Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day Sixteen: The Chickens Come Home to Roost

 Day Sixteen: Thursday, January 26, 2017

Today we feel total joy.  Total.  We worked really hard and really fast and ended the day in complete euphoria. Last year’s group and this year’s group both focused much of our attention on the establishment of a functioning chicken coop for the community to share.  Today, the chickens came home and moved into the (almost) complete dormitorio, which will help them over the next five days or so to get used to this space as their new home. 

It’s actually rare for us to see a project fully (almost) realized, as we tend to come in at the beginning or maybe in the middle, but more often than not, we don’t see the project come fully to fruition.  We had just talked earlier this week about how nice it would be to finish one of our several projects here, but we also expressed a sense of peace over the possibility that we would not have that experience. 

Our friend Vicente had left two nights ago to go buy some chickens and he was supposed to return by 10:00am yesterday.  In fact, Shawny and Matt were supposed to go with him but for a number of reasons, Vicente went alone.  When he arrived back today, he had two cages full of chickens, totaling 40 in all. 

We were already at the chicken coop working on the next steps when Vicente arrived and he was clearly bothered that the coop was not already finished.  When we saw how tightly the chickens were stuffed in the cages, we understood his sense of urgency. 

We knew that the chickens might arrive before our work was finished but we had heard from our friend Regi that there was somewhere for them to be in the meantime.  According to Vicente, though, it is undesirable to move them from place to place so he wanted their next abode to be their final home.  Knowing this, our timetable sped up rather quickly and we went into a work frenzy to enclose the coop.

There were several steps still to do.  First, we had to put a layer of wood on top of the brick wall, as we needed a way to attach the chicken wire to it.  Because there are posts all along the walls, it took some careful cuts and lots of notching to make it all work out.  And because we are not quite professional bricklayers (yet), there were some gaps to fill and some places that weren’t level that needed to be addressed.  With Junior’s help, we moved pretty quickly around the perimeter and just as soon as a stretch got completed, a team would immediately start stretching the wire on that wall. 

The posts are made of all different kinds of wood, some of which are very hard.  So, when we were attaching the chicken wire with big staples (really more like U-shaped nails), some were easy to hammer in and others were very difficult to install.  We had a few brief identity crises as some of us would watch another member of our group drive a staple and then we would be unable to do the same on the next pole over.  We finally got our hosts to help us read the different kinds of wood, so we had a better chance of predicting how hard or easy it would be to do the jobs we were trying to do. 

We also needed to install a layer of wire as a ceiling in the coop, as another means of protection against the sinister maracajá (a mountain lion-like cat).  And we needed to work that ceiling around the new solar-powered LED light system that was installed today as yet another line of defense against the cat. 

At the same time, a small team was back at the pousada, finishing the paint job from yesterday, starting the paint job on the second sleeping area and doing some other painting that our hosts requested.  Their job happened to come to an end right at the time that we were about to put the chickens into the coop, so we all came together and made quite a ceremony of carrying the heavy cages into the coop and then freeing the chickens. 

When they were in the cages, we were somewhat convinced that a few of them were near death.  They were breathing, but otherwise largely inanimate.  We assumed that they were hungry and thirsty as well as feeling overly cramped.  But once we let them out, they seemed quite happy right away.  We couldn’t even tell which ones had seemed so sickly before. 

We all just gathered outside the coop and watched the chickens for a LONG time.  Slowly we started to peel off and head home to bathe in the river.  In the end, only Shawny, Jesse, Gui, Vicente, Madalena and Neusa were still there.  They congratulated each other and expressed great gratitude in all directions.  Tears were shed.  After a round of happy hugs, they, too, left the chickens to adjust to their new home. 

Again, dusk was falling and the river was like glass.  The light was kind of violet and the edges of the sky had streaks of orange and pink.  The first bright stars (or planets?) started to appear.  We felt like we could see for miles and miles. 

After dinner, we reflected on how it felt to see the fruits of our groups’ labor over the last two years.  We reviewed all of the phases of this project, including hauling sand and rock, digging postholes, mixing cement, laying bricks (and learning how to lay them) and all of the other steps along the way.  Some of the vets reviewed the clearing of the land last year, the sinking of the posts that still support the structure of the coop and the maneuvering of the huge jacaranda stands on which the coops rest.   Our understanding of the immense labor involved on all of our parts to build this one small structure gave us even more appreciation for all of the buildings around us here and also made us recognize how easy our lives are back home.  We acknowledged that our perspective about a lot of things has changed and we began to wonder how these changes would manifest themselves in our lives from this point forward. 

Speaking of changes, our Purple Biker has experienced quite a few.  Rachel has been an impressive team member from the very beginning, and has always stood out as a top worker who is clearly watching out for everyone around her (“Has everyone taken their malaria meds?”).  One of the hugest changes she has undergone is her clear and total embrace of the “immersion” factor of our trip.  When we first arrived, she would react to a bug in her vicinity with a loud shriek and a brief state of panic.  Those days are long gone now, as she calmly flicks hard beetles off of her shoulders without even stopping what she is saying.  Today on the coop project, she was indefatigable in installing the wooden pieces all around the perimeter of the structure, which set us up to complete everything we needed to bring the chickens in.  She was on top of the wall, down on the ground, on the ladder, using the hammer and saw(s) and generally a whirlwind of productivity.  We can’t pretend that this is an unusual state of being, as she is pretty much always like that.  Today is just the day that we all stopped, took notice and celebrated Rachel!

Our chickens laid two eggs while waiting for us to finish their new house. Unfortunately, they were extremely hungry and ate one of the eggs upon release.

Nate, Jake, and Jesse are cutting down part of the tree the maracaja used to get into the chicken coop. 

Eddie hammering on the chicken wire in the hard to reach places.  

Kim, Jr. and Rachel were very precise when cutting notches in the wood for the chicken coop. #teamwork 

Zummo attempting to give the chickens some water as they wait patiently for their new home to be finished #mtvcribz #chickenedition

Teamwork makes the dream work. It was a group effort to get the wire fencing into position so they could be stapled into place. Here we have from back to front, Eddie, Kim, Kevin, Nate, Marissa, Alessandra, Vicente, and Julius.

Jules, Annie, and Marissa focus on hammering the staples into the chicken coop’s wire walls. Their hard work paid off and the coop is now predator-proof

Matt, Rachel, Joe, Nate, Claudia, and Nat pose with our beloved chickens. We had been eagerly awaiting their arrival and couldn’t wait to get them into the coop.

Free the chickens!! The coop was finished today and we unleashed the chickens into it. They immediately began to run around, peck at each other, and drink the water we put out for them. None of us were allowed to get in the coop with them because it was too dangerous considering they had been cooped up for almost a whole day and were anxious to move around.

Early this morning before breakfast we heard monkeys howling close by. They were perched up in a tree right next to the Oca. This is the best view of monkeys we’ve had all trip.

Filtering water: As part of our daily routine, the team that is in charge of water has to make sure there is an adequate amount of water. This is accomplished by charging the solar powered water filtration system, filling buckets with sink water, and running it through the system into multiple 5-gallon water jugs.

Grilling Pork: after making the fire the cooks went out into the forest and chopped palm fronds that they later placed on top of bricks to create a grill.

H.R.I.C.: Head Rooster in Charge- after enclosing the main portion of the chicken coop we were able bring 39 chickens to their new home.

Moral Support: after notching the 2x4’s we fitted them to the posts of the coop. Part of the DIRTy crew can be seen here nailing 2x4 into position.

Testing the Beams: Junio, a community member who is co-leading the chicken coop project, is stapling down chicken wire to the support beams to ensure the chickens are safe from the Maracajá (a small but furious and blood-thirsty wild cat).

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