In December, I left Kenya to return to the States for a short visit. I wanted to share what I was doing at the Home of the Good Shepherd and I also needed to find enough financial partners to allow me to return for four more years. I thought, “No problem. I will be back home to Kenya by March.” I boarded a plane for home about three weeks ago. That’s MAY, in case you didn’t catch that. As each week passed and I found myself still in the States, I began to question my ability to communicate effectively. Maybe I say “umm” too much when I talk. I remember reading somewhere that that word can kill the most brilliant speech after just one appearance. Naturally, once I began to question my ability to reach out to people, I also began to question my whole existence (you could say I’m a little overdramatic), including my presence at the children’s home. Do they really need me? I cannot sing. I cannot cook. I am not creative. I don’t know what sort of disease causes black spots on cabbage leaves. I can’t…well, there’s a lot more I can’t do, but let’s not get bogged down in too many trivial details. I do want to share a story with you about one of those trivial details, though. (Don’t stop reading. It gets more upbeat and there are some really funny bits coming up soon.)
A week before I left Kenya, I oversaw the construction of a new chicken coop. When I returned three weeks ago, we picked up progress as though I had never left. They had been waiting for me to return before ordering any chicks. Join me as I go back to the beginning of this saga. Two days after I arrived, I was told, “You’re here! Great! We’ve ordered your chicks Jennifer, so get ready!” Wait, What? What! Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! Laptop! Where’s my laptop? Google raising chickens. Where’s the paper bag? Breathe in. Out. In. Out. That’s what they do on TV, right? Where did they ever get the idea I know anything about raising chickens!? Blood pressure rising. I can’t do this. Oh, my heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. Oh, good. The chicken expert is coming to help me. Oh no. He says the coop is oriented the wrong way and we have to take it down and start over. Thump. Thump. Thump. I gave him the look that made my servers at the restaurant turn and run whichever way I was NOT headed. He came up with an alternative. Alter two walls and build an awning on one side. Okay. Buy the wood. And the chicken wire. Hello Handyman. Welcome. Yes, please fix my chicken coop as fast as you can. What? Not enough wood? No nails? What? You can’t wait for me to get them today? You will come back in two days? What? THUMPTHUMPTHUMP. No. That’s fine. Maybe the truck bringing the chicks will break down for a few days. I can’t do this.
Okay, you’re back. You’re done. Thank you. It’s beautiful. Next? Oh, right. Disinfect the coop. And chicks apparently need bedding material. And heat. And light. And food. And a brooder ring. I can’t do this! Ummm, where to start? Bedding material. Thirty bags of sawdust should do it. Where do I find sawdust? Hmmmm. Make a phone call. Yes? Mr. Carpenter? Can I stop by your shop and fill thirty feed bags with sawdust? I can?! Oh, thank you. Ummm, now I just need a truck to get it all back home. No problem. Call for a truck. Just hang out at the saw mill for one..two..three hours.
Home again. Great. We’ll spread the bedding tomorrow, disinfect and build the brooder ring with the heat lamp. Just food and water drinkers after that. Now for dinner. 7:30. Knock, knock. Yes? What? What? WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE CHICKS ARE HERE?!?!?! THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP. What do I want you to do with them? Release them into the wild. Give them their freedom. Okayokay. I’m fine. I’m fine. The Titantic sinks. The Hindenburg explodes. Chernobyl melts down.
One hundred and fifty chicks arrive in two boxes. I can’t do this. Hello? Hello? Mr. Chicken Expert? Ummm…the chicks are here and I have no water, no food, no heat source, and no bedding for them. Is that a big problem? Calm down? Umm…Okay. Nope, sorry, my body is not cooperating. It never does. That’s why I can never get a good tan and I have age spots on my hands. Irrelevant. Leave them in the box tonight? Okay. Have the house ready early. Ummm, sure. No problem.
Up at 5 am. Spread the bedding. Build the brooder. Send out for chick feed. Find a charcoal stove to warm them. Send out for charcoal. Get a thermometer. 9 am. Open the boxes and release the chicks into the brooder. Ummm….they are two different breeds. That’s not what I ordered. I can’t do this! Thump. Thump. Thump. Hello? Hello? Ms. Chick Saleslady? What did you sell me? Oh, 50 broilers and 100 layers? Don’t they need different living environments? They do? Different food, too? Keep them separate? Thump. Thump. Thump. Umm…are you sure? Oh, okay. Yes, no problem.
Umm, need another brooder ring. Oh, and the charcoal heater has to have charcoal added every hour. No problem. Set my alarm to go off every hour all night. I can’t do this. 11 pm. 12 am. 1 am. 2 am. 3 am. Check the temperature in the brooder. Change their water. 9 am. Yes? Hello manager? Yes, I’ve missed you, too. Sorry, I have been very busy. What? There is more to the world than chickens? There is? Where is that planet?
Day 2. Here is where you begin to understand why this crazy story is relevant to my original point of feeling useless to the children’s home. One of the chicks is not walking or even standing. His legs are sticking out to the side. He looks like an Easter peep with a toothpick sticking out of each side. I once again called the chicken expert, who told me this sometimes happens and I would have to kill this chick. I hung up the phone and walked back to my house, wondering how I was going to kill this three day old baby chick. I’m just not the right person for this whole job. I don’t know anything. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have anything. I can’t raise chickens. While the emotional side of my brain spiraled into the bleak void of Sylvia Plath and Hemingway, the analytical side reminded me I hated their writing anyway and there was an alternative here. I vaguely remembered reading about something similar to this leg condition during my frantic research days earlier. I searched the internet once again and found what I was looking for. His legs were weak and were forming wrong. There was a way to try to fix it, but success was not guaranteed. I decided to try. To reshape his legs, I would have to cut a bandaid in half longways and wrap it around his legs, using the white gauze pad as a measure of the distance to spread his legs when I wrapped them. I recruited the night guard to help me. I could see in his eyes he thought this crazy white girl was maybe not a missionary, but an escaped mental patient. I saw the same judgement in the chick’s eyes as it yelled at me. I went back in my house and wondered if they had a point. The first time I needed to break into the medical supplies I had been so conscientious to bring for the children, it was to doctor a baby chicken that was destined to be slaughtered for meat.
Despite all that, though, I checked on my patient often, keeping him separate from the other chicks, and watched as he refused to try to walk. Tonight, Day 5, I went out to check on the chicks and the night guard was there. He pointed to the box I was keeping the injured chick in and said, “He walks.” I rushed over to the box and saw the chick standing by his water dish. Then I watched as he walked to his food dish. Thump. Thump. Thump. I smiled at the night guard and he smiled back and said, “You did a good work.” I nodded my thank you and left as fast as I could. I didn’t want him to go back to thinking I was crazy, and I was on the verge of tears over a chicken.
I have never raised chickens. I’ve barely been around chickens. The first time someone handed me a freshly slaughtered chicken and asked me if I knew what to do with it, I said, “Of course. Bury it.” But I’ve had these baby chicks for five days now, and they are still alive. There are plenty of things I don’t know how to do, but God raised me in a country and in a family where “I don’t know” simply means “I’ll figure it out.” He gave me the will to try, to ask for help until I get it, and to search for solutions to every problem that comes. After all, didn’t God tell Moses, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
I forgot it never works to try to explain to the Maker what He made. He already knows better than I do anyway and He also knows exactly what His child is capable of accomplishing. I don’t need to always know what exactly what I’m doing. He knows what I need and He will make sure I get it. The chick is walking, isn’t it.