Chicken Run

I have had a busy, exciting week, and it is a relief to put up my feet and tell you about it.

I helped two farmers to stake, or lay out, ponds, and two others to select sites for new ponds. In all cases, I got a lunch of nishima and relish for my troubles. Nishima, the staple food here, is a thick corn pudding about the consistency of mashed potatoes. You eat with your hands, and use small lumps of nishima to pick up morsels of other food, called relish. Relishes can be sauteed vegetables, like cabbage or rape, or meat, usually cooked with tomatoes. I was served fish, goat, and chicken, and they were all delicious. It is very gratifying that people think my help is valuable enough to deserve a meal as thanks.

Though starting my fish work was exciting, my biggest accomplishment this week was to get the chickens in my area vaccinated against Newcastle’s disease. Newcastle’s is a big problem here, and can wipe out over half of the chickens in a village each year.  This is a big deal when people ‘store’ wealth in their chickens. A family’s chickens are like a bank account- if they ever need cash, they can always sell a bird, and the hens hatching chicks acts as a sort of interest. So losing a flock to disease can be disastrous. Knowing this, I had been in contact with Loveness Muntemba, a field agent for the Department of Veterinarians, to organize a vaccination day. Everyone was interested in getting their birds vaccinated, so we spent all of Friday biking from house to house, vaccinating birds. We managed to do about half of the households in three villages, with a promise to return and complete the ones we missed. It was a very productive day, and we were both very pleased.

My favorite part of the whole process was the catching of the chickens. Each family has anywhere from five to thirty birds, all free range and pretty wild. The Zam-proven method for catching a chicken is with a thundering herd of children. We would sit, amused, watching two or three kids sprinting after a single bird. They would corner it, one would make a swipe, which the chicken would usually manage to evade, and they were all off again. Eventually they would manage to snag it, and the triumphant child would swagger over to us, holding his or her prey. The other children would at that point be after the next unfortunate bird. We had one very proud little boy, maybe 5 years old, present us with an armful as big as he was; he must have been carrying six chickens.

After watching the kids yammering up and down after every single bird, it was almost a shame that all we needed to do was drip one drop of vaccine in an eye, and the chicken was free again. But the children were having a ball, the adults were enjoying the entertainment, and the chickens were no worse for the wear. What more could you ask from a day’s work?