This weekend we traveled to the Kakamega forest to see….monkeys! Up in the trees, we saw half a dozen monkeys sitting, swinging and jumping from limb to limb. We were not close to see their faces.
It was great being part of their world and seeing them in their natural habitat, just like it was two weekends ago when we saw the giraffes eating trees a few feet from the path where we were walking.
In America we say we have to take walks and be outside to enjoy the nature around us. We go to the nearest state forest park to listen to the trees or catch a glimpse of a deer, but in Africa, nature is life.
Animals and humans are pushed together more often in Africa. The villages are comprised of a population of people versus a population of animals. Donkeys walk alongside bikers and cars, hauling wagons behind them and carrying people on their backs. Goats, chickens and pigs are left to wander around looking for food in most areas, only tied to the ground in busy places.
And cows. Cows are everywhere. Black and white, brown, tan, you name it, a cow is somewhere close to you. Walking along the street, you can stop inches away from the mouth of a cow munching on grass. In some grassy areas, herders are hired to bring cattle to the spot, where the cows eat as much as possible. Pretty cheap way to mow the lawn, right?
But what is funny is that when we passed these grazing cows, out came the cameras. The oddness of the picture is was makes the American relationship with animals so different from Africans’. Most Americans think of cows, pigs and chickens as only one thing: food.
When I visited a farm in Soy, I learned from a young girl who lived there that most small town farmers do not slaughter their animals. Instead their five or six cows are used only for milking and currency when needed. Tied to posts on the other side of the farm were two small goats. Again, these animals were meant for breeding to eventually sell or trade, not for wool, milk or meat. Chickens are the exception. According to the girl, Sandra, her family slaughtered chickens very rarely, but used them more for their eggs.
As in America, the farming community relies on these animals to make money and provide for their families, but one thing is different. In Africa, the animals are important living beings. Though not all farms in America are the same, animals are treated as objects making their way through the world for human use.
I tried to explain factory farming to my partner and she did not understand. It is hard, especially after seeing the free ranging chicken dart past me followed by her eight chicks.
Visiting the farm, I was there to report on the training session to the local people on how to farm and sustain themselves. I think I spent more time asking about the animals and how they play into the farming activities here. It is amazing to see the connection between the animals and the people. It is the connection we see between a dog and its master.
Though most people were more taken with seeing the monkeys and the giraffes, I think my highlight of the trip was going to the farm. Call me bananas, but feeding cows out of my hand made my day.