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 rights to trespass) a large container of home-cooked food for the doggies – generous bi-weekly donations whipped up by a neighbour’s chef. 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 on her own. Tied by heavy rope to a bamboo cowshed next to a beach-side yoga studio (forced to shutter its classes and doors), she lives in a wall-less enclosure made of bamboo, without a herd or partner. Not an easy feat for a cow, known to be as social as humans. Whereas, pre-COVID19, she had many visitors, quite suddenly, like me, Angelique was flying solo.

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 switch focus and feed Angelique. A handful of sated pups would follow me to her compound, then poke around and settle down while I fed the gentle beast. First, piles of leaves. Soon after, I added produce peels, bokchoi ends, and watermelon rind – and she nibbled away on almost everything (other than eggshells) until my hands were left bare… and sticky.

Even before I was in her vicinity, Angelique would sti20200531_121627ll sniff me out (and sometimes let out a moo), her eyes trained on me long before I appeared in view. 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. Even if I tried to channel Temple Grandin, I was foreign territory; still, something about her manner assured me that she was glad to see me. Maybe it helped that I played cow-friendly jazz and classical music while she noshed and peed.

We began to gaze AT each other, this sweet cow and I. Up close and personal. Together, we shared a space that felt more intimate than any contact I’d had with human beings in a long while. Peering past her exuberant eyelashes, deep into her dewy eyes, I could tell (don’t ask how, call it cow-whisperer’s intuition) that sh20200628_113856e was trying to send me a message… in cow-lingo.

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.

Ahhh, my utterly unexpected rite of passage into cowhood. I can’t say for sure that I’ve brought anything more than grub and company to her perpetual state of solitude; but I’ve received much more than I’ve given – communion con cow, and a living being to hug.¬†20200603_063222

During this pause ad infinitum, Angelique has been nothing short of 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.

 

6 Comments

    1. A week or so ago, I asked her ‘owner’ if he would let her explore the beach a little more.. so he did and we took her for a little walk, to nibble on a grassy patch, and then she went a little wild (beautifully so!) further down on the sand, close to the water. What a mesmerizing sight it was… I hope to take her for more walks, as/when I have the opportunity. Thanks for your concern and comment.

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