It has begun. I’ve lived in Pakistan for almost two years: a country so full of chickens that you couldn’t walk into a village without stumbling into a squawking pack of hens. A country so full of chickens that even my house guards can tell me about the three most common breeds of hens in the country and a proper feeding schedule. And yet every week I have eaten pale, perfect, sterile-looking huge eggs in a styrofoam package from the expat grocery store that I’m sure are flown in from Dubai or someplace equally ridiculous.
I’m also sure the word for a group of hens is not a “pack,” but this is exactly my point: I don’t know these things and haven’t taken the trouble to learn. (Flock? Clutch? Let the education begin.) For two years I have paid the price of my ignorance with tasteless, watery and rather expensive eggs. I said as much at work the other day, and a woman on my team turned around immediately and said, “Well, how many hens would you like?” I was headed more towards the where-can-I-get-local-organic-eggs? question, but apparently that was the wrong question.
The right question was where-can-I-get-local-organic-chickens-to-lay-eggs-for-me? and now I have my answer. My first two hens were deposited yesterday, much to the wired, intense interest of Marlo and Kima who looked at first like it was Christmas (chickens arrive) and then like I had cancelled Christmas (dogs are told that the chickens should under no circumstances be played with or eaten). Two more hens are coming later in the week to make a merry little band of four.
Today my throat felt a little less like a raw cutting board for the Devil’s Ginsu knives so I left the house for the first time in five days. By “left the house” I mean I stepped into the front yard and felt the unfamiliar sensation of sun on my shoulders. As I always do, the first thing I surveyed was the big side yard downstairs and the garden, to see how the wild thicket of arugula is doing.
There they were, pecking away like they had always been part of the landscape: soft and tottering, two hens minding their own business. I was both enchanted and floored: what do I do with them? What do they eat? Do they need a warm place to sleep at night and maybe a slug of whiskey to settle their nerves when the dogs get too close? When will I start getting my breakfast eggs?
Luckily, I have in-house hen experts. Aforementioned guards apparently used to live on a farm with 300 chickens and can even make the hens come right up and eat from their fingers. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen my colossal, 6’5″ guard bending low over the grass, his AK-47 propped up on nearby tree an appropriate distance away, making delicate clucking noises with a weedy morsel in his outstretched hand.
The big talk around the henhouse now is the need for a “male hen.” I explained the problem with this phrasing to no avail. I’m certainly no expert, so I’m inclined to believe the guards (and the gardener, and the dog-trainer, and the housekeeper: yes, everyone got into the act around here today on the chicken question) when they say no rooster = no eggs. But I say, no rooster = no 5:00 am cock-a-doodle-do. Thus we are at an impasse. Do I bring a cock into the flock and risk alienating the neighbors? Do I set up an elaborate rooster stud session by day and whisk him into a sheltered, sound-proof boudoir by night?
This question will be resolved. But for today, there was only rejoicing. As the hens made themselves at home, the dogs looked on and licked their lips, and one of our newest arrivals produced one, small, brown, perfect egg like a charming hostess present. I’ll be having it for breakfast.