This morning, I left the Kijana Kwanza compound through the back gate for some fresh air, leaving it slightly ajar. As I stood on the ridge looking down the valley towards the railway, two stealthy goats apparently nudged the gate further open and trotted down towards the bushes, delighted with the plentiful greenery at their doorstep. I, of course, did not realise, and minutes later, as I turned around to go back inside, I was surprised to see two goats munching away at the bushes.
I wondered to myself: Where did they come from? Were they there before? I had an inkling that they probably were ours but before I attempted to shoo them inside, I had to be sure. (I doubt that “shoo” is the correct term, but my farming vocabulary is worse than my Swahili). The last thing I wanted was for some angry witch-doctor to come running after me, accusing me of stealing 2 goats.
At that moment, I recalled that Mujibu had mentioned that one of the goats was pregnant so I focused my attention on the larger one to ascertain whether this could be a suitable sign of identification. But considering that I come from a country where children think chicken comes from Tesco, how am I supposed to know if a goat is pregnant? What if, like me, it was on the plump side? It’s an easy mistake to make. A few years ago, I asked my cousin’s wife, who had put on a few pounds, when she was due. It was not a conversation that went well.
As I was about to approach and further my examination of the potentially pregnant goat, a boda boda (motorcycle) rider came zooming past, startling the goats, who began to run far into the distance. As I strained my eyes down the dirt road, I cursed under my breath. If there had ever been a possibility of shoo-ing the goats back inside, now there was no chance.
The last time a chicken squeezed through the gate, one of the boys was just around the corner, and I sent him down the pathway chasing the mischievous chicken. He gleefully ran through the mud in his flip-flops, pouncing about as the chicken tried to dodge him, with his arms fleeting from side to side, grasping the air for a feather, a wing or joint. Eventually he returned up the dirt road, clutching the chicken by its legs. He was definitely in his element.
But this morning the young people were at school and I couldn’t possibly emulate that enthusiasm. Just imagine what the neighbours would think seeing an Indian man running after 2 goats in Njoro District of Moshi Town? I could almost hear the guffaws of laughter on the roadside, and knowing my luck, some cunning local would film the episode and it would go viral on Instagram with the title “Mhindi akimfukuza mbuzi” (Indian chasing a goat).
Running was definitely not a possibility. One option was to just head back inside and pretend I knew nothing about the goats. After all, who would suspect that I had anything to do with the disappearance of 2 goats? There was definitely no one around and no one would notice it was my fault. The mental justification continued. After all, I had not actually witnessed the goats leave the compound nor could I be completely sure they were even ours. But just the thought of Mujibu interrogating me about the circumstances surrounding the disappearing goats made me break into a sweat.
At this point I was panicking, unsure what to do. I don’t even know how to shoo a goat. What if I made the situation worse? I would have to swallow my pride and ask for help.
I stepped back inside looking across the compound for anyone experienced in shoo-ing goats. At the far end, I noticed Mdimu, one of the guys who occasionally takes me home at night on his motorbike, who conveniently does not speak (or refuses to speak) English.
Damn it. Of all the people in close proximity, it had to be him. Mdimu already thinks I’m a wimp because I always tell him to slow down when he’s speeding over the bumps in the dead of night. To make matters worse, street lights are few and far between in Moshi Town
“Mdimu! Mbuzi wametoroka!” (The goats have escaped). I had pricked his attention – no Tanzanian would accept the loss of a potential meal of mtoli (plantain stew with chunks of goat meat), but he looked at me unimpressed. I have no idea what he said next but you can assume it was something like, “Stupid mzungu (foreigner). Why don’t you just shoo them inside?”
Mdimu walked over to inspect the damage. He calmly walked over to the goats, which had mysteriously returned back to the gate, and with a single movement of his foot and a dog-whistle, they obediently trotted inside. As he locked the gate behind us, he kissed his teeth and something in an incomprehensible form of Swahili. Probably something like: “What a lazy mzungu. He made me walk all the way here to shoo the goats back inside.”
I have no idea whether they were in fact our goats, or whether they had simply strayed from another garden. Regardless, with 134 goats arriving tomorrow, to mark Eid al-Adha, I’m sure they will be lost in the crowd.