Once upon a time, I interned and volunteered at Beardsley Community Farms in Knoxville, TN. It was a nice place where everyone tenderly cared for the plants and worked hard to make it through the daily to-do list, but at a nice southern pace of slow and steady. We had a chicken coop with a bunch of hens named after prominent women in society (except for Lindsay Lohan, the red one, who tried to escape a lot). The coop had a hen house and a fenced in area for the chickens to roam in. They stuck to their area and didn’t bother the beds of the farm.
Oh how I dream of that chicken coop now... I don’t think there is a single person in my village who has any sort of structure for chickens, but everyone has them. My neighbors have two roosters in addition to other chickens and these aggravating men crow at all hours. No, this isn’t any Rockadoodle situation. The roosters do not crow to get the sun to come up. They crow always. It’s like a dang competition. I can hear the flapping of wings against a feathered body and just know what’s going to come next...COCKADOODLE DOoooooo. Doesn’t matter what hour it is: could be 1 am and they will crow for fun. Doesn’t matter how many times they’ve crowed: since I’ve started writing this at 8:44 am to now, 8:50 am, each has crowed 7 times. 14 crows have etched into my patience for the day in just a matter of 6 minutes.
The crowing is just the tip of the iceberg; if you recall, I noted that there aren’t any chicken coops or fence like structures for these dumb animals in my village. These annoying birds wander everywhere and destroy everything. I have a fence around my front yard, my side yard, and my garden, and somehow the chickens work their way in everyday. I direct seed, aka plant the seed directly into the garden bed, watermelons or squashes and they never make it past seedling phase: the chickens come in and eat my seedlings!!! I dug and planted a flower bed next to my house with a great variety of flowers, but I started from seed since there really aren’t any nurseries around to buy the actual flower, and guess what happened! The chickens came in and took some great dirt baths in the beds. Now the garden bed has yielded zero flowers, but at least 5 dirt bath tubs, which now become stagnant ponds when it rains (perfect for mosquito breeding). I leave all my doors and windows open during the day to have a flow of air in the house, which is the perfect opportunity for chickens to just wander in and poop while I’m taking a nap. In the village itself, I watch as wandering packs of hens and chicks drink the green, stagnant, and dirty water that pools by people’s shower huts. They all gather at the massive trash piles and pick at food to eat in it. They are just disgusting and obnoxious!! At least they are tasty. Although not very healthy....
Chickens aren’t the only animals I hate here. There are also goats. I hate goats. In Togo there are pygmy goats and they are small and squat and just straight up dumb. I only like the very very baby just born goats because they are cute and frolick sometimes, but that’s the only thing I like about goats. Their meat is gross and greasy and nasty. My neighbor’s goats are another source of frustration in my yard situation. They will actually tear apart the fence (which leaves open holes all over for all sorts of animals to come hang out in my yard) and wander in to eat all of the plants available. I had sunflowers that were a foot tall, I was so excited for them to get big so I could have some seeds, and they ate them! They also make this cry that sounds exactly like a person imitating a goat. In PST, we used to play a game called “kid or kid”, trying to guess if it was a human child or a goat crying. Sometimes my neighbor will tie up a goat to one of the orange trees and that little annoying thing will just cry all night long. They also cough, sneeze, and fart a lot and it’s like the soundtrack to my life in Togo! When walking anywhere in this country, you will see that the path is sprinkled with little black pebble looking things. That’s goat poop. It is absolutely everywhere and fortunately doesn’t stick to your shoes when you step on it. But yes, goat poop is all over the place. They also eat out of the garbage piles and drink dirty water with the chickens. Ughhh I just hate them!!!!!!
What stirred this rant was something that happened when I was switching the sheets on my bed. I had washed this particular sheet about a week earlier and set it out to dry in the evening, which meant that it was going to take much longer to dry. In the morning, I noticed that some of the laundry I had done was hanging in a different place, including the sheet and thought “Oh, they must have fallen during the night and someone picked them up for me”. (Side note: I do have my own fenced in yards, house, etc, but there seems to be no boundaries in the Togolese culture. People invite themselves over no matter the hour, and I’ve had to draw a very stern line regarding the time. The women I live by use my fence and bare awning to dry their laundry, which means that they come into my front yard as they please. Can’t really draw a line there, because where else are they going to dry their laundry?) So, it’s dry, I put it away. Now right before I wrote this, I pull out my sheet to make my bed and realize that there are holes in my sheet. Goats had pulled down my sheet and tried to eat it. Awesomeeeeee!!!
Now, I know that there are ways to fix this situation: the American way and the Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo way. The American way would be to demand that my neighbors keep their goats, chickens, and children off my property!! and that they pay for the new fences and sheet. This really wouldn’t fly because the excuse is commonly “Those animal are so stupid, I can’t have any control over them!” The Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo way is to see how I can get the community to have some sort of behavior change regarding their animal husbandry views and practices...in fact, it’s part of my job to help people with their animal husbandry techniques. I have the resources to be able to build a chicken coop, to make a chicken and goat feed garden, to get vaccines for the animals, etc. My obstacle is that the people in my village don’t see their current ways as something that needs improvement. I’ve asked “Why do the goats come into my yard and eat all my plants? Don’t other people get annoyed when goats do that?” and the response I get is: “Well, if you feed the goat enough, it won’t stray from the house and won’t eat other people’s plants”. Umm..... au contraire, my friend. Here are some more examples of the way the village sees their current animal situation: Q: “Why are all the chickens getting sick?” A: “Oh the chickens are so dumb, they drink the stagnant green water” Q: “What can you do to fix that?” A: “It’s up to the people who’s showers have holes full of water to fix it, it’s not my fault that the water is there for my chickens to drink. Africans just don’t understand water sanitation”. It boggles my mind!! I have spent a pretty penny fixing my fences, just to have them shoddily put up and chickens to find a hole, the dogs to enlarge it, and the goats to start eating it. Grrrralkjd;adfij. The number one reason for infant deaths is diarrhea, which is brought on by unsanitary water. With poop on the ground (which kids do pick up, ew), cisterns fermenting with contamination, trash piles where chickens, pigs, and goats gather, wandering chickens, pigs, and goats in general, etc etc it’s no wonder that children get sick so easily and that everyone is “habituated” to parasites. I’m definitely going to do what I can to get something better in this situation, but I swear, the next time my garden is destroyed or I have to buy a new piece of fence, I’m going to kick a goat!
And so my rant is over...for now. I hope everyone is having a joyful holiday season!