Contraception, monogamy and torture
During my time living on this farm, I’ve been going out every day with the cattle workers to learn about livestock farming. As most of the workers here don’t speak English, I’ve been provided with one of the younger women who lives on the farm to act as my translator. She’s an 18 year old San girl who’s just doing odd jobs around the farm as and when they need her. She lives here with her brother and father, who both work with the cattle. She’s a quiet and reserved girl and I have found it quite hard to get her to talk at all. However, one day when we were alone and standing waiting for the cattle guys to pick us up, I started talking to her about what it’s like to be a woman in her culture and what she thinks about having babies. She really started to open up and was saying that she’s very scared to have children because she hears it hurts a lot and many of the women here don’t go to hospital to give birth; rather, they just go into labour by themselves in the bush! No painkillers, no doctor, not even their husband by their side. Crazy! She said a number of women do still die from childbirth. Quite a lot of women don’t even see the doctor during pregnancy so don’t know whether the baby will be OK or not.
We also spoke about birth control. She doesn’t really know anyone who uses it and it seems women don’t have a choice whether they get pregnant or not. Quite a few women don’t even want children, but they can’t go to the hospital to get an abortion. Instead, they resort to taking toxic plants from the bush that can, if you take too much, kill yourself too. She also said that she’s heard of women asking their friends to jump on their stomachs or eat newspaper to cause an abortion. Many of her school friends already are pregnant or having children, and they are only 18. So from an early age they are hindered from going to University, getting a job or living a more free life where they can choose how many children they have. It really is a very sad state of affairs and I wish someone like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation could come to do some training here with the communities and provide free birth control. Otherwise, women will always be a slave to their uterus and unable to progress in society.
Each day here I’ve been learning so much about cattle farming and life on the farm in general. There are a lot of San bushmen workers here who all love living out in the wild as it is where their culture is from. These bushmen lived for hundreds of years in the Kalahari desert surviving only by hunting and gathering plants from the wilderness. This knowledge was passed down through the generations, but sadly now their culture is dying out as Westernisation takes place. There are still a few of the older guys who know about their traditions, and on Friday I was lucky enough to accompany two of them out into the bush to learn about the plants they eat and those that they use for traditional medicine. We found lots of different roots that can be used, and I had a nibble on a few of the ones they have as food. One of the roots had a high water content and the San find these roots when surface water is low. My guide showed me how they make some kind of smoothie from the root by mashing up the inside with a tree branch and then drinking it. It actually tasted pretty nice!
There are so many roots that the San use for all manner of different ailments – both physical and psychological. Pharmaceutical companies have utilised/exploited this knowledge to produce drugs from the active ingredients, such as Devil’s Claw, which is a highly potent chemical found in a root that greatly reduces inflammation and can be used to treat arthritis. There is another root found further south called Hoodia that can reduce hunger pains. The San used to take it when they were going on long hunting expeditions, but now drug companies have found this plant and have stolen the idea from the community with no compensation given in return. Just another example of Western capitalism exploiting the weak and poor around the world!
Other roots can be used for the more obscure conditions, such as to stop your husband from straying away from you, to improving your fertility, right up to reducing gay tendencies. Not sure just how effective those ones are, but it was interesting to learn about them nonetheless!
Yesterday I spent my last full day with the cattle workers (as I am moving to a different property today). We were sorting some of the cattle, as 40 or so had to be sold to MeatCo, the main abbatoir in Namibia. Before they get sold, they need to be branded so that MeatCo are certain that the cattle has not been stolen. Theft of cattle is quite common in this country, so there are strict regulations on IDing your cattle with ear tags, ear notches, burnt brands and finally silver paint brands to 100% prove that the cattle is owned by yourself. During part of the day we corralled some of the cattle and put them through a rudimentary squeeze (although Temple Grandin would not be amused at the substandard equipment used) to brand the cattle. The workers used sticks and metal poles to manoeuvre the scared livestock from a larger holding pen into a long thin corridor and eventually into what can only be described as a horrific torture device, i.e. the squeeze. For those of you who aren’t aware of squeezes, these were invented by Temple Grandin the animal behaviourist as a method to reduce stress when working in close proximity to livestock. Cattle are prey animals and get extremely nervous and anxious around people, but Temple worked out that if you squeeze them against two plates then they actually calm down (she found this out herself as she’s autistic and made a squeeze herself which calmed her down). However, the squeeze used here did not trap the cattle completely other than their head; this made the cattle even more stressed and they would kick and struggle and injure themselves trying to escape. When opening or closing the squeeze, loud bangs of metal would scare the cattle even more. Just behind them were other extremely nervous cattle awaiting their doom as they could see their fellow herd member being tortured in front of them. Some were so scared that they would try to bury themselves under the animal in front of them. The workers would come along and bang wooden or metal poles against them and clap their hands, screaming at them to move. This only added to the sheer terror of the prey animals. I’m surprised no one, cattle included, got seriously hurt during this whole ordeal. Once again, this makes me proud to be vegan!