These are the luckiest chooks* in Rwanda.
Ten years after the genocide, a group of us went to visit, staying with one of the rebuilding communities out in the countryside. Now, I’m sure that Rwandan towns have butcher shops, as do towns everywhere – but we were staying within a community. As honoured guests, hospitality demanded that we be fed meat every night, and … well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Let’s just politely say that things get very visceral when food is consumed close to its source.
These birds survived. I don’t know whether it was their obvious skill at flying up to tree boughs, whether they’d escaped the coop and were truly free-range chickens or whether we were leaving this day and the Great Chicken Cull had not yet claimed their feather-fluffed necks, but these were the lucky ones, whose lives were not sacrificed to honour the visiting Australians.
I’ve been thinking of this photo a bit, lately. I don’t know what level of awareness these chooks had about their survival: did they understand how many of their community had had a close encounter with a machete, and ended up in the cooking pot? I do believe that chooks who are allowed to grow in communities grieve their missing friends, at least for a while – I’ve seen it myself; but how long does their grief last? What does it feel like? Can something remind them of a missing comrade weeks later and trigger a feeling of … something? I don’t now. The mourning behaviours I personally have observed lasted only days or, at worst, weeks; but I’m not privy to the inner workings of a chicken’s mind.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve obviously survived, too. For some of us, this was not a given – not because we were sent away to war, or were exposed to a deadly pathogen, but because we were tempted to take our own lives. For some of us, this temptation has been strong, perhaps at times an urge it’s taken all our will to fight.
Some of us are still fighting that battle.
If there is a ‘next time’ that I find myself in that place, feeling no hope at all, wanting the pain to end no matter what the cost – I hope I can remember these chooks. I hope that I remember they did survive. Through luck, cunning, skill or the intervention of some benevolent third party, they made it. They avoided the machete, even while surrounded by humans living with the machete-scars of that great, terrible conflict years ago.
I love them dearly, but chooks are not smart. We, as humans, have many more survival tools at our disposal than chooks do.
To those of us for whom the fight continues, I say: remember these chooks, and determine to be one of them. I certainly intend do.
* Chooks is a common Australian word for hens or chickens, if you’re not familiar with it.