In Ntungamo District is Nshenyi, a beautiful country farm that nature has been generous to. Dense plantations of bananas, pawpaw, and pineapples sprawl over miles of her hilly landscape. And the weather, warm and friendly, completes this idyllic picture, making it as inviting as the Garden of Eden. Beyond farming, Nshenyi doubles as a homestay. A homestay is a touristic experience in which travelers immerse themselves in a particular culture—by staying at a local’s home as opposed to hotel.
In this particular case, experiences at this cozy country home are tailored to enrich guests with the intoxicating cultures of the Banyankole(Ugandan Tribe). The Dos and Don’ts of their traditional marriages, fashion, architecture.... Here, the pleasure is all yours to do what the locals do, eat what they eat and experience the realness of their home. It is headed by Ex-MP Mary Mugyenyi and sits atop a secluded hill that overlooks Tanzania and Rwanda.
It comprises of four handmade thatches built in Ankole tradition. Inside these clean eco-friendly huts, visitors retire to a peaceful night during their stay.
The experience is incomplete without grooving to the popular Ekitaguriro dance. You shove your arms in the air and off you go; stomping the ground. The dance demonstrates the people’s love for cattle. The cattle breed has long horns and the hands imitate the long horns. A flute is played through as the dance goes off.
It’s a moving performance, but it is not the foremost reason we visited this egalitarian family of tall, lovely people.
I wanted to experience “A day in the shoes of an Ankole herdsman”. There couldn’t have been a better way to get a fulfilling experience than by rolling with the chief caretaker as he looked after his flock.
The day would start with a milking excursion at the adjacent Kraal early morning. 6:00AM to be exact. Right in front of this arena which is protected by a fence of interlocked acacia poles stood a cone shaped hut. It is thatched from bottom to apex and served by a single door. It is the house of the chief herdsman Akanguho William, a 51 year old gent who has been a herdsman all his life, out of choice.
“He would gladly catch a grenade for the cattle. He loves them that much, a reason he lives for them.” Said my Julius Akangumako the farm guide while introducing to us the lanky gent. I still envy his everlasting smile.
Having grown up in a pastoral village where the richest don own at most 20 cows, my jaws couldn’t help it drop in shock. In my face were more cows than can be counted in an hours-time. Despite being so countless though, their looks were not wanting in anyway. They looked healthy and tempting to touch. I guess it is because they have a whole 400 acres to themselves for grazing. The unbelievable part is that the Akangumako knew them each by name.
“The names were given to them in accordance to their lineage and beauty.” He told me as he recalled the exact dates time each of the cows were to milk were born. These included Kiroko, Mbibi, Nshanga, Kamosho, Mpuga, Ndabure and Bunanga, all of which spent the night in a secluded kraal. In their midst was a hip of dry grass buried over dry dung. It was being burnt to keep the flies away. It wasn’t the chocking type of smoke. Rather, it smells like incense and the cows seemed addicted to inhaling it.
The milking would be done in the Kinyankole way, by tapping the udder manually, using our hands.
The process started by caressing them gently at their most sensitive parts (especially around their necks and belly) for about 10 minutes. Concentration is then shifted to coaxing their teats while whispering sweet exaltations into their ears. A foreplay of sorts. This not only helps in creating rapport but also turns them on. To stimulate them faster, a calf is brought in to suckle briefly. By the time the special milking gourd is put under their udder, they are heavy just-like a dark sky that can’t wait to burst open with rainfall. Each cow produced at least 10 liters, as stored in big calabashes called Ekirere.
With pure joy, William taught me how to milk shortly before the herding could get underway. I was just as much excited to get hands on as I was terrified at the thought of being kicked in the wrong spot. Accordingly, the hind legs were looped with a rope.
Until then, I couldn’t imagine squatting to position to clasp a black wooden container designed for milking between my knees. Ekyanzi is its traditional name and can accommodate one liter. It was wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. That way, not too much milk poured out whenever it slipped off. All through, the udder felt warm and soft, and so did its milk. It was too thick and pure. What started as sampling turned into drinking fest that filled up my gut leaving no room for breakfast.
The rest of the adventure was about herding the flock in endless Savannah grassland sprawling over gentle hills and their shallow valleys. For much of the time, the calves that had tagged along stayed in the center for protection (from any possible intrusion).
At first glance, all the cows looked the same. However, an up-close gave a different reality. Each lineage bore the exact shades as their mother (as they were born of the same bull). I vividly remember seeing cows of five different generations bearing white patches right under their eyes as they were siblings.
On the whole, the cows weren’t violent, but they were spoilt brats. Over and over again, they would go off courses, something that drove the herdsman nuts.
“Stop being such a pain in wrong spot you boys.” he kept cursing as he ran back and forth to control their direction towards a swollen river that flowed through the farm.
Funny enough, all this while he is armed with a whip stick. But not for once will he actually whip some sense into his kids as he is emotionally attached to them. He simply kept begging, hoping they’ll heed to his pleas. In instances where they kept at their best behavior, they would whistle for them songs that rivaled the tweets of the birds laughing at him from the trees.
Back at the wing of the farm where foods are grown, Julius was super helpful and friendly while answering all our questions. He also fed our ears on awesome local advice on how to fight pests and insects organically.
Needless to say, the menu was a rich trove of local Ankole foods. Each imbued with flavours of that inspired the use of milk products. For much of the lunchtimes, I was at a loss. So I did what I always do whenever confused by names in menus. I asked the waiter for his recommendation.
Nshenyi Village is a thirty minutes’ drive from Ntungamo Town, along a good all-weather marram road which easily connects tourists to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
A full board experience at the farm costs $130 per day.
Go with change clothes, chances are high you’ll get muddy as you tend to the cows.
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