The Chickens Come Home to Roost

No, this isn’t about politics . . It’s a good “Chickens Come Home to Roost” story.

Chickens have given us problems since we moved from a secured, gated, guarded, planned community [Valle Escondido] in Boquete, up the mountain to Palmira, which really IS in Panama. No, it’s not the roosters crowing at 4:30 am. You get used to them and sleep right through their wake up calls.

Unfortunately when we moved to Palmira we discovered that our Rottweiler, “Monkey”, was a “chickoholic”. This is an illness, much like other addictions, for which there is no “cure” other than disciplined dependence on a “higher power” (i.e. me) to reign in the addiction. Monkey doesn’t like to kill or eat chickens; she just loves to chase them! And really what dog could resist a squawking, stupid, big white bird running around through the coffee trees flapping its wings? Monkey inevitably wins and when an 85 pound Rottweiler pounces on a 5 pound chicken, it’s not good for the chicken. Sometimes she has returned with a dead chicken to drop it at my feet as a gift, and other times she just returns looking guilty and with a mouth full of feathers.

We’ve tried and tried. And yes, we’ve read everything the “Dog Whisperer” has ever written and watched eleven seasons of his shows. On one cruise a self-proclaimed expect advised me that the next time Monkey killed a chicken I should first beat her with the chicken and then tie the chicken around her neck and let it stay there until it was rotten. He assured me that would work. So the next time Monkey brought back a chicken I told her “Bad Monkey!” and tried to beat her with the dead chicken. Of course in the process the chicken flew apart spraying chicken guts and parts all over. Monkey just sat there looking at me sadly as if I had suddenly lost my mind and gone berserk.

That having failed spectacularly, I tried tying the dead chicken around Monkey’s neck. That worked as well as beating her with the chicken so in desperation I duct taped the remains of the chicken around her neck and sent her to the corner. She didn’t MOVE from the corner, but when I came back an hour later she was still dutifully sitting in the corner but the chicken, feathers and all had completely disappeared, never to be found.

When she pounced on a neighbor’s chicken we paid for the chicken IF the neighbor could produce the corpse and I could see the scene of the crime. This policy came about after a neighbor complained that Monkey had killed her chicken and I said I wanted to SEE the chicken and the neighbor pointed to a chicken running under the bushes. No body; no pay. And the scene had to be on the neighbor’s property, not mine. If the chicken is dumb enough to come onto property patrolled by a chicken-killing Rottweiler so be it.

Fortunately as Monkey has gotten older and the “higher power”, i.e. me and my surrogates, have exercised more control, Monkey has pretty much gotten over chickens. However, when my Indian worker asked if he could raise chickens to eat on my farm I was skeptical to say the least. We helped him convert an old dog pen (which was so effective the dogs climbed out of it almost immediately) into a chicken pen, and he used some old chicken wire we had to keep the chickens from running free.

That was just before I left on my 3 month contract on RUBY PRINCESS. Imagine my surprise when I came home and found Sabino had 8 healthy chickens, none of whom had attempted to outrun Monkey, and had 30 smaller chickens to boot!

November is a very important month in Panama. This is the month of patriotism when Panama celebrates TWO Independence holidays [from Spain and from Columbia – smart folks these Panamanians – two days off with pay!]. And it’s also the celebration of Flag Day. So the country is awash in red, white and blue, with incessant kids practicing drumming for the parades and a general sense of grass-roots patriotism and celebration. And with 10% GDP growth this year [12.5% GDP last year] and an unemployment rate of about 1.5% with jobs for anyone who wants to work, Panama has a lot to celebrate.

So you can imagine our surprise and delight when my Indian worker Sabino showed up with the gift of a freshly killed, plucked and dressed chicken he raised [under Monkey’s nose so to speak] carefully wrapped in banana leaves. You have to understand what a chicken represents. $5 sure, but $5 is 9% of the weekly salary we pay Sabino to support him, his woman, and her four children [and we pay him above what the law requires]. Of course we accepted the gift, but it is very humbling to receive such a gift.

Sometimes when Sabino visits his family on the Ngobe Bugle Comarca [Land designated by the government as Indian land, not in the sense of a US Indian Reservation where the Indians were PUT there, but in the sense that the Indians said, “This is our land we want control” and the government said “OK”], Sabino will bring back rice his family has grown, harvested and threshed. It is rice like you have never tasted before, incredibly flavorful and delicious.

When we bought the farm (so to speak) there was another Indian family living here which we wished, and needed to relocate. They were living in what was essentially to us a shack on the property we had purchased, unfit for habitation. We helped them find another place and gave them some money to help with the move and moved them. Through the years we’ve given them bananas, plantains and oranges as well as rides to town. We’ve watched with delight as they’ve been able with government help to get a tiny piece of land (really tiny) and build a simple house. But it is THEIRS! And they pick our coffee. Monday, which also was the holiday, was their daughter’s fifteenth birthday or “Quinceañera” which marks a girl’s transition to womanhood. In Latin America this is a very big deal whether you are rich or poor. They invited us to the party but we were unable to attend and so they brought us . . . food! A delicious potato and beet salad, and rice with chicken. It is very humbling to us when our neighbors, some of whom have very little, choose to share their little with us.

I think when Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive”, he was of course right. [The Boss is always right!]   But often unspoken is the fact that it is not only better but it is also EASIER to give than to receive.  In my life I’ve really not had a problem with the giving part, but knowing how to receive has been a lot more difficult.

So at least these chickens came home to roost in a good way and were, by the way, good eating.

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