When I come to compile my list of ‘Things I will miss about Nigeria’, the sight of a Fulani herder with his loyal bunch of gorgeous white cattle will surely emerge near the top. I am continually thrilled to see them, ambling across the road or grazing in the undergrowth nearby, or seen in the distance on the fringes of a village or beneath a cluster of trees ; always calm, peaceful, silent, undemanding – at least, when I have seen them; perhaps they are just being accommodating to the camera, trying to create a good impression and when my bus has passed by or under cover of night they make a horrendous din and start stampeding around the place, stealing each other’s patch of grass and irritating the hell out of their long-suffering herdsman – a bit like the performance of some people I could mention – but won’t!
And when I come to draw up my list of what I have learned from my Nigerian experience, I will surely reflect on the benefits of a more peaceful pace of life closer to the rhythms of nature as illustrated by the humility of the herdsman as he turns away from the roadside and heads into the bush as night descends. Where does he go? Where will he sleep and will he eat tonight?
Not that I mean to romanticize his existence – it must be an incredibly hard, insecure and frankly boring life, at least from my perspective as a person who has possessions that are valued and who really needs to feel the assurances, security and some satisfaction in life, for at least a some months ahead.
Does the Fulani herder – man or boy – gain satisfaction from spending days in the bush with a bunch of cows, warding off - what, wild animals, vagrants, cattle rustlers, the bovine-registration police seeking bribe or a tub of yoghurt, swaying mini-busses travelling at break neck speed (possibly literally!) and threatening to leave the road at the next pothole?
What does he think about? Does he have his dreams too? And do they lie on the land or in a town or distant place? Clearly he has his responsibilities, but presumably he does not have to concern himself over a rising council tax bill, achieving attainment targets, reviewing his performance over the previous year and setting goals for the next one. I guess a visit at short notice from Ofcow with the threat of being declared a ‘failing herdsman’ and having his herd taken over by a more experienced and skilled practitioner, is an unlikely occurrence.
But I guess he has his own life-pressures that are just as troublesome to him as ours are to us.
I do love seeing those cattle though!