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On the Edge of Common Sense – Foreign Language

A medical doctor friend of mine was recounting his experiences in Africa as a volunteer for a church missionary program. He said it was very satisfying for the soul but his biggest problem was communicating with the patients. He gave me an odd look and said it gave him a begrudging respect for veterinarians.

Several ago I made a trip to Australia. Grand folks, hospitable and definitely livestock people. However, it did take me several days to get used to the language. It’s like you’re talkin’ Spanish to Italians…they sound so much alike, you actually think you’re communicating!

The only thing I really learned to say in Australian was ketchup. But they call it T’maw-tow-sawz. It didn’t stop me from makin’ friends. I spent a week each with a couple of bush country veterinarians. On the day they planned to pass me from one to the other we made the trip from Barraba to Quirindi. The three of us found much in common, as three ol’ cow vets could. We spent the afternoon at an Angus field day.

That evening my hosts had planned a big formal supper. On our way home a call came over the two-way.

“Can you attend a kawving?” it squawked.

“A carving?” I asked.

“Yes, a kawving.”

It was getting dark as we climbed out of the car at a little farm. The wife said her husband was detained at the pub but the heifer was in the crush. Said heifer was smallish and pitiful lookin’. Sort of a magpie Angus cross. Two cold hooves stuck out behind her tail. It didn’t look good. My colleagues introduced me to the Missus and explained, to my surprise, that she would be pleased to see the American method.

The chute was covered and had a concrete floor. Unfortunately, the floor was wider than the tin roof so the afternoon shower had left two inches of standing muck right where we laid the heifer down.

Soon I was wallowing about on my side in the slimy pool, arm deep inside trying to correct the ‘head back’ malpresentation. My two friends carried on a nonstop commentary describing my procedures to the preoccupied farm wife. She stood, arms folded across her chest as I splashed and scrabbled for some leverage on the slick floor. They held the flashlight and occasionally lent a boot for me to brace against as I pedaled like a three leg-ged crab on glass.

We saved the heifer but lost the calf. I rode to the formal dinner in the backseat, my green underwear sticking to the upholstery. Needless to say, ‘The American Method’ was dinner conversation.

I was reminded of my Australian experiences while listening to the African M.D. Yes, I told him, I could relate. I, too, had been to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. But I was able to communicate with my patients. I guess it was because my language was universal. I speak cow.