a moo) when I was sti20200531_121627ll meters away, her gaze trained on me before she even saw my face. She’d pace about, maybe stop for a long pee (always in the same patch of dried earth) and approach me with her slimy, hairy snuffle. I’m no Temple Grandin, and what I know about cattle behaviour is next-to-none, but something about her manner assured me that I was a welcome presence. Maybe it helped that I played cow-friendly jazz and classical music while she nibbled and peed.

We began observing each other, the cow and I. From up close. Together, we shared a space that felt more intimate than any contact I’d had with human beings in a long while. Peering past Angelique’s long, fluttering eyelashes, deep into her dewy eyes, I intuited that sh20200628_113856e was trying to relay a message to me – in cow-code. A language I do not speak.

So I continued to commune in the only ways I knew. After a good dose of scratching behind her protruding ears (apparently favoured by most cows), she hung her head down low in front of me. A precognition, of something momentous that was about to happen, silently dangled in midair. I waited. Before I could step back, Angelique ejected her big, floppy, sloppy tongue. It went straight for my leg with a sandpapery lick so rough that I let out a yelp. A signal of gratitude (or love), I read, they said. Oh, yum.

And so it was, and so it’s been, my rite of passage into cowhood. I can’t say for sure that I’ve brought anything more than grub and company to her ongoing state of abandonment; but I’ve received much more than I’ve given – communion con cow, and a living being to hug.¬†20200603_063222

During this not-so-great pause, particularly in those drawn-out days when I’ve struggled with too much sorrow, anxiety, silence and loneliness, Angelique has been a godsend. Along with the sea, the sand and the strays, she too has been my solace – and her simple bamboo shed, a near-daily sanctuary.

I’ve always trusted in the healing power of nature; but little could I have envisioned that the day would come when a four-legged creature would be my cure – and drug – of choice.

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