Dodging Longhorns in The Gambia

From: TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

After work one day I walked to the farmers’ market with a long list of items we needed. Heading home, I tried not to think about the heat and the heavy pack on my back. Instead I planned our Easter dinner. Absorbed in my thoughts, I trudged along the winding path. Suddenly I stopped in my tracks. A large herd, maybe fifty head or so of longhorn cattle, grazed on the scrub grass, completely blocking the path.

To turn around and go back to take the road home would add at least a mile to my walk, not appealing in that heat. I looked around for a Fula herdsman, but didn’t see him, though I was sure a herd this size wouldn’t be here on its own. Most cattle, especially this many, were owned by the Serahule tribe, but herded by a Fula tribesman. Well, I’d just take my chances. I walked down the dusty path, talking softly so I wouldn’t startle them.

“Hi, guys,” I murmured. “I’m just going to slide right by you here.” I kept watching out for those long horns, hoping one wouldn’t stick me. Almost as worrisome was being swished by a shitty tail.

“Okay, here I am, just step aside.” I kept my voice low key, almost a whisper. A few of the cows mooed at me, some sort of grunted. None were alarmed, though they rolled their huge eyes at me. A few stepped out of my way; others let me step around them. Flies from the cattle landed on me, but I concentrated on not waving them off, trying not to make sudden moves. Churned-up dust settled on my shoulders and hair. I walked perhaps a quarter of a mile through the scattered herd before reaching the other side of them.

At one point along the path, a small hill rose on one side. From the hill I heard, “Abete ata bake, Mariama!” Well done, Mariama!

I looked up and saw the herdsman sitting in the shade. He waved. I waved back. The poor guy probably had held his breath the whole time I wove my way through the cattle, expecting to have to pry me off one of those long horns.

For weeks afterward, I heard about that incident. Word spread like locusts in a maize field. Woman couldn’t imagine why I would do such a thing. Men thought I was probably just ignorant of what could have happened to me. I kept telling everyone who questioned me that it was just too hot to turn around and go home the long way.