Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Snake, The Chicken and The Archaeologist

Now many of you have heard my stories of fieldwork. Some are fantastic, some are farcical. Often times fieldwork enjoys a quiet rythem of sun up, work, sun down with very little excitement. However, there are moments which lead to the stories that have accumulated over the years starring a cast of characters from snakes to hippopotami. You never get in trouble when you first arrive. That is when you still have a more then healthy respect for the harshness of the environment and the wildlife. Soon, you fall in to a pattern of life and become more lax in how aware you are of what is around you. It is then that you often come face to face with a little reminder of where you are. I'm afraid to say that one of the new students thought I was sometimes exaggerating... You just wait. To this day, he still can't bring himself to talk about it. 

This one isn't about me. Oh, I was there, but gratifyingly I was not the hapless victim of circumstance. This time.

It was my last day in the field before leaving for Nairobi. We were revisiting a site where I had done a surface collection of artifacts several years before. NB (for anonymity) was especially looking forward to this excursion because he had just done an analysis of the previous surface  collection, but had never seen the site. In order to get there we had to hike a few km down the river bed and then find the overgrown path up the gorge to the top of the ridge. This is a long walk over unpleasant footing of cobbles or soft loose sand. We are cruising along, NB is to my left and we were talking about something inconsequential. Suddenly NB leaps into the air - 
"F*ing Hell, Mother F... Shit... God Damn...." A veritable blue streak, which I can't do justice to here. Now honestly, I've never seen a person actually levitate before, but damn, it's possible. For underneath him was a small and very angry cobra. You see they really don't like it when you nearly step on them. Fortunately NB was wearing long pants and recognized at the last second what he almost put his foot on. The dun colored little snake (the smaller ones are more deadly) blended in with the cobbles we were walking over, and we all had our guard down. How things can turn deadly in an instant always takes your breath away, your heat stutters and the adrenaline kicks in. "Oh. My. God. Are you ok?" After the appropriate breather, we carried on. 

The rest of the hike went along in comparable silence. Scanning the way ahead for any more unwelcome critters. A few hours later at lunch, I could no longer help myself. I looked over at NB and quipped "Still think I'm making it up?" 
He smiled and said, "You know, right after I stopped swearing and could breathe again, that is the first thing I thought about." I couldn't help but to laugh. Guess you are going to start accumulating your own stories now. 

The rest of the work day was long, but the journey back down the riverbed was uneventful. We were all on high alert. Across the road from the campground is a little shop that has the most coveted object around at 5 pm - cold soda, especially when you are out of water. We piled out of the truck and all ordered large sodas. We were soon joined by the other half of our group who had been up in the highlands that day. There aren't many benches and when you are this dirty it really doesn't matter if you sit on the cement stoop and we were soon joined by our friends. Of course this was followed by the innocent question "So, how was your day?"
NB looks at me and says,  "You can tell them. I can't talk about it." 

I was standing there leaning against the Land Rover explaining how poor NB had nearly stepped on the cobra. That is when the clucking started. Now goats and chickens are always foraging around hoping for a bit of  this or that which someone might drop, but we are looking around and there isn't a chicken in sight. Sylvia, the teenage girl who often minds the shop for her parents, comes out of the shop also looking around. LH pauses, "It sounds like its coming from the trash can (positioned directly behind NB)."

Behind everyone's back, Sylvia tiptoed up to the can. She reached out, keeping well back and slowly lifted the lid of the can. In a flurry of feathers, a highly agitated chicken streaked out of the depths of the trash can. Fortunately for the chicken, NB's head was right there, and the somewhat flight challenged chicken decided to use it as a launching pad, leaving a trail of feathers in its wake. For the second time that day NB levitated shrieking "F*ing Hell, Mother F... Shit... God Damn...." Didn't see that coming...
Arms and legs were flailing in a way that can only be described as something between a goose-step march and a windmill - what you might expect from someone being attacked by an angry swarm of bees. Someone was having a bad day. He was already pretty tightly wound after thinking about his cobra encounter, only to be accosted by an unkempt chicken.  Poor NB, impending heart failure for the second time in one day. I think I actually spit my soda out I was laughing so hard, as did just about everyone else. He will never, ever live that one down.

The chicken had apparently been peacefully sleeping in the can until we woke it with our chatter and it found itself trapped. I can't help but wonder how the chicken got in the garbage can in the first place? 

Weather it is a cobra or a chicken, life in the field never stays boring for too long. 


Sunday's Pearl said...

You're killing me...I'm seriously considering the archeology field just so I'll have some stories to tell!

JMS said...

This is great! I wish I could have been the proverbial "fly on the wall" for that one! Guess it's a good thing it wasn't you that time (both times) eh?

I cannot IMAGINE almost stepping on a cobra! Much less a small angry one!

Love ya!