Omar – the cowherd


Omar was a smart boy. He was not exactly an orphan, but as his parents were too poor to feed him, they “gave” him away to Muarabu family that had come to their coastal village looking for a workhand. Omar was smart, but illiterate, and so was asked to look after the Muarabu family livestock. That morning, he was called by the head of the house and after much questioning and threats, was also slapped twice or thrice. Omar did not protest and in between sobs, he tried to apologise, but knew that he would not be pardoned. He had been careless.

The Muarabus stayed on a farm estate to the North of the Island and not very far from the white sandy beaches of Nyali. The land was not very fertile, so the family also raised some cattle and goats and chickens. They sold the milk to the local milk creamery and the goats to the city butcher. The eggs from the chicken were sold at the city market on alternate days. Omar’s job was to tend to the cattle as they grazed in the nearby fields and to bring them back home by dusk each day. Though the grassy plains were a distance away and across the highway that ran along the coast, Omar took his cattle to the little visited hillocks by the Nyali beach each day, as it was secluded and yet provided grass for the cattle, while he could relax under the shade of the casuarinas and coconut palms and the gentle sea breeze ensured that he would never feel too hot. On Sunday, he had taken the usual route to the little hillock overlooking the coral reef and chose a little palm grove to settle down while his cattle grazed nearby. And as the sun was going down, he let out his usual cry to the cattle, as he raised his stick to signal them to return to him so that he could herd them back to the Muarabu homestead. He suddenly noticed that the black Zebu was missing, and she was not the mischevious kind. So he was upset and he hollered again and again – the usual evening cattle call, “harrrr harrrr” in his unusual high pitch voice, but there was no response. It was getting dark and the scrubland that he stood on was quite deserted and for a 15 year old, he was not brave enough to stay on longer. He tried staying on as long as he could, but had to return in vain. The head servant of the household yelled at him and even threatened to disallow him his evening supper – a plate of ugali and some fish curry. Omar pleaded with him not to tell the master and that he would look for the cow in the morning, but the news reached the Muarabu house by the morning.

So he set out to look for the missing black zebu and took the other cattle back to the same grazing hillock as the previous day. And as he reached the shore – he could hear a familiar sound. Above the rhythmic rolling hush of the waves, he heard what sounded like a moo. He ran towards the cliff overlooking the sea. He feared the worst, that the cow must have slipped down the limestone cliff and fallen into the cove below. And he knew that this stretch near the sea had no beach but coral outcrops, and could be injurious to it. He peered down the cliff to look north and south and all he saw were gentle waves rolling up the coral and limestone outcrops and the clear waters were a light greenish blue, not cyan – as the tide was still to roll in. But the moo was still to be heard and was coming a nearby source, so he gingerly pushed aside the bushes on the cliff and walked back in the direction of the cow sound. And lo and behold – there was a cavernous opening in the ground that dropped over 30 feet downwards and as he circled the rim of the cave’s open roof, he saw the lost zebu cow in a corner of the cave, not very far from the sea. It was standing atop a wet rocky structure. Omar was relieved to find his zebu, but how would he be able to get the cow out of the hole in the earth?

The D Street Boyz also felt slapped as they got into office on Monday. The men had seemed to have lost their dignity for an evil act that happened at Capital Street and they knew that there would be protests. And while some Boyz joined the protest, and therefore reduced the business on the Street – others were beaten down as sheer protest against Men (though the Boyz could have protested to that as well, as they were still “Boyz”). And as they traced their steps, they looked for their lost ground and chose to climb their personal hills on Wednesday and stay there looking for their lost cause and when they found none, then had to relent and descend on Friday – and so the SENSEX that they always carry with them went from 19350 to a dizzying 19500 (almost) until it lost its steps and fell down to 19242….

Omar could not leave his cattle unattended, but he still needed help to get the trapped black zebu out of the cave. And he ran to the village where the Muarabus lived, but did not venture home. Instead, he chose to seek help from the Muhindi family that ran a small farm outside the village. Kantibhai was walking through the coriander and fenugreek patch when he heard the half panting, half yelling Omar. Initially he feared that some bandits were on his chase, but when he saw that Omar’s face had no fear, he asked the boy to relax and tell him what the anxiety was all about. Kantibhai heard his story and with a few farmhands, he followed the boy to the hillock by the sea. He peered down the roof of the cave and saw that the cow was not budging from its place by the little rock, although there was pool of liquid, milky in colour around its hind feet. It took about an hour for them to create an entrance to the cave from the top, which was precarious and slippery. And they slowly descended into it. The cave was like any other along the coast, but not many people had seen them, as these were carved out by the sea and winds and the rain; with stalactites and stalagmites. The cow was still standing over the stony outcrop and not very far from the sea. And as Kantibhai neared the cow, he saw an unusual sight – the cow’s udder was oozing out milk that was dribbling onto the rock below. The only other place where he had seen such a sight of milk dropping over black stone was at the Hindu Union temple in the city. He could not believe what he saw. The other farmhands also saw Kantibhai stop in his tracks, take off his shoes and bow down with folded hands. They feared blackmagic and almost immediately stopped dead in their tracks. Kantibhai looked back, gave them a reassuring gesture and after bowing to the black zebu, pleaded it to leave and it mooed and slowly walked away towards the open sunlight cave roof opening. Omar chided it up the slippery slope and everyone slowly left this cave. The farmhands and Omar were still shaking in their skins as they wanted to be away from here as fast as they could. Kantibhai turned back one more time, folded his hands and then as he turned just told the others “Mungu iko hapa” (“God is here”).

Have a nice week ahead……

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