The first few days of Mama Bella’s milk were for Ferdinand exclusively: yellowish colostrum, rich in antibodies critically important to build Ferdinand’s immune system. But then we shared: half for Ferdinand, half for his biped friends. Bella is milked twice each day: 6 am and 6 pm. Yep, I can now milk a cow. (Please just accept my word, for it is impossible take a photograph of yourself milking a cow.) But my Rwandan mentors smile encouragingly and tell me that my technique and efficiency “needs improvement.”
Bella is a Jersey girl, known for having the richest (highest fat content) milk of all bovine breeds. There is nothing quite like Jersey milk, sipped from the rim of the tipped milking bucket,…warm and frothy, leaving a white milk mustache to lick from your upper lip. This milk is so fresh, Bella doesn't even know it's missing. A Starbucks “Steamed Milk” is a very poor, distant second.
We do not drink all of the fresh milk at the time of milking. And yet we have no refrigeration (or electricity or plumbing). So we pour the fresh milk into a clean plastic bucket inside a mud hut, where it sits,… and ferments and curdles, soon to be relished as “ikivuguto.” We drink ikivuguto from a dried gourd or a cup, but one should be prepared to chew. Think plain, tart (sour!), chunky kefir (yogurt).
At the base of the pyramid in Rwanda, ikivuguto is considered a very special treat and a very good source of nutrition, but for many it is unaffordable and therefore unavailable. For that reason, the Government of Rwanda and Rwandans “with means" (and with cows) are proudly committed to Girinka, Rwanda’s “One Cow Per Family” initiative, inspired by Rwandan culture and proclaimed by President Kagame in 2006. Girinka strongly encourages those who are able to give a milk cow to a poor family, which beneficiary family will later give any new calf to a neighboring poor family,… a beautiful and joy-filled “pay it forward” program.