There is a very strange phenomenon which happens in this part of the world. Everything in the Nuer culture relates to a certain investment. Love, Land, Water, Food, Sex, Mythology. It all comes back to the only certainty in life. The Cow.
The Cow is everything. It is what buys you wives, gets you out of jail, buys you land and gives you milk and meat. In the milk and meat are the vitamins and protein you need. The cow processes any and all nutrients from the harsh and barren land and filters them into a format that is edible and palatable. The Nuer people live, for the most part, on Sorghum (a cardboard-tasting porridge) and Cow-Meat. The word ‘Beef’ does not do it justice, for some reason. Maybe because of the element of Hyperbole contained within the word ‘Cow’. The most common boys names here are to do with cows and death. ‘Chuol’ means ‘He who Replaces his dead Sibling’, and ‘Tut’ means, simply, ‘Bull’. It is a kingly name.
In our hospital, one of the nastier and more commonplace conditions we deal with is Brucelosis. Brucelosis comes from contact with bad milk, bad meat, and, generally, bad cow. It brings severe joint pain, headaches, slow liver and spleen destruction.
Some time ago a severe case came to the attention of MSF, and nobody could understand how it had come-on so quickly and to such an advanced degree. After consistent denial that there had been anything unusual in their activity, the afflicted patient finally happened to mention to the exasperated medics, that, at certain times of the month, they had to ‘Blow the Cow’.
Since then, as any MSFer from South Sudan Mission 1 will tell you, the subject of ‘Cow Blowing’ is as good as any after-dinner conversation to the uninitiated visitor. In fact, any opener into conversing about cow is a good opener into the culture as a whole. When the cow is not producing milk, for reasons known only to agriculturalists, I presume, the milkers seem to get good results by blowing into the cow’s vagina. It is a quick way to get a lot of milk, and has been discussed around the table where I sit for many candle-lit hours