July 18, 2012

Hens in Africa: A Search for Roots

I should've flown coach.
Hello, or should I say "Jambo?" That is Swahili for hello, but I never heard anyone from South Africa say it. Other African people apparently do.

The Cackling Hen is back after a wild goose chase to find my roots in between Hens on Ice shows. I flew nearly two days to South Africa, the part of Africa furthest from my home (Sometimes a hen needs some space from mother goose, and lots of it). And before rumors start swirling, I flew coach on Delta. Hens can't really fly, and I had to save my wings for the shows. It would be the first time African children, parents and crazed skating fans would see a hen on ice.

We arrived to Johannesburg and hazily tried to figure out what time zone we were in, what country we were in, what hemisphere we were in, and if the toilets really flushed clockwise.

We had 36 generous hours off after that week long flight to dust our feathers and see something African before working again in the ice coup. I found the nearby bird sanctuary to try and find my distant relatives and understand my origins.

I learned so much about why I'm the way I am. What a treat to meet so many sassy African birds! They have two wings just like me, as well as two legs, two eyes, two undiagnosed medical conditions and a beak.

After I scoffed at the flamingos and told them to go back to Florida, my hen friends and I found a peaceful, enclosed garden with beautiful, petite birds of the boldest colors. How sweet they were, I hoped I came from that lineage.

After we closed the second gate, those bold birds began an aviary World War III attack. They squaked and squealed, they dove and pecked. They roosted and nested in our hair. That chewed our hair. They pecked through our purses searching for food or tequila. The screeches and squaks pierced through the African air, and the birds made a lot of noise too. Like the good friends we are, we caught these moments on picture and video instead of helping each other, and we fled the scene after taking pictures that made us look like bird tamers.

While frightening, the experience was also enlightening. Now I understand why I rummage through purses and peck at my friends' hair during dinner parties. Although there was clearly a link, these birds had to have been distant relatives. They caused such a ruckus in a public place. Thank holy hens that trait didn't drift down my family tree branch.

The rest of the day was far tamer. We watched some African birds put on a little show, just like what I do for a living except without ice. There were birds of every color of the rainbow, making every noise of an Irish pub. While I didn't find grandma's grandma or a cure for the common cold, looking into those silly birds' eyes gave me a sense of family, a sense of home, something so easy to lose in our fast paced lives. And I think maybe, just maybe, I heard a bird squak, "Jambo."

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