The cow was trampling their garden, breaking buckets and eating their drying sorghum. There were no other adults around, so they came to me. You know things are bad when they have to ask the azungu (white person) for help!
I came up with a plan to surround the cow and then sort of herd her into the pen. It worked pretty well, and she got really close a few times, but then at the last moment she would run in the opposite direction. I stuck with it a long time, trying to show the kids we could herd her gently, without whacking the cow with branches or throwing rocks at her. (Which is the usual method of herding animals in Malawi. Livestock have it rough here.)
Finally one of the adult neighbors came home and took control of the situation. Which meant I could go back inside my house and get back to my lesson planning. But it wasn't a total waste of my time. At one point I got close to the cow and she nudged me roughly with her head, and I screamed and jumped back cuz it kinda hurt. Well, the kids just about died laughing. They kept doing little impressions of me jumping and screaming. It was really funny. By now I'm sure all my neighbors know all about it. So even if I couldn't get their cow back in the pen, at least I could provide them with a little entertainment!