I have never lived in a place where livestock freely roam the city streets, so it took a little while to adjust to the fact that at any time of the day or night, practically anywhere you go, it is possible to run into cattle who want to share the sidewalk or road or path with you. Once the initial novelty of it passed, a few other insights have set in, some that have broken previous preconceptions about these animals.
The first piece of "common knowledge" to go was the notion that cows will wander forever if someone doesn't go out and bring them back, expressed in our idiom till the cows come home
. Here, the cows come home when it starts to get dark, winding their way from wherever they had found food back to their own khasha
, or yard. They do this every day, without the help of herders or cowboys or dogs, the instructions clear in their heads as they move through traffic in the streets or gatherings of people in the square. Although they are big and slow, they are smart in a way I never imagined, though, since there are no street signs here, I won't yet make the claim that they can read.
They are, however, very resourceful. A look at the landscape here at this time of year will tell you that grazing on grass is a tough way to make a living. From a cow's point of view, there are more attractive options, most of these being some form of creative scavenging, or more bluntly, nosing around through garbage for the leftovers that people throw away. A hungry cow is a force that is not to be taken lightly. We have watched the continuing saga outside our apartment's entrance as one piece of technology after another has bent, literally, to the cows who invade the garbage pile. To keep them from spreading the garbage around, we have watched the construction of a garbage tipple (vastly undersized for the job,) and now a fence, whose gate is dismantled by the brute force of hungry cows only hours after each repair.
Two weeks ago, in a conversation about landscaping options for the campus, I mentioned that in addition to the harsh climate conditions, the greater challenge is the hungry cows. No problem
I was told. There is a new law, passed by the city council. It outlaws cows roaming the streets. If a cow is caught, a ticket will be issued. (I haven't yet seen any evidence of how this is working out.)
Living with cows also presents some creative opportunities for recycling. Although we haven't figured out what to do about a compost pile here, we do have a cow bag, which Judy takes with her when full, to feed to the first cow she sees. They like cabbage, turnips, and potatoes, but are not so fond of tomatoes or onions.