Friday, March 18, 2016

The village of roosters

Here he is.  Our farm's current reining head rooster.  He's the leader, or at least thinks he's the leader of  our farm's society of chickens.  Chicken civilization? 

And since we're on the subject of roosters I might as well tell you this story that comes to mind when I think about roosters.  

This one was a long time ago in a place I'm pretty sure no longer exists (if it ever did). A village where every home had at least one rooster and more than half a dozen hens.  Not to mention the ducks and geese.  And in my memory I can plainly see the water buffalo with the young boys moving them out into the rice paddies in the morning for work.  

You see, I was eighteen years old that summer and it was 1968. I was the medic and the youngest member of what was called a mobile advisory team.  Five Americans moving from village to village along a 20 mile stretch of the Saigon river. There was this one village we came to live in, it must have been towards the end of the summer because Michael, our radio operator and the team's other eighteen year old, had already shot himself, and had been replaced by a thirty-five year old captain. but those are details you don't need to hear if I'm going to remember just the story of that village.

The Village of Roosters. 

Now, this village wasn't really all that large a place.  A collection of thatched huts, rice paddies and a temple more  Animist  than Buddhist, with a monk and a hookah  and good pot  he'd share if you'd drop in for a visit.

Up until the time we moved there,  this particular village had been a pretty peaceful place.  If there was a war going on it never seemed to come down the dirt road that led to the outside world. 

We weren't however, the first outsiders  who'd come to that village to try to get them involved in the outside world's war. to live in this particular village.  Someone, sometime in the past had built the small triangular shaped 'fort' on the hill above the town that we moved  into. It was just large enough for the five of us plus a couple dozen of the local kids, a sort of popular home guard, who rather  than having to inducted and taken away  to become soldiers for the regular army  were somehow allowed to stay at home and protect their village.

From our spot on the hill side we could see much of the goings on of the village.   We could watch the village coming to life each morning.  The smoke from the cook drifting over the fields.  The kids taking the buffalo out in work.  The ox carts pulling their loads of non-descript farm merchandise along the villages one dirt road, stopping below our outpost where a couple of our soldiers would go through the motions of checking the contents for contraband.

Our team's task while living at the village was to convince the locals that not only was the outside world involved in a war but that it was in their interest to become involved.  Instead of  just growing rice and raising their chickens.  Instead of pretending they could live like their parents had done before them they needed to choose sides.  They needed to realize there was a war going on and it was their duty to choose sides, something that, up until our arrival they hadn't been forced to do. 

But again I've got off subject.

I wanted to talk about the rooters.

So roosters it is.

One of the tasks that was assigned to me at this village was  to pretend I knew the slightest thing about medicine and every other day during the weekdays  me and our teams interpreter, would put my footlocker of pills in the back of one of the teams jeeps  and we'd drive  to the center of town, put up our table and set up shop.

I would pretend to dispense medical care.

Since most residents of this village would never in their lives have the money to see an actual doctor, I would pretend I was the next best thing.

This wasn't my idea.  I was told to do this my Mike's replacement.  The Captain.

'We need to win hearts and minds and  you are especially well situated to help in this task.  Make them feel better.'  he said.

When I complained.   When I told him it wasn't going to work he turned back and said. 'make it work.  90% of  medicine is still back in the world of leaches and mystical vapors.  so act like you know what you're doing. Take out your stethoscope, listen to their  heart.  Take their pulse. ask some questions and then give them a box of aspirin.

And that's what I did three times a week.  Every  Monday, Wednesday and Friday I's set up shop in the middle  of town. Right next to the tables   where the farmers would try to sell their wares.

Vegetables, rice,  fish caught out of the irrigation canals.  herbs from the forest. Bananas, eggs, ducks, geese and of course chickens.

Which  included roosters.

So you see I've turned the subject back to roosters again.

And that's the place where I learned that roosters naturally like to fight.  Especially the type of roosters  that lived in that village.

They weren't very much like the ones we have out here on the farm.

Our roosters will fight with each other.  But mostly its fluffing out their feathers.  Giving the other bird and evil eye and after a peck or two, going on the business they were going on before they crossed each others path..

These roosters, though, the ones in the village of roosters were a  completely different breed.  These roosters took this aspect of being a rooster very, very seriously.

In fact  to these roosters, fighting was elevated to such an art that often, even a causal encounter on the street  could lead to death.

So that's why, in the center of town,  at the market, you might see hens, or ducks loose but roosters, if they were brought to market, were found with a string tied around one leg and the other end of the string tied around the table leg.

Which brings us up to that night.

Living on an advisory team was different than being with just any military unit in war time.  You have heard the saying, an army travels on its stomach.  right?  Part of having an army is feeding it.  With most units you can't just put them in a uniform, give them a gun and point them in the  right direction and at meal times give them food.

With us, we weren't given food.

We were expected to find our own food .to cook our own meals.  Usually it meant the five of us pooling together.  one of us going to market,  buying  food for the group meals and then bringing it back to our home and cooking

I'm not going to say that this day the person in charge of buying food had found a discount in chicken.  Of course in a town without refrigeration you don't go to the market and find  chickens ready to put in the microwave.

This day in question the food buyer of the day,  and truthfully, it wasn't me,  had brought home five  live roosters.  Each bird in its own individual burlap bag..

I don't think I'm going to bother going through what happened next. But you can imagine w as  each bird was released from its bag, shook its feathers and looked around.

 All of this taking place in the little confines of this out outpost.

In case of emergencies we did have a case of c-rations                                                                                                   

But back to the roosters.  

Every morning starting an hour before sunrise I'd wake to the sound of roosters. 

Usually it would start  before the eastern sky hinted that morning was on its way a rooster would sound off way out in the darkness.  Then, after maybe a dozen minutes would pass another rooster would call.

This one from far off in the other direction.

The third rooster, maybe from right down in the center of the village, would answer. 

This morning, though, the crowing sounded differently. The roosters were calling but not from so far away  but as they had been doing all night long  roosters were crowing  from all around us. One rooster from  somewhere in the  outpost. Another from just beyond the moat..


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