Vanessa Workman is a sand-and-sea girl through and through. Moving to the north of Malaysia from a job in Singapore, she found her home and now writes about her experiences as an expat on a tropical island.
A few years ago, I became a gardening fanatic. There is nothing like moving to the tropics for even the brownest of thumbs to be inspired. The prospect of a simple cutting growing into something glorious is downright awe inspiring.
But I had a problem. I was a ‘chick magnet’. My garden flourished, not with tropical flora, but with chickens. In fact they basically took over and ruled the roost, so to speak. And what’s a newbie to do but research the internet for hopefully a natural chicken repellent? I had already brilliantly tried strategically-placed rubber snakes but the chickens didn’t buy the poorly painted gaping mouths of my six-inch faux cobras. Chickens are much smarter than that.
I read on the internet that chilli pepper was a good chicken-be-gone solution; simply sprinkle chilli pepper powder around the garden and chickens will find a less spicy yard to kick back in. Malaysian wet markets are a great source for chillies and chilli products of all shapes, sizes and varying degrees of temperature, so I loaded my basket with enough chilli powder to make beef rendang for a few years.
Of course eyebrows raised among the shopkeeps. And when I told them why I was purchasing such large quantities of chilli powder, they just laughed at me. “Kampung chickens love chilli, lah!”
Undeterred and determined to find a solution to my garden problem, I tried it anyway.
Now imagine if you will an old (ish) woman, and a foreigner at that (with rubber snakes in her yard), sprinkling red powder around the perimeter of her yard. What would you think? I know what I would think: voodoo!
Well truth be known, it didn’t work and I had to go back to chasing chickens again in an often most undignified and exhausting way.
But! In a rather bizarre turn of events, about two months later I woke up one morning to the sound of silence. The dead quiet kind. There was something very odd about not hearing the sound of a rooster and a herd of chickens outside my bedroom window at the crack of dawn. Blessed peace, but curious indeed.
As the days went on I realised there were no chickens or roosters anywhere! As if by Stephen Spielberg magic they had vanished into another dimension. I had heard that chickens can die in mass from dehydration, but there were no feathered corpses to prove that had happened either. Just silence. Not even a peep.
And then it happened. The village rumour machine started grinding out the latest news. And trust me, news travels fast on an island, especially if it’s sensational. Of course I was the last person to get the immediate release of this juicy tongue wagging worthy tale, because guess who got credit for the disappearance of an entire village’s chicken and rooster population? Me.
I had the sudden flash of Huckleberry Finn. “It was Injun Joe, he done it!”
Sadly it was an expatriate who informed me. “You know they are saying you killed all the chickens?” Not as a question, but as a statement, and very matter of fact she was too, obviously finding this a rational explanation. That was frightening within itself.
“It was that mat salleh woman with the rubber snakes, she done it!” But let it be known that I have never killed a chicken in my life. Is it even possible for one person to wipe out an entire kampung’s chicken population, much less leave no evidence? I have no idea what happened to the poultry population, but I certainly wouldn’t suspect fowl play of the serial killer description. I like to think the gardening fairies came and led the destructive, noisy birds to greener pastures and someone else’s garden. Like many kids, I secretly dreamt of one day becoming famous, but certainly in connection with something a bit more glamorous than ‘chicken serial killer’. Where legends are born, rumours and gossip can often be the catalyst of others, some more fantastic than others. But I’ll tell you about that particular catalyst another time.