Hard Pounding

Jim Goldstein photography

One of the fixed tasks of the day is that of letting out the chickens and ducks, once egg laying duties have been performed, releasing the ducklings into their wired enclosure and opening the outer door of the sheep pen under the gaze of its ruminating occupants.

No problem here….it is dry and sunny, the water and food bowls can be cleaned out, fresh bedding laid, the ducks’ drinking water, full of wasted maize flour, fed to the tilapia and a return to the house for a cup of tea.

Another point of the day is far from fixed in the rainy season.
The point of feeding and banging up for the night all those enumerated above.

The sheep are no problem at all…..they will return to base bawling for food at a quarter to three on the dot as that is the hour when Danilo brings down swathes of sugar cane and camaroon – a tall red grass – and passes it all through the cane cutter.
On Sundays, Danilo’s day off, this is my job.

I am distinctly wary of that cane cutter….it sucks in sugar cane that seems as hard as bars of iron and spits it out in grated fashion into the trough.
Having no wish to turn myself into mince I switch it on, its roar echoing off the valley walls, and feed it the stems from a distance…being careful not to have any catching my hands or arms…and turn it off only when there is clear ground between me and it.

Rake the minced grass down the length of the trough, shut the outer door and leave the sheep feeding greedily.
Easy peasy.

Later I will return with a bucket of sliced bananas, at which point they will climb up me to get at the bucket while I’m trying to close the inner door and there will be an unseemly jostling for position around the two tubs during which I will make my escape.
With the sheep, you’re only the belle of the ball while you have the bananas.
When they have the bananas you are Cinderella at one minute past midnight.
I know people like this, but the sheep are less hypocritical about it.

So where is the problem?

More like what is the problem.

This is the rainy season. You can be reading on the balcony, the sun shining, soft breezes playing about you and then it will start.
The sky will begin to cloud over….this is when to put down your book and head for the feed supplies which you have laid down in the morning.

If you are lucky, you will return from the sheep pen just as the first drops start to fall and a curtain of cloud makes the valley invisible. You can hear the main force of the rain hitting the hill across the stream…just time to leg it to safety.
If not lucky, you will be imprisoned as a lightning bolt hits the field next door, thunder rolls overhead, and the rain does not just pour…it pounds down on the tin roof.

You can see it running down the drive in torrents…the drain from the house gutters filling the area between you and your base with water well over ankle height…

You can be an interested spectator as a gust sends coconuts flying from the tree onto the roof of the house, rousing the dogs to howling fury….

You can wonder if your husband has remembered to turn off the computer…

You can be assaulted by indignant sheep as the tubs are emptied of bananas…

The neighbour’s dog will sprint past you heading for your house….and, inevitably, the sofa. He resembles a drowned rat.

And that’s just the sheep.

The chickens will generally be hanging about if it is dark…they like to be inside and tucked up on their perches in less than clement conditions…but the ducks are something else.

First the ducklings.
You have left it as long as you could, hoping that the rain will stop, or at least become less intense…but the moment has come.
Up to the enclosure carrying food in one hand and bearing an umbrella in the other.
Ducklings object to umbrella and scoot round to the back of the enclosure under the passion flower vine in which you entangle your umbrella and roar expletives.
This attracts mother duck who has spent the day outside the enclosure and now wishes to return to protect her offspring – or, more likely, get more of the food than she would among the other adult ducks.
From the outside, she leads them round past the back of their house…where you cannot follow.
They sit, ten pairs of beady eyes watching you rave.
You go outside the enclosure and shoo them out of their lair with a stick rattled through the wire.
Mother attacks you….if you’re not wearing wellies you’ll have a purple mark for days as ducks have a sort of hook under the top part of the beak which gives rise to a sensation for which the word peck is totally inadequate.

Now for the ducks, most of whom are disporting themselves in the tilapia ponds among the flowering water hyacinths.
Down the steps, umbrella in hand, to find the spring at the bottom in full action and nothing but waterlogged ground between you and your prey.
You advance in a flanking movement to avoid the brutes legging it further down the garden and then doubling back up the hill through the rice.
You turn, you advance on them and get very wet as you use the umbrella as a sort of reverse bullfighter’s cape to encourage them to retreat from you up the steps while dashing forward to prevent the black one from making a jink to the side and disappearing into the papyrus.
From the papyrus no duck extraction is possible.

You get them up the steps…and find them huddled in the doorway of the duck house.
The broody has chosen this moment to manifest itself, leaving its nest to eat and, puffed up and hissing, is refusing to let any other duck pass her.
You leave the open umbrella in the gangway to prevent the ducks returning the way they came, seize the broody and cast her forth, while guiding the others in with your foot.
You shut the door.
You retrieve the umbrella.
The broody, furious, flies up to her nest above the door and voids her bowels.
Depending on your timing you are
A. Unscathed.
B. The umbrella gets it.
C. You do.

in any case you head for the shower.

So the race between yourself and the rain could be described as Wellington described Waterloo….
‘A damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’.

On a daily basis. For six months of the year.

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