I live in a small town in the eastern lowland, or Lowveld as it is called here, of South Africa. It is a pretty town that has expanded around farmlands of Macadamia Nut trees, blueberries, forestry around dams and lakes which provide great venues for weekend barbecues and fishing times. White River is well treed and one or other species is always in bloom. Right now Erythrinas, also called coral trees, give a warm glow to cool winter days.
We are close to the western border of the Kruger National Park – it takes a little more than thirty minutes from my gate to the Numbi Gate entrance – and occasionally we are given an adrenalin rush as reports of lion, or elephants, escaping the confines of Kruger to go a wandering. The highway to Mozambique has been brought to a standstill while indolent lions are darted and returned to their side of the fence.
The predominance of vegetation, lures inhabitants of the natural world, especially the feathered variety. The call of the Fish Eagle, the whistle of Goshawks, the discordant rattle of guinea fowl, and a plethora of sounds in between are the music of our life. Birdsong even rises above the sound of traffic, which is constant as I am close to the main thoroughfare to Mbombela and the large motorway joining South Africa to Mozambique.
During covid times we had a hippo wandering the town which caused much excitement until he was caught and taken to a safe watering hole. The other day I narrowly missed a duiker that shot out into the road in front of my car. Many of the housing estates have antelope and dogs and cats seem to live in Edenic companionship with impala, zebra, nyala, kudu, and, on one estate, the shy and elegant Sable Antelope.
A couple of weeks ago a new call arrived in the deep of night – a young cockerel vociferously broadcasting his manhood for hours on end. My house overlooks a park that boasts a small stream and a fair-sized pond and this young Romeo has claimed the area as his own. Soon everyone was talking about the rooster who crowed all night, and there were mutters of ‘the pot’ being a good end to his rambunctious yodeling. I finally caught sight of him about ten days after first hearing him. What a handsome chap he is! Sadly, he is camera-shy, so I have not managed to get a good picture of him.
I have called him Rory, Rory the Rooster. I feel I have the right to name him as he has decided my small garden is the perfect hangout where he can languidly recover from his long nights. And this is how I realise why it is he is so vociferous all night.
The South African energy company, Eskom, has been run into the ground by mismanagement and corrupt officials and can no longer offer a constant supply of electricity. To manage the shortfall, we, the citizens and consumers, are subjected to what is called ‘load shedding’. For a certain number of hours each day our electricity is switched off. The length of time is determined by a schedule based on the degree of shortfall. Schedule 4, the most popular, means we are without power for two and a half hours, three or four times in a 24-hour rotation. During these outages, nothing works; traffic lights go off, ATMs, cell signals, and internet providers frequently are affected – crazy times.
The other night we were on the 9 pm to 1130 pm downtime and all was silent apart from the crickets, the odd cry from the Spotted Thick-Knee in the park, an occasional whoo-hoo of the African Wood Owl. The lights came on, and within a couple of seconds, Rory was enthusiastically crowing his greeting at the new day.
“No,” I yelled out of the window, “It’s load shedding, Rory, the sun isn’t coming up for another 6 hours. Go back to sleep before someone puts you in a pot!”
Rory’s antics put me in mind of an incident with a chicken a few years ago. I was with an outreach missions team in Mozambique when I heard two of our members arguing happily.
“I am going to catch one of these chickens – it will taste good with peri-peri, barbecued,” said Wynand.
“Forget it, you will never catch a township chicken! Those guys are too clever, too fast!” Louis replied.
With those words, the challenge was on! The banter spilled over the days of our stay until the last day dawned.
Louis smirked, with a humbug measure of victory: “You haven’t caught your chicken yet, Wynand?”
“I will catch a chicken, you will see!”
On our way back to camp that afternoon, Wynand said he was taking a detour to buy souvenirs.
He arrived half an hour later, triumphantly bearing a white chicken in a cardboard box. “Where’s Louis?”
Duly summoned, Louis arrived and was silent as he looked at the hen in her box. “No way, you didn’t catch this.”
“I did,” said Wynand. “With these two hands. And her name is Henrietta!”
Louis shook his head. “Nope.”
Eventually, the truth came out. In Mozambique, roadside markets sell chickens from large cages, and Wynand had caught Henrietta, but in the cage.
The leader of our group arrived shortly afterward and was bemused by the situation.
Shaking his head he asked, “What are you going to do with it? We can’t take it through the border!”
“Give it to Paulo.” The local pastor and our host.
When Paulo arrived to bid us farewell, as we were leaving at daybreak, Wynand told him the original story – “I caught this chicken and proved to Louis that I can catch a township chicken.”
Paulo was horrified. “Where did you find this chicken?
“Along the road.”
“Wynand, this chicken belongs to someone”.
“No, it was walking along the road, there were no houses nearby. And I am giving it to you.”
“No. This chicken belongs to someone. I am not taking it.”
“I promise you, it is fine. I am giving you this chicken; her name is Henrietta.”
“I want your phone number,” Paulo responded to gales of mirth from all of us, at which point Wynand came clean.
Convinced he would not end up in jail for stealing someone’s chicken, Paulo accepted the gift with dignity. But Paulo’s mode of transport was a small motorbike, so how to secure a chicken?
We wrapped her in a plastic bag to catch any poop and nestled her into his backpack and the two of them took off into the night, Henrietta looking quite excited at her new adventure!
I like having Rory around, although he is a noisy boy, and I really do hope he doesn’t end up in someone’s pot.