Chicken Poop on My Shirt, Two Days Off & One Snake…… – Chris Cheek

As I begin my 11th month living in Africa at Project Canaan, I find this journey every day unveils lessons about life. Each day I watch the ordinary become the extraordinary, the experiences become moments of awe, the challenges that seem overwhelming become a sign of HOPE in the voices of 103 little ones as they sing, giggle and play.

In the midst of these wonderful insights come the words of the “real,” the every day stuff.  Things like….”ahhhh, how did I get chicken poop on my skirt?  “Chicken poop on my skirt” actually came out of my mouth this week. Yes, it did. Not only did it come out of my mouth, my only action in realizing it was to walk over to the water hose, cut the water on, stick my skirt in the water, scrub it out by hand and then back to the yard to play – wet skirt & all. A year ago I was analyzing labor productivity, maximizing profit margins & ensuring our company was meeting fourth quarter goals. Now I’m wondering how I got chicken poop on my skirt. The everyday real, chicken poop and all.

This week I took two days off to rest. My schedule each week is 6 days of 12 hour shifts – living & playing, laughing & singing, hugging & “mmmmm ahhhhs.”  The toddler schedule begins at 7 AM, although most are awake a little before 6.  From their rooms comes morning alarm of chatter & singing of a new day beginning. To find the quiet, my day begins with me waking up at 5 AM. A time that I cherish as the night slips away.  The time before the aunties are up, children are sleeping and the one rooster that chooses to stand outside my bedroom window to crow. Ok, so it is my almost all quiet time. Each Friday is my day off to rest & reenergize. After 10 months I found that I needed an extra day off to catch my breath & rest my physically tired body.

Janine was strongly encouraging me to retreat to the lodge or our guest house where I could solitude & peace without the voices of 38 little ones outside my bedroom door. My head was thinking two days of quiet, two days of just me time, but my heart was saying stay home with the rhythms of the day.  Somehow the craziness of living in a home with 38 two year olds has become my monastery.  A place of quiet in the loudness, a place of prayer in the chaos (yes there is chaos living with this many two year olds), a place of comfort & safety within the “walls” of hope that surround Project Canaan.  I came here with a vision that this mission would be my monastic experience, a time of transformation.   In the beginning I kept trying to force my days to fit my image of serving and prayer…my image of being a faithful servant. It was only when I surrendered my will to be one of openness to the natural rhythms of the day that transformation began to happen…..allowing living in a home of 38 two year olds to become my monastery – my place of solitude and prayer, the place where I find comfort & rest. All in the quiet of living with 38 two year olds.

“GoGo,  GoGo – snake, snake, there is a snake!!!”  These were the words of a very frightened auntie as she raced into the sitting room from outside one night early in the week.  We are well into snake season. We have many of the most deadly snakes on the planet here in Swaziland and here on Project Canaan. (As a side note, one of the headlines in the paper this week read, “Crocodile Season is Here.”  We have way too many seasons: Snake Season, Crocodile Season, Scorpion Season, Dry Season & Rainy Season – we are still praying for the arrival of the rains. With hopeful anticipation we await for the rains that come with the rainy season – all of the other seasons I could do without.)

So me – with my great snake killing expertise, flip flops on and a heart of courage (like the cowardly lion of the Wizard of Oz) – I decided to go out and see the great & mighty snake.  As I stepped out the door the auntie told me it was at the end of the toddler home. I had two paths to choose from; down the walkway under the porch or through the grass. They both held elements of danger. The walk way has our huge toy boxes, play house, wagons and riding toys, all great hiding places, or through the grass where a snake could hide in safety of darkness just waiting for some foolish person in flip flops to come along and step on it. I weighed my options and chose the grass. My thought was if I were a snake I would be looking for dinner & the most likely place to find frogs or lizards would be behind the toy box. What was I doing….thinking like a snake???

As I got to the end of the building I started to tip toe and lean forward to try & peer around the corner to see if I could catch a glimpse of the snake.  Behind me were two aunties following at a distance. As I leaned forward I heard a sound of movement from the back of the building.  I looked in that direction and from the back corner came our security guard carrying a mop, the weapon of choice in fighting the deadly snakes of Africa.  Out in the yard were three scared Swazi’s, an American GoGo and a mop, well equipped for the first snake hunt of the season at the toddler home.

The auntie that had seen it said that it had gone into the drain base next to the building. It is a square outdoor drain for the water from the boys bathroom sink. It has a PVC pipe from the building down to the grated drain. The only place a snake could be – on the drain grate or up in the PVC pipe.

The guard slowly & quietly eased his way to the drain, raised the powerful mop above his head & with a quick swift motion slammed the mop down on the drain. The PVC pipe broke from the wall, the guard was jumping from one foot to the other and out of the drain flew up a two to three foot cobra, that at the time seemed to me to be at least six feet long. The snake was slithering back and forth as the guard was hitting it with the mop head, the two aunties were jumping up & down yelling something in siSwati. Since everyone else was jumping I decided to follow their lead.  We all looked like a group of adults playing hopscotch.

Lesson learned: mops are not the best weapon to use against snakes. The snake escaped with the security guard throwing stones at it as it slipped over the edge of the hill down into the bush. I no longer check my email after dark because the spot where I get a data signal requires me to walk through the grassy area where the snake had departed to his escape route. And if you want a good laugh you should see me when I go out the end door of the toddler home now. I slowly open the door peeking my head out looking around to make sure there are no snakes. At least once a day I will step out and there will be a frog that jumps that I didn’t see and I will jump like the security guard did that night.

Another week has passed the lessons continue, we still have mumps, people starving, livestock dying, spontaneous fires and no rain in sight. The children are turning summersaults in the yard, riding in wagons, playing on hot summer afternoons, turning & singing “Ring Around the Roses” and sounds of joy & laughter fill the air. There are overwhelming challenges & stories of hopelessness throughout the Kingdom of Swaziland – but on a mountain side in the bush of a rural land there is hope and it is called Canaan, Project Canaan.   We have snakes, 103 children and chicken poop on our skirts, the stuff of the real, the stuff of every day life and the journey continues….


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