I continued to go on trek, sometimes with Sainabou or another auxiliary nurse, sometimes alone. An orderly/driver took me from the Basse Health Center to a distant village where a family lived whose child had been hospitalized. I wanted to call on the family to see how the child was doing and perhaps offer nutrition counseling.
As was so often the case, several people crowded around the Land Rover as we arrived, all talking and laughing and extending their hands to greet us. A man, a leper with badly deformed hands and feet, greeted me. He extended his stub of a hand and I felt no choice but to shake it, quickly realizing, at least hoping, that he was no longer contagious. As I grasped his hand, I saw in his eyes a warmth toward me, a look that I’ll always remember.
A man standing near us left and returned, carrying a live chicken and gave it to me. “Abaraka.” Thank you, he said quietly. I wondered if this man was the leper’s relative, perhaps his brother.
Binta had shown me how to carry a chicken in the crook of my arm and I did so now as I made my follow-up call. No one blinks an eye when someone carries a live chicken, not even the chicken. I named her Blue, for her unique color. She would be a welcomed addition to our flock, adding to our daily egg collection.
We’d heard the expression “pecking order” without realizing its full significance. Mosalif had bought our first four birds all at the same time, so if there was any adjustment, it wasn’t obvious. But when I arrived home from trek and could finally set Blue down, I couldn’t believe the ruckus. The other chickens flew at her, pecking at the poor thing. She defended herself as best she could. Feathers flew, the noise was unbelievable. By nighttime they seemed to have it all sorted out and Blue filed in with the rest of them, at the end of the line. The next morning it was as though she’d lived there all her life.