Chelsi looked down at the garden bed in front of her feet. Just yesterday it had been covered in promising little radishes; now all it was filled with was dashed hopes and dreams. The bed coverings were strewn about, dirt was piled up at the bed edges and claw marks were clear on soft beds center. “Gorged out the by a gardens worst enemy.”
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the black bared rooster crowed from Chelsi’s front porch.
“If you could get my hands on you…!” she exclaimed in an empty threat. But still, the fantasy of the bird, breast up on a roasting pan always calmed her down. Dues owed she thought.
It was the feeling of be burgled. To come home after a long day’s work and find that all your prized possessions had been stolen and the window smashed; you’re angry for a moment and then overwhelmingly sad. Only Chelsi knew who to be angry with, her host family, the Kalulu’s. It was their chickens and goats that were always destroying her garden. “And then! When and if things do grow they’ll have the audacity to come over and tell me to give them some,” steam poured out her ears. ‘No’ she practiced over and over in her head, ‘you’re chickens already ate your portion. Go eat them!’
The whole purpose was it improve child and family nutrition. The whole purpose of my garden is to improve my nutrition. Some of the mothers in Kamijiji had asked for nutrition traing, they know their first graders look like toddlers and the toddlers look like infants. Others in the village just didn’t know or seemed to care. Chelsi hating seeing some of her favorite children eating nothing but packaged cookies and nshima, the local staple of maize mush.
‘Ahh, but the chickens aren’t for eating’ she was told.
‘Then why don’t you come to the gardening workshop. We can have some small gardens, they’ll be easy to take care of all year round, improve nutrition that way.’
‘Ah, but there are no vegetable seeds.’
‘If you dig a garden I will give you seeds to start.’
‘Ah, but the chickens, they will just dig up the garden.’
‘Build a fence.’
‘Ah, but it’s a lot of work.’
‘So lock up the chickens in a chicken house and tie up the goats.’
‘Fine then let your children starve.’
‘But look, they are fat!’
‘They’re not fat! They are swollen with fluid because their kidneys are shutting down.’
Chelsi sighed. Her fence did help. The number of chickens rolling through was greatly reduced, but only one was needed to undue weeks of watering and care. Fuck it, when I go to town next I’m getting fifty meters of chicken wire. She no longer cared that it would cost her an entire pay check. She then had a thought about how well scare crow actually worked. She took a few deep breaths, started to feel better. “Because do you really want to be that one?” She asked herself. “The volunteer who totally loses it and acts out rashly?” She had been voted most likely to, for swear-in superlatives last year. “Most likely to: burn a goat in a funeral pyre.” She had been downgraded, from ‘Most likely to:’ make their house sustainable, after a conversation with PC Zambia’s then CFO, from which the designation was born.
The CFO Jason, Chelsi and three other soon to be volunteers sat in a small office, more than a year ago now, discussing proper volunteer conduct. ‘Don’t take drugs, don’t steal, take only certified taxi’s unless you have no other options. Try not to travel alone, don’t burn down your house, don’t burn down anyone else’s house. Just try not to do anything that would ostracize you from your communities, like killing your neighbor’s goat and burning it in a funeral pyre.’
The comment had been presented to off handedly; don’t kill your neighbor’s goat and burn it in a funeral pyre. Chelsi had to ask.
‘We had a volunteer, who had a garden,’ Jason had stated calmly, ‘not unlike a lot of volunteers. But there was this goat, this one goat, which I guess was always breaking down the volunteers fence and destroying their garden. So apparently what had happened, is they came home one day, to find their garden again, completely destroyed and the goat just standing there. And the volunteer lost it, killed the goat and built a giant pyre and burn the body.’
Chelsi now knew what that murderous passion must have felt like for that volunteer, but Jason had never described how that volunteer had committed that act. In Chelsi’s imagination it was a knife, they just stabbed it over and over, until it was dead.
‘So we had to send that volunteer home, because there was no way to reconcile with the community.’
‘And the proper way to handle the situation, would have been….?’
‘You make arrangements with the owner of the offending goat, to purchase the animal. Then, you may kill the animal if you wish, and if there is too much meat for you alone, you share it with the community. You don’t burn it front of them.’
That’s how the story played in Chelsi’s head every morning, when she went out to water her garden, to mentally prepare herself. She would take Jason’s advice if she thought it would make a difference. But if she bought all of her family’s chickens, they would just go out and buy more chickens. And all chickens are offenders. So instead she figured she would keep buying identical copies of her family’s chickens the market, and roasting them, while secretly hoping all the chicken at home would catch New Castle Disease and die.