The Terror of a Coup d’etat

Village women & childrenThe attempted military coup in Turkey this past week reminded me of the terror we experienced during an attempted coup while we served in Gambia with the Peace Corps. Following is an excerpt from my memoir TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps:

Mortars thundered close to the house where 118 of us sought refuge. A particularly loud and close-sounding explosion made us jump and the house shudder. Not for the first time, I thought, Is this the end?

My Peace Corps supervisor Meri Aimes and I crouched under a small table with space only for the two of us. Others scrunched in where they could find room. My husband, Bruce, safely tucked under the desk he’d converted to a radio station, clutched the radio mic.

True, it was the American Ambassador’s house, but, though nice, it wasn’t the grand residence usually associated with a high-ranking officer’s home. At four thousand square feet, the concrete house wasn’t particularly large, not for this many people at any rate.

Our group of leaders had taken over the ambassador’s bedroom as a sort of headquarters, since the ambassador himself was “detained” at the US Embassy in Gambia’s capital city, Banjul. Families occupied the other two bedrooms; otherwise, people squeezed in where they could.

Meri’s eyes were huge. Her African American face was always expressive, but never more so than just then.

“This isn’t looking good, is it?” I said, trying to sound calmer than I felt.

Meri looked at me like I’d just made the understatement of the year. “Not really, no.”

“I’m wondering if Bruce and I will ever be able to get back to our village.”

“Right now I’d say it was doubtful.”

We both instinctively covered our heads at the sound of a close-by explosion. I broke out in sweat.

“I need to tell you something.”

Meri’s raised her eyebrows in question.

I waited until another flurry of rifle shots subsided. “We have about twenty-five hundred dollars buried in our chicken coop.”

“You what?”

“Well, what else can you do with American dollars? You can’t put it in a Gambian bank, we couldn’t keep it inside–we’ve already had our place broken into. We were converting our Gambian money into American cash so we’d have it when we left.”

Meri nodded. “You guys will probably be evacuated, but George and I likely will stay to get things wrapped up.” George Scharffenberger, Peace Corps Director, and Meri Aimes, Assistant Director, were the two highest ranking Peace Corps staff in the West African country of Gambia. We were lucky they were both with us, safe. For the moment, at least.

Meri touched my arm. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to recover your money. Draw me a map showing me just where it is.” She shook her head. “Only you and Bruce would think to hide money in a chicken coop.”

A runner, gasping for breath, banged on the bedroom door. “Someone is coming!” Bruce sprang out of his shelter and, quick and smooth with practice, dismantled the radios, forbidden to us by both the rebels and nationalists. He stuffed them into boxes kept under the desk. Within seconds he crawled back under the desk, cramming himself in front of the boxes. He was good. I was so proud of him.

Bruce’s and my eyes locked. As we had joked many times in the past two years, we silently asked, “Whose idea was this anyway?”

Tom Mosier, head of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Gambia, and George Scharffenberger came out from their safety places to greet our visitor. “Stay right where you are, folks,” Tom said, his voice tight.

The door opened and a tall African man strode in. He was probably an officer in charge; he reeked of authority. We couldn’t tell if he was a nationalist or a rebel from the local security force, Field Force they called it, which, together with disgruntled leftists, had started the coup several days earlier. He was a big man and to me he looked sinister. My stomach clenched. His black face glistened with sweat. He carried a rifle and wore a hand gun at his side. His eyes darted around the room. “This is good. Stay under cover. I have ordered that this house is not to be hit, but you never know…”

He nodded to Tom and George, and left. No one spoke until we heard a soft knock on the door. He was gone. Bruce sprang up and reassembled the radios just as a signal was coming through. He brought the mic with him back under the desk.

“Candyland, Lollypop. Candyland, come in. You guys okay?”

Bruce responded, his rich voice calm. “Lollypop, Candyland. Yes, we’re okay. One of the local officers just paid us a visit and…”

An explosion, even closer this time, drowned out his voice.

Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

Harmattan!

 

Image © 1968 Sydney Oats, used under CC by 2.0 license

Image © 1968 Sydney Oats, used under CC by 2.0 license

 

From:  Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

 

One day while living and working in the west African country of The Gambia with the Peace Corps, my husband Bruce and I looked to the east and saw a solid wall of sand coming our way. Fierce winds carried sand and dust with amazing force. The wind was so great, Bruce hung onto a corner of our roof, afraid that it would blow off. I hung on to Bruce. We closed our eyes to the stinging wind and bowed our heads to shield our eyes. When it was over we found sand everywhere, in every crevice, nook and corner.

A harmattan? We’d heard of the harmattan, a strong wind that blows from the Sahara Desert during the dry season. This must have been it.

A couple of weeks later we received a note from George Scharffenburger, The Gambia’s Peace Corps Director. He was bringing his guest, Terry, who was in charge of The Gambia desk at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. to visit us. Terry was interested in seeing how Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked in their host country.

We lived in what was known as the “U.N. compound.” Our living conditions were quite adequate, considering some Peace Corps accommodations. And compared to our African neighbors, our kitchen was luxurious. In The Gambia, most villagers where we lived “up river” in the village of Mansajang, cooked on an open fire, with a large pot balanced on three rocks.

We considered our living situation very special with a 3-room mud-brick 30 x 10-foot house, and a round thatched-roof one-room mud-brick hut, about 20 feet in diameter, that we used for a bedroom. The 3-room house contained a kitchen, a small sitting room where we ate, and a small bedroom. The bedroom was for the convenience of U.N. visiting guests, such as the Frenchman responsible for keeping the many fresh-water well foot-pumps in repair. Bruce worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for the United Nations well-digging unit, while I was a health worker based at the Basse Health Centre.

By American standards, our 3-room house was very crude. There was no glass in the windows, nor screens. There was a large gap between the corrugated roof and walls, and all that openness meant flying insects had easy entry. The kitchen didn’t have running water; in fact, it didn’t have a sink. We did have a small refrigerator, which was a blessing, and a small propane 3-burner stove, much like a camp stove. There were no enclosed built-in cupboards, but we fashioned a set of shelves for our food supplies. Our pots and pans, dishes and silverware were arranged on a table, which also served as my work space to prepare meals.

Our shared latrine, merely a hole in the ground, was in a corner of the compound with a thatched fence around it for privacy.

An African family also lived in the compound, plus there were two empty huts, placed there for the convenience of traveling U.N. drivers transporting supplies back and forth 250 miles to the capital city, Banjul. The African family of 4 lived in a round hut exactly like the one we used as our bedroom.

George and Terry arrived bearing mail for us from our family. There was no individual mail service where we lived, but it was the custom for people coming from the capital city to bring mail with them. We showed them around; Terry was obviously impressed and mentioned that we had a nice arrangement. Up-river where we lived in “the bush” was noticeably hotter than down-river where they had the benefit of ocean breezes.

Terry soon wanted to take a shower. She was a bit taken aback, when I showed her our “shower,” which amounted to a wooden platform with two full buckets of water. Terry had never taken a bucket bath, but she was game. Actually, I think she thought it quaint. When finished, I noticed she didn’t go to the well to refill the buckets for the next person, as she had found them. The well we used served the entire village of Mansajang.

I served dinner, we had a nice visit, then turned in for the night. The “guest” bedroom had two single cots. During the night we had another harmattan. There’s really nothing we could do to protect ourselves or our guests. With all the openings in the small house and nothing but screens in the hut, we just hunkered down to wait it out. This was Terry’s first experience with a harmattan. The next morning she woke up covered with fine sand in her hair, her ears, her bedding, even in her opened suitcase. With resignation, I began washing all the pots, pans, dishes and silverware which lay exposed on the table so that I could begin to prepare our breakfast. But first, I had to dump water out of the kitchen pail, since it was filthy with sand and dirt, and fetch fresh water from the well. Things move slowly in Africa.

Terry obviously no longer felt our living situation quaint. I don’t know that she saw the humor in my statement, “Now you know how a sugar cookie feels.” George and Terry’s enthusiasm for our living conditions vanished. They couldn’t leave fast enough. For us it was business as usual.

 

 

Thanksgiving in a Far Away Place

Thanksgiving RoosterThanksgiving was almost upon us. Even though it wasn’t a celebrated holiday in West Africa’s The Gambia, we intended to make it a special day and invited two fellow Peace Corps volunteers to join us.

Our chickens were all producing eggs so we didn’t want to slaughter one of them. I decided to buy a live chicken. Buying one already slaughtered, defeathered and prepared to cook was unheard of in this rural, third-world country.

That morning, soon after I arrived at work at the Health Centre, I asked Sister Roberts if live chickens were always available at the market. I didn’t even bother asking about a turkey–I’d never seen one in The Gambia. Sister was familiar with our Thanksgiving. “You’ll want a big bird, Mariama, so you should buy a rooster. But you must leave now or they’ll all be gone. People buy birds early in the morning.”

“Leave now? But I have this work to do.”

“That work can wait. You need to get your Thanksgiving bird.”

So I left the Health Center and walked to the market. Sure enough, the few birds for sale were going fast. I found a large rooster and bought him, probably paying more than I should have. I’d forgotten to ask Sister Roberts what it would cost. It was big and I had my hands full of flapping wings before I could settle him into the crook of my arm.

Planning to put him in our chicken coop, I stopped by the hospital to tell Sister I’d purchased my bird and I’d be back as soon as I took him home and walked back again.

“Why walk all the way home and back again? Here, give him to me.”

She opened a supply closet door, put the rooster on the floor and closed the door. My mind whirled with the idea of a live chicken in a hospital closet.

Once in awhile that day we’d hear a muffled cock-a-doodle-doo coming from the closet. No one else seemed to think it was strange at all.

At the end of the day I picked up my bird and carried him home. I stroked his smooth head feathers. Already I’d grown attached to him, but I steeled myself for his pending demise. I wasn’t looking forward to that part of our Thanksgiving preparations.

I had a renewed appreciation for America’s pilgrims and how they had an even more difficult struggle for food. We added a new level of appreciation and thanksgiving..

Celebrating the holy day of Tobaski

Jarietta & Kujah Tobaski-SmallAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

The holy Muslim day of Tobaski approached. Tobaski, the feast of sacrifice, is marked by the ritual of slaughtering sheep. We learned that it can be a stressful time for men because they feel duty-bound to buy a sheep, even if they have to borrow money. Bruce and I discussed it and decided to give our close neighbors, Mosalif and Binta, a gift of money.

About a week before the event, when he came for his morning greetings, we gave Molsalif one hundred dalasi and told him it was for their Tobaski. Overwhelmed, he hardly knew what to say. We heard him call his wife’s name “Binta!” when he returned to their hut.

Close to the time of Tobaski, Bruce saw several men leading a string of sheep to the river for the traditional washing of animals before the slaughter.

On Tobaski, Mosalif, Binta and the girls stopped by, all looking resplendent with new clothes. They were sharing Tobaski with Binta’s cousin who lived in Basse and Mosalif had helped purchase the sheep and other food for their feast.

After work the next day, the Health Centre staff had a dinner party with Tobaski leftovers. The cook made a wonderful stew and served it over millet, a grain grown in The Gambia. Orderlies carried two tables outside where they set up the feast. The men brought the food out on a board and set it on the table.

I wasn’t prepared for the sudden rush to the table, nor was I sure what to do with myself. It was as though these people hadn’t eaten for days and had finally found food. An orderly saw my confusion and took me under his protective wing. I was touched by his concern.

“Mariama, I will help you. You have to learn to act quickly or the food will be gone!” Many ate with their fingers from a common bowl, but a few plates had been set on the table, together with spoons.

He handed me a full plate. I thanked him, found a place to sit and enjoyed the marvelous food. One of the orderlies fished the sheep skull out of the stew pot. While we ate, the skull sat on the table, dripping broth and grinning.

After the meal, one of the orderlies grabbed the skull and threw it to another guy and off they went, playing with it like it was a football. Everyone laughed. Although I thought it ghoulish, I couldn’t help but laugh, too.

I felt honored to share this special day with my friends and co-workers.

A Few Days Off

Well-digging crew

Well-digging crew

An excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

We desperately needed to get away, to have some R&R. My husband Bruce had projects to finish up before we left, and I didn’t want to miss Friday clinic, so we set a date for Saturday to go to Banjul, capital of our host country, The Gambia We’d get some business matters taken care of and then take a few days off to soak up sea breezes in Bakau.

Friday’s clinic was interminable with close to 300 patients. At the end of the day I had just enough energy left to pack for our trip. We couldn’t wait to go. When our friend Tombong stopped by that morning, we made arrangements for him to stay during the nights as our night guard. Daytimes, with all the coming and going, were not a concern.

Bruce had arranged for a driver and had made a list of project supplies to get and things to do while downriver. I planned to see Sister M’Boge, the head nurse for the Health Department, and also try to find visual aids to use when I was on trek. Our trips downriver never seemed to be only for pleasure, but at least they were a pleasant break in routine and climate.

The driver, a couple hours late, picked us up in a project Peugeot pickup truck and we were on our way. After only a few miles, the driver, Bubacar, said, “Mistah Bruce, we need fuel.”

“Why didn’t you get fuel before we left?”

“I forgot.”

We’d gone too far to go back. “Okay Bubacar,” Bruce said, resigned, “let’s stop at Bansang.” There were no regular gas stations. Government vehicles fueled at designated supply centers. Fuel for the UN well digging project was in either Basse or downriver at Yundum. So Bansang, although they had fuel, was not a regular supply outlet for the UN vehicles.

Running on fumes, we pulled into Bansang’s government supply yard. We all climbed out. Sitting in a parked car in that heat is impossible. The project vehicles were not air conditioned, but provided a breeze while moving. Bubacar and the mechanic at the shop launched into a heated argument.

I don’t think either of them realized that we understood much of what they said, since they were speaking in Mandinka. The Bansang fellow said words to the effect that there was a fuel shortage and he could only give fuel to their own vehicles.

Bubacar responded that he had to take Mistah and Missus Bruce downriver, so he had to have fuel.

The man repeated what he’d said earlier.

We almost laughed when Bubacar said, “Don’t you understand Mandinka?” in the same tone we would say, “Don’t you understand English?”

The man repeated he couldn’t give fuel for this truck unless he had his boss’s permission and he wouldn’t be there until the next day.

Bubacar thumped his finger on the mechanic’s chest. “Do you want to take these tubobs home with you to spend the night? We can’t leave without fuel.”

With that, the man filled our tank.

We were on our way again with a full tank, having only lost an hour. I sat in the middle of the front seat and dozed, welcoming an escape from the pickup’s hot, bumpy ride.

Suddenly I heard a shattering noise and felt pelting from hundreds of little pieces of windshield.

A truck had passed us on the gravel road and its wheel threw a rock, hitting our windshield and shattering it. Bubacar had a cut on his forehead; a small piece of glass still protruded from the wound. Bruce and I were not injured, but glass was everywhere. Bubacar pulled off to the side of the road. Bruce plucked the shard from the driver’s forehead and from the kit we always carried, cleaned the wound and bandaged it.

We shook glass out of our clothes and brushed it off the seat and out of the truck and continued on our way. Driving without a windshield is very nerve wracking. Wind rushed in, along with flying insects and gravel. Every time we encountered a vehicle, I held up a magazine to protect Bruce’s and my heads. Bubacar drove without any protection. After we got onto the paved road, it wasn’t as bad and we drove the remaining one hundred twenty miles without incident, though the howling wind in our faces became tiring.

As we arrived in Banjul, we passed another volunteer and I waved through where the windshield should be. The fellow looked surprised and we all laughed.

Bubacar dropped us off at the apartment we shared with other Peace Corps volunteers. I could never really enjoy myself until I straightened it up, washed the dishes, which always seemed to be left in the dishpan, put a clean sheet on the bed and made the apartment “home.” It was tiny and there were only the two of us staying there at the time.

Following our usual routine, we took showers and then walked to a small nearby hotel for dinner. We shook our heads over the journey down. Couldn’t a trip ever be just normal?

Hunting for Bush Pig

Hunting LopiAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Mr. Lopi, superintendent of the UN well digging project and Bruce’s counterpart, returned upriver to his home and workplace about a month after my husband Bruce started as Mechanical Advisor. Apparently Mr. Lopi had been working downriver for the last several weeks. Mr. Lopi had become a man of stature and had a job of importance and leadership, bringing water to areas desperate for this precious commodity. Mr. Lopi had two wives and seventeen children. Amazingly, his salary after working for his government for about twenty years was equal to the modest monthly living allowance we each received, a sum many single volunteers found inadequate.

I marveled that Gambians managed at all. Of course, most people where we lived didn’t pay rent, didn’t pay utilities because there weren’t any, didn’t have cars, and medical attention was paid by the government. Still, they needed clothing and what food they didn’t grow.

I found Mr. Lopi appealing. Tall, he had that amazing African male physique. My association with him was very different from Bruce’s. Although they managed a cordial relationship, Bruce was often frustrated and felt that Mr. Lopi based decisions on political advantage rather than public need. Bruce, totally uninterested in the politics of the project, just wanted to get the job done.

One evening Mr. Lopi invited us on a bush pig (wild boar) hunt. Muslims wouldn’t eat “the filthy swine,” so we weren’t sure what we would do if we got one, but we went along for the adventure. Of the four of us, Mr. Lopi was the only one carrying a gun, a big, old single-shot shotgun. We loved the adventure, tramping around in an area we hadn’t seen before. We followed a rough path through scrub forest, sort of like a safari. We didn’t find our bush pig but it was a fun adventure. Outings like this helped make our stay memorable and, I felt, closer to the people.

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Swimming in The Gambia River

Fishermen in RiverAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

One particularly hot Sunday my husband Bruce and I decided to cool off in The Gambia River. The river was probably two miles from home, beyond the marketplace. Hot when we arrived, we stripped off our clothes to our swimsuits and made our way through dark sticky sand to wade in.

We longed for our two-person kayak, currently being stored at Bruce’s parents’ home. What a joy it would be to paddle the river. Overhanging trees and brush provided shade along the shore. Just being on the water seemed cool and refreshing.

Once in the water, it was glorious. Unfortunately, we drew a crowd. Gambians really never swam in the river. They fished in it, paddled their dug-out canoes in it even washed clothes in it, but never swam for pleasure.

One man waved frantically.“There are crocodiles in the river!”

Another man warned, “I’ve seen hippopotamus in there!” Actually, I had to look that Mankinda word up when I got home. All I knew at that time was that it must be something bad.

After walking that distance in 100-degree heat, we really didn’t care what we shared the river with. It was cool and we luxuriated in it. At that point, the river was about two hundred feet across. We swam out to get into relatively clean water. Even so, we made every effort to keep our mouths closed, knowing the water would be polluted.

Though wonderful while it lasted, all cooling effects were gone by the time we walked home again, leaving only a pleasant memory.

 

Blue: A Special Gift

Group at well GOODI 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.

 

A Rare Outing: Gambia’s Stone Circles

Stone CirclesPeter Moore, our friend with the British Medical Research Counsel (MRC) invited us to go with him and Keith, his live-in work partner, to look for the locally famous Stone Circles in the Mid-River Division in what is called the North Bank area. Peter insisted on preparing our picnic lunch, which was a treat for me. We crossed the river at Georgetown, riding on an “arm-strong” ferry, meaning we pulled ourselves across, vehicles and all. The men pitched in, pulling on the cable hand-over-hand. It was actually quite efficient.

Traveling northwest into the bush in Peter’s Land Rover for about twenty miles, we found the Stone Circles near the village of Wassu. These impressive remains are a group of cut laterite, a cementation of sandstone in the shape of posts, arranged in a partial circle. The Stone Circles are believed to have been protection for ancient burial grounds and are reminiscent of Stonehenge in England. Afterwards, we explored the area further, enjoying the luxury of having a vehicle to get around.

We spread a cloth on the ground in the shade of a baobob tree and enjoyed the lunch Peter and Keith had prepared, pâté on good French bread, pickles, canned artichokes and chilled beer. The British do a good job of making meals such as this special. Keith had even made a fruit pudding for dessert.

We found a monument to Mungo Park, not a place but a man, an explorer who searched for the mouth of the Niger River in 1797 and 1805. A plaque commemorates his efforts.

Since we had arrived in The Gambia, the main highway had been under construction and now, nearly two years later, was paved from Banjul to just a few miles from Basse. What used to take seven or eight hours (not counting break-downs) now took about five and a half. As we again crossed the river to return home, we marveled how much faster and more comfortable our trip to Basse was compared to even a few months before.

Peter offered to stop at the market before driving us home, so we could shop. What a treat! We hadn’t bought meat for five months now. Meat was too tough and stringy, but fresh fish was available and we bought lady fish for dinner, just minutes off the canoe, lovely half-inch thick steaks for about the equivalent of seventy-five cents per steak. We replenished our supply of fresh vegetables, including okra, now that Peter had shown me how to fix it.

Keith sidled up to me, trying to look nonchalant. “There’s a woman over there really staring at you.”

“That’s Sainabo, my peanut butter lady. We play this game.”

Keith shrugged and shook his head.

I turned suddenly and caught Sainabo staring. She giggled and, laughing, I made my way to her. I wasn’t prepared with a jar, but she wrapped four balls of peanut butter in a scrap of paper, the usual way it’s sold. Peanut butter–one of our more dependable sources of protein.

We enjoyed our outing, appreciating our good friends and the joy of convenient transportation.

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From Eggs to the Pot

Chickens JonPicture courtesy of Jon Stevens, Growing Gardens for Life

 

It seemed much of our time and effort at home went into food. The chickens created some work. Using a flashlight at night, when the chickens were subdued and didn’t seem to mind being turned upside down, we examined their cloacae. If it appeared dry and unyielding, the hen was likely past producing eggs. She would soon be in the stew pot.

Bruce tried several slaughtering methods, none worked very satisfactorily. Cutting off their heads left a chicken running around, getting sand in the carcass. Bruce heard that if you held a chicken by its head, gave it a quick jerk, the neck would break, thereby killing the bird, but keeping the body intact, avoiding the macabre running around. I watched as he tried it, watched the chicken again run across the compound without a head. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Bruce opened his hand and looked at the head with a startled little face looking up at him.

Bruce finally found a good way to slaughter a bird. He held the chicken, gently stroking her neck, speaking softly and once the hen was lulled, he would quickly slice the neck. It made us sad each and every time, but if the chicken was through giving us eggs, we needed to slaughter her. We couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

Preparing a chicken for cooking is a chore: Gutting, de-feathering, and cutting up the bird, all without the benefit of running water was a sticky messy event, then making the stew. We found local chickens too tough for frying or barbecuing.

A hen will lay an egg without a rooster’s input, so to speak. In order to have chicks, of course, a male has to fertilize an egg. Chickens ovulate every day, but a rooster’s sperm lasts several days so that eggs are fertilized as they are formed. Mating can take place every seven to ten days in order to maintain fertilized eggs.

We had one rooster, George, a gift to me while on trek. George took his role very seriously. Every afternoon when we opened the chickens’ gate to let them forage, George crowded ahead, knocking the hens aside. He then stood at the exit, blocking the way, and nailed each hen as she tried to emerge. It was a noisy business with indignant clucking and lots of flying feathers.

Our other big food effort was growing vegetables. We had fair success with gardening, but that also required a lot of work and constant watering, which meant hand-hauling buckets of water from the well. Sometimes we borrowed a wheelbarrow from the UN shop and collected sheep, donkey and cattle droppings to add to our sandy garden soil.

It all took time and energy.

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