Cow Jam

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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“I want to buy a cow!” Kimmi screams with excitement. Her eyes wide with exhilaration and animation. Her grin stretching from ear to ear. Oh dear. I think we might be in the market for a cow.

We find ourselves in the living room of Drittero and Linda, drinking coffee around the table, in their outer suburban Prishtina (Kosovo) home.  Kimmi met Linda for all of about five minutes in Prizren when she was going through her brief ‘spending time with anybody that’s not me’ phase. And in that five minutes, Linda mentioned that she lived in Prishtina and offered the casual ‘you should look me up’ comment. A week later we had arrived on her doorstep with all our belongings, exhausted bodies and puppy dog eyes.

Fortunately, Linda and Drittero had a fully self contained basement with kitchen, super sized bathroom and plenty of floor to sleep on. The offer to ‘look her up’ had quickly extended to a genuine ‘stay as long as you want’. Result.

By the second cup of coffee, we had pretty much completed the tale of our story. It was well rehearsed and we could nail it about five minutes if we had too. We decided to give Linda the extended version and include the extra details to make it a nine minute version. I figured she deserved it, considering we were staying in her house.

Like most people we had met, they were impressed and showed the appropriate polite amount of interest at all the right times in the story. Usually though, people tend to have an army of questions to follow like ‘what made you do it?’, ‘how long are you travelling for?, how did you prepare for something like this?’ and other questions with pre-planned automated responses in which Kimmi and I alternate answering. But not Linda. No. She comes out with ‘That’s cool. We kind of do something similar to that as well!’. What?? I quickly switch off auto pilot and turn on my attention.

A few years ago, Linda and Drittero were driving through the country of Kosovo where they came across a family with seven children and a lifestyle way below the poverty line. Curiosity and good intentions drove them to explore how people can find themselves in a situation like this, through what circumstance they had endured through their life to give this result. “Things were much better when we had a cow”. The family said. “Then we could produce milk, yoghurt and cheese and it was so much easier to feed the family and sell the produce to our neighbours”. Such a simple solution, Linda and Drittero promised themselves that they would help and buy the family another cow to get them back above the poverty line, until they discovered that it was €1000! Being out of financial reach for even the wealthier side of any Kosovan family, there was only one way to raise the money. By getting their musically talented friends together and host a mini-concert, to have a ‘Jam for a Cow’. Three years later, this annual event has bought four cows and fixed a roof for many families throughout the country areas of Kosovo. No charity, no NGO, no paperwork, no declarations. Just good people, playing good music, raising good money for a few cows and the odd tin roof.

We were more than impressed and would like to think we showed more than the appropriate amount of interest at all the right times through Linda and Drittero’s story, as they had done ours. And cow jam season was coming. That was the best part for me. Kimmi’s ‘spending time with anybody but me’ phase was how we got here. That was the icing on the cake for her.

You can’t just buy a cow for anyone though. It’s got to be the right family. A family that are poor enough to need it and for it to be a life changing present, but not so poor that they cannot look after it. And what do we know about rural Kosovan families and local cow maintenance costs! We are quickly learning that with every grand solution, there are many more underlying hurdles that make any poverty cycle difficult to break. Linda and Drittero usually conduct the research. They put the feelers out with their friends and go and visit families personally to make sure they are the right candidate for the cow. This can take time and deep down, Kimmi and I know that it is more important to get the research right, than to just get a cow. Otherwise you might just be buying a lot of beef for somebody.

The ‘look us up in Prishtina’ had quickly turned into houseguests for over a week. With no local contacts, there was little we could do to assist with the research and both Linda and Drittero work full time in other jobs. It soon became clear that this was their ‘Kindness of Strangers’ project, not ours. This was going to happen this year, with or without us. Just as I am sure it would happen next year, after we are long gone. Our role as contributors to the project quickly turned into admirers, despite wanting to buy a cow.

Determined to give it one more crack, we approached heifer.org in Kosovo. Set up a meeting and had the most amazing hot chocolate (Kosovo have really nailed hot drinks better than anywhere!). Heifer.org are a multi-million dollar international charity that we had never heard of. But they do not donate money to anybody, they donate only live stock.  They take the same philosophy of Linda and Drittero and action it all over the world, except that the cows they donate are pregnant and the deal is that the receiving family must pass on the offspring of the cow to another family in the community. It’s ‘Pay it foward’ with cows! When we told them of our story, they too were truly inspired. We said that we wanted to help and buy a cow for somebody, but we wanted to know who it would be going to.

This lovely woman just looked at us and smiled. She is representing a charity with investors like Bill Gates. She is representing millions in money and livestock. Our bicycles were parked against the wall that we were keeping an eye on. Nobody stated the obvious difference between our charities. We were just good people enjoying good chocolate.

‘If you see a family on your travels in Kosovo and you think they could benefit from having a cow, you call me. There is no need for your charity to pay for it. Your money can be better used elsewhere along your travels. The family will still get the cow and you can still do more good with your money.’

Maybe big international charities aren’t so bad after all.

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