By Rudene Gerber
“Two chickens were found abandoned on the beach and were brought back to the kennels. The problem is that the staff members are upset about them being here.”
I couldn’t help a little eye roll and a sigh when I heard these words. Managing an animal welfare organisation in a semi-rural area with very traditional Xhosa staff members is not always smooth sailing. As the conversation continued I was informed that the chickens, according to the staff, must have been left at the beach as an offering to the spirits under the water.
“Do you believe in the ancestors?”
A direct challenge from a senior Xhosa staff member. I assured her that I did and she knew very well that I respected her beliefs. Did I not go to the sangoma when she was accused of putting a curse on a fellow staff member’s wife? Did I not reverently place the crab I found in one of the kennels (which I was informed was an ancestor) in a safe place? Did I not cower in the office when a swarm of bees (ancestors) arrived and being allergic wouldn’t dare to call in an exterminator?
The welfare of the animals must always be our first priority and she understood this. But then an ominous announcement again:
“These chickens are dangerous and the rain will not stop if we don’t take them back.”
I stifled a laugh. The rain that was blessedly falling was the first rains in many months in an area that is experiencing the worst drought in seventy years. Maybe, I though flippantly, it would be a good idea to keep the chickens around to break the drought and be damned any curses. I’m sure the farmers would bless us.
After much discussion we agreed that a priest could come and examine the chickens to see if they were indeed cursed. I fingered the protection necklace the sangoma had given me after the last episode. Yes, this is the 21st century but I, as a modern white woman had to go see a sangoma and had to put muti all over our premises to protect us from those who wanted to harm us. So I should still be protected, I hoped, while a small shiver ran down my spine.
Slightly appeased, work carried on and I went to have a look at the “cursed” chickens. A big white cock and hen looked pretty harmless to me and seemed to have settled in nicely.
This outcry was followed by a wonderful warm laugh and I relaxed my grip on the phone where I was standing in the bright sun. Yes, the rain had stopped and no, they didn’t live up to their billing of being able to keep the rain coming down.
I was still slightly nervous as I waited for her to speak and was seriously contemplating bringing the chickens to my own home. My fears were appeased when she added that the priest had examined them and found them to be curse free. They were now officially part of our kennels and were safe. I let out a sigh of relief. No chance of having ancestors after me or being cursed, thank God.
Then she told me that, according to the priest, the chickens were in fact lucky for us. And to prove this, she had just received three quite substantial donations in the space of two days.
So now Penny Henny and Rocky Cocky are permanent residents at the kennels and are treated like royalty. Lucky for them and hopefully much more luck for us.
Just wish the rain would come back …
Rudene Gerber is a retired health physicist who decided to pursue her dream of writing and now freelances. She spent five years as a sea-going crew member of the National Sea Rescue Institute and four years as chairperson and volunteer inspector at an animal welfare organisation.