postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: On Livestock and People

I was leaving my gate the other day, with my working dog Krypto out front on a short lead, and a passing elderly woman smiled at me and pointed at my 40kg Alsatian and commented, “Such a good friend.”

I was immediately struck by this women’s simple observation, as I am often struck by the wisdom of Nepali women. Women here know the value of livestock and working animals, and I’ve tried to train my dog as so many villagers have trained their cows and goats...with a simple whistle or flick of a hand their animals change direction or head for home, or do whatever needs to be done - just like a willing friend would do.

When I got back from my walk, I was back at work editing a film for a local NGO, all about teenage Maoists and where they are today. There was one story in the film about a young man who joined up during the conflict and left his remote Humla home for two years, leaving behind father, mother, six sisters, and two cows.

The cows were about the only asset that the family owned, and the young man tells us in this film that while he was off doing cultural events for the maobadi, the mama cow went out to get a drink in the high country pond, but on the way back, slipped and fell to her death. This left the family milkless, and the baby calf motherless.

I was struck how the entire family cried as the event was recounted, even one baby sister not more then 6 months old bawling away. The loss amounted to “22,000” rupees, which for this family was a fortune - and one impossible to recoup.

Living in the high hills is difficult, where land is more vertical then horizontal and crops struggle to even sprout. There are no health posts or any other services near by, and whenever I see or hear about the lives of those Nepalis living like this, my heart goes out to those folks that struggle so hard to survive – much more so then we have to here in the capital city.

In the film I was working on, it was so obvious that the motherless calf was indeed “a good friend” for the struggling family, and perhaps the families major source of food and income. It peered into the camera from inside it’s stall attached to the hill home, and with large sad eyes told a story of his own as this calf was nuzzled by one of the young sisters, grateful for any banana peels offered.

In just a few frames I was reminded of the important bond between working animal and human, or as some would see it, between animal gods and mere mortals. Without them, many of us could not survive.

My next film project, interestingly enough, also has scenes of working animals, although they are not as comfortable as Lakshmi is in Humla. These are the pack animals of the Everest region, which in this film appear to be Yak-like, and humping gas cylinders up the side of a mountain in a snowstorm. Loaded with at least two cylinders each, plus other portage of every description, these animals are also lifelines for the people living in the most remote areas on earth. Without them there would be very little heat or anything to eat for the brave Nepalese who have no choice but to make due atop a pile of rock 5,000 meters high.

There is one shot in this film where the concerned herd leader, a grizzled old man (but perhaps only 45), inspects his convoy’s footing at a very perilous point along the path. His face says it all: if one falls, so do I.

This intrinsic bond between Nepali and animal is just another reminder for me, sitting back in my Kathmandu office with iMacs and iPhones and fresh organic coffee brewing, that there is a much tougher life outside the valley... where people and animals are struggling to survive on the most meager of resources.

Yet we all seem to want the same: better lives for our children, and long and healthy lives for the animals that work with us in the struggle. This prayer goes out to them all: may all beings be happy.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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