Day 329: Building A 'Great' Wall in Battle Against Chickens

If there's something strange in you neighborhood. Who you gonna call? Photo: Pexel

Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.

THERE'S plenty of apprehension about the Boss Woman, Laura, coming to the House of Giggles. The message landed on Megan's phone yesterday: Laura was coming with two friends; we needed to make room. I'd promptly offered up my room, as I was the only person in the big bottom half of the left cone boob and I spend most nights sleeping on the roof anyway.

There were all sorts of stories about Laura's behavior on previous visits, which ran the gambit from general rudeness to dumbfounding, open clashes. The theme in all the stories was that she arrived with a critical eye and a complete lack of appreciation for what the situation on the ground was out here.

Laura lives in Stone Town, only an hour drive from the House of Giggles, yet it would only be her second or third visit to the house in the last ten weeks. Balancing a full-time job, a Stone Town Records (a new music label), and an assortment of permaculture issues, it's no surprise that she wasn't able to make a lot of time for this little place that the volunteers and a few special local men call home.

Having studied permaculture at a professional level, she, of course, could provide a great deal of insight and guidance for the project. However, those helping hands didn't seem to reach Megan and Heather, who were heading the volunteers at The House of Giggles. There was no concrete plan.

More importantly, as Laura pointed out to me as we sat on stools at Teddy's New Place in Paje – where our paths happened to cross for the first time – her father was the primary investor in the project. Though we all are attached to the project and its progress, as well as the day-to-day vibe and culture we cultivate, her family is the main stakeholder in the project.

Sitting next to Flora, Baby Dada, and Heather watching the sun set behind the ocean yesterday, I rekindled a conversation about Laura's visit.

If we open our ears and arms to her, there is so much we can learn,” I said. “We are looking for guidance and a bigger picture, as well as practical knowledge, which are all things that Laura can bring to the table.”

Laura's imminent arrival does little to hamper the namesake sounds of the House of Giggles.

I crawl out of bed a little earlier than usual, worried that she's already arrived. I want her room to be cleaned out before she arrives. This is her place. This is her project. And though there have clearly been issues in the past, it's important that she feels welcome here.

Also, having recently found my rhythm drinking coffee and writing at Little David's Resort in the afternoon, I'm a bit anxious that I'll appear lazy and somehow let her down. I know it's silly and it doesn't really matter, but my mother instilled a strong work ethic in me as a child. I still remember a fuss I caused with the quality of work, or lack of quality, when I was picking up sticks in our neighbor's yard. I'd protested the fussiness over having missed a couple sticks by picking up even the tiniest of twigs to prove my point. Nonetheless, a solid work ethic including “finishing touches” in the kitchen after washing dishes were incredibly important to my mother. And now, they're of utmost importance to me.

I can hear the laughter of the girls coming up from below as I wiggle out of my sleeping bag. I never know what they are giggling about. However, if they're talking, they're most likely using giggles as punctuation marks. The tiny laughs bounce out across the bush landscape and lightening the mood for dwarf geckos, Zanzibar elephants, and anyone within earshot. There's something conspiratorial about their laughter, something completely free of judgment – I am outside of it, yet I like living in the House of Giggles.

“When is Laura coming?” I ask Megan, as she strolls through the communal area downstairs.

“She said something about coming in the afternoon, so we'll just see.”

The German woman who showed up in the dark two nights ago after having volunteered at Laura's record label is taking forever to pack up her things. I've already moved my stuff to what in my mind I consider Flora's room – not that we really have rooms. Heather and Megan have clearly defined spaces upstairs. However, the rest of us seem to flow in and out of rooms and spaces like jellyfish caught in weak, intertwining streams.

Once she's cleared out, I track down our soft bush broom and start sweeping up the dust. The cement hides dust so well. The floor produces a sizable mound of fine brown dust, which I do my best to scoop up with a flimsy piece of paper and toss outside. The spartan room looks clean when I'm done. The wet spots from where rain created pools on the far end of the room remain, which is probably good for Laura to see. The problem with leaks the one in the downstairs rooms and kitchen is that though we as volunteers can adapt and deal with it, but there will be long-term, structural integrity issues if the leaks aren't appropriately dealt with.

It's a bit baffling that the girls aren't a bit more brisk in trying to get the house in good order. I find myself, picking up a few little scraps of plastic and paper and trying to adjust things in the common room.

Once things look about as good as I think I'll get them, I wander off toward the far end of the compound to take a look at the fence.

Chickens are an issue. After my first four days here, I'd never have guessed that chickens were an issue or were going to be an issue, but the damn cocky bastards are an issue now that our garden beds are settling and we're looking to plant sprouts. When I first got here, our cock had recently run away and our only two chickens were left in their pin, which meant that we would often shake out the dinner table to throw grains of rice to the neighbor's chickens.

I thought it was funny that we fed our neighbors chickens. Apparently, we shouldn't have been, as they now ruled the roost at The House of Giggles, which was going to put our gardens in harm's way.

Someone had suggested lining all the beds with acacia thorns, which seemed like a nasty solution as it meant putting more of the devilish twigs close to where we regularly work. Instead, I took up the project of reinforcing our current fence.

My foot snaps back up as yet another acacia thorn drives through my flip flop's soft soul and pricks me in the foot. The small twig of thorns remains stuck to the bottom of the shoe. This is the most preferable way to get stuck by an acacia thorn, as it's easy to find and remove the thorn. More often than not though, the thorn is embedded in the soft foam in such a way that you can't see it and it doesn't even stick you. The damn thing waits until a rock and your full weight come together and then rises up through the compressed foam to stab you in the foot like a guilty conscious in a moment of weakness. There are some of these hiding in my flip flops right now, causing me to gingerly walk through the bush searching for acacia branches to use as reinforcements for the wall

At first, when Heather told me that they'd already piled acacia brambles up against the stick fence that wraps around the compound, I presumed that we were not quite understanding each other, as I'd walked a section of the fence before and not noticed any such defense.

Now, walking the fence, I realize that much of it has been heavily reinforced with bundles of brush. However, the project seems to have been abandoned at some point, as large section remain completely free of any reinforcements, allowing our neighbor's bobble-headed chickens, lead by a big white cock, to squeeze through the vertical sticks of the fence and make their way into our garden, our communal area, and, often enough, our kitchen. And there, they are pecking, pecking, pecking, constantly pecking.

“A wall is only as good as its weakest section,” I tell myself.

What's the best way to reinforce this fence I find myself wondering, all of the problem-solving ideas from the book Black Box Thinking rattle around in my head? The best idea might be simply to fail as fast as possible and then look at how to shore up the failure.

Unlike the Masai barriers made of acacia limbs, which protect their loved ones, cattle, and goats from leopards, lions, and elephants, our fence simple needs to best some no-brain chickens. At this point, it makes sense not to try to match the robustness of the other parts of the brush fence, but simply to get the thorniest of the acacia branches – the light gray acacia sporting hundreds of needle-like thorns jutting out in every direction – high enough to prevent the birds from squirming between the bars of the fence, as I sincerely doubt that they are nimble enough to fly between the narrow wooden branches.

Even with gloves on, thorns manage to stab my hands as I delicately tangle them into clumps against the fence. The low-lying addition to the fence is not impressive, but running into the barrier would be a painful ordeal for a chicken.

The white cock comes clucking up toward me on the path on our side of the fence. He spots me and panics in that headless way that chickens panic. Not until I started this trip did I come to fully appreciate all the cliches revolving around chickens: running around like a headless chicken, chicken head, chicken (as in a scared) and, of course, the most famous question in the English language: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: Nobody fucking knows why the chicken crossed the road, but we're all sure she did a poor job of it.

He runs toward me to where he most likely entered the grounds. However, he finds his exit blocked by hundreds of needling acacia thorns. He runs back down the path, head swinging back and forth looking for an escape. At this point, I've not threatened the bird, been aggressive, or even made face at him. Yet, his fear turns to full-on panic. His clucking gets louder and louder as he runs back and forth looking for an escape.

I'm filled with a sense of accomplishment and glee at his expense. I'm making progress. I'll have this problem sorted out in no time at all.

However, my heart drops as he hops onto a thick horizontal branch that is not acacia at the top of a low pile of brush and safely flutters through the fence.

I was hoping to fail fast, but not that fast.

Once I shore up the obvious holes in the fence, perhaps chasing the chickens around to see where they run and how they're bypassing our defenses will be the next step

“Baby Dada, can I borrow your shoes?” I ask, coming back to the house after yet another thorn sends me bouncing into the air.

I have big feet. However, Baby Dada is a tall young woman with seriously big feet. Her Birkenstocks are only slightly too small for me, yet still, offer a serious foot-protection upgrade.

The sun is scorching, unleashing a baking heat by the time I have a low line of acacia built up along one section of the fence.

“Enough for one day, at least enough for one day in a place like this,” I tell myself.

In another place, at another time, this would only be the start of a full day of work, a long introduction to an epic novel exploring one incompetent man's battle with chickens as persistent as modern hackers poking and prying at defenses until something gives way and they're inside.

“See even the boys giggle,” Heather says as we all sit down for a communal lunch and Mwanzi and Mweda share a few little laughs between bites of Swahili humor.

“I never said it was a bad thing. I was just pointing out that y'all constantly giggling.”

There's still no sign of the Boss Lady as we wrap up lunch. So, I slip down to Mama Lucia's Restaurant and Cafe to do some writing by the seaside.

Giovanni never looks particularly happy to see me, even when I greet him with a “Ciao Bello”. He doesn't look particularly unhappy either. It's safe to say I'm not his favorite customer.

I drag a wooden chair up next to where the open bar area reveals the espresso machine and settle in, watching the white sand run out to the ocean, as it patiently waits for the tide to come tuck it back into the seabed.

“It's been a productive day,” I think as I return home from the village, the sun still beating down on the bush with its full tropical furry. I cleaned the house, cleaned Laura's room, and got some work done on the fence.

I expect Laura to be at The House of Giggles when I arrive, but she's not. It's late afternoon at this point, but still no word from her. However, those damn chickens are present.

It appeared as if they'd found other grounds to peck at this morning. Though their absence – besides for the cock – brought a smile to my lips this morning, I had no illusions that my new bunch of fencing had anything to do with it.

They peck, peck, peck, as I settle into a hammock to finish off Black Box Thinking.

Soon, it's time for our evening swim at Sunset Beach. Flora, Baby Dada and I make our way through the bush and promptly arrive at the beach.

I guess Laura isn't coming, I think of saying after soaking up the last rays of the sun on our golden bodies. But such a statement seems self-evident, so why bother?

It's dark outside, as dark as it gets out here – I'm always surprised how light it is at night, even when you're far away from the glowing pollution a city throws into the sky.

There's the rumbling sound of a car coming up the path in the dark, its headlights painting shadows across the landscape.

The boys start helping unload the vehicle.

It feels like Christmas. There's a huge bag of small green peppers, avocados, cabbages, mango, pineapples, oranges, and so much more. After the first round of unloading, I rouse myself from the hammock to go around to the side of the house to help with whatever is left. Laura's there watching the men unloading everything.

“Hey, I didn't expect to see you so soon,” I say with a smile, giving her a quick hug.


“Yeah, I thought I wouldn't see you until your birthday.”

“Oh, are you coming?”

“Yes, I'm hoping to make it.”

I grab a couple bags and take them to the kitchen.

I'd expected her to launch in with tirade of critiques about what's been going on at the house. Instead, Laura is absolutely buoyant.

“Oh, look at all these dream catchers! They're beautiful,” she says in her strong German accent. She's fluttering about as her traveling companion starts to introduce himself. Laurence is a German musician and artist now based in Stone Town – he speaks fluent Swahili, or at least I think he does.

“This is going to be my first night sleeping here,” Laura says.


“Yeah, once it was finished, volunteers started showing up and I kept buying mattresses when more volunteers showed up.”

With everyone settling in and joints being rolled and passed around, I wander up the wooden steps to the roof with my sleeping bag, book, and Flora's headlamp, which she keeps letting me borrow.

The night's filled with the twangs of Laura tuning a guitar.

Then, there's music.

Mau's voice reverberates up to me as Laura strums along. Laurence begins to beat-box and rap for another song. Heather, who was hiding in her room, comes bounding out to the balcony, leaning up against the solar-powered fairy lights, drawn to the music like a moth to a flame.

“It's amazing,” she effuses, before making her way downstairs.

The music plays long into the night. Finally, Laurence and Laura join me upstairs. The headlamp is so bright that it's bothering Laura, so I turn it off and return to gazing at the stars. At some point, Laurence begins to give Laura a back rub.

I assume they're a couple.

However, later that night, I hear Flora and Laurence downstairs, their voices croaking whispers of intimacy. Though they're speaking German, or I presume they're speaking German, I don't need to know what the words are to hear the crackling fires of a fresh romance sparking up in their murmuring.

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