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September 9, 2020

How a thousand chickens taught me to be resilient


Everyone experiences moments when they feel weighed down and under great pressure. When we can adapt to what’s going on we can bounce back, feeling more resilient.

Many years ago, when I was travelling in the Middle East, I went to work on a small farm. Most of the men had been killed in a recent war and the place was in a distressed state with the orchards groaning with quickly ripening fruit and animals needing attention.

They desperately needed manpower to get the farm back up and running and I was one of a number of volunteers prepared to help out in any way we could.

My first task was challenging. I was selected with two other volunteers to clear out three large chicken sheds. The ground was a heaving white carpet completely covered with ‘free range’ chickens scrambling around trying to stand in the tightly packed space.

None of the sheds had been touched for over six months, apart from a weekly scattering of wood chips designed to prevent the newly laid eggs from being broken. The floor level had risen by over 1.5 m metres, and our task was to clear it all out – I leave it to your imagination as to what the aroma was like.

My companions were a middle-aged Frenchman who spoke no English and a compatriot who was on the run from the police (he was an early Skin Head who I eventually discovered was like one of the local fruits – ‘sabra’  – prickly on the outside, but soft on the inside). We made a strange looking and unlikely team.

We had no choice but to get stuck in and having walked around the sheds realised that their single window was going to be only way to get the muck out without releasing the chickens.

We devised a method whereby one of us would load up the wheelbarrow, another would wheel it up a plank to the window and tip it into a tipper truck, which would then be driven off to a dump. Every half hour we changed positions so that during the day there was an opportunity for fresh air and to get away from the incessant clucking of the fluffy white chickens, which because of the tight space would often stand on the shovel load of muck, or take up residence in the wheelbarrow.

For just over two months, six days a week, we toiled away filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow.

Despite our differences the three of us soon became a team and made the work fun and rewarding, even if our breakfast companions kept their distance, finding our ‘cologne’ a little too earthy.

The work might have been repetitive and unpleasant but we knew we were helping a distressed community and making a difference. 

Every day as I walked to work I had passed some huge orange groves and that’s where I spent the next two months – standing on top of a ladder, picking big fat juicy oranges, with a gentle breeze coming in from the nearby sea, and the sun on my back.

We had not expected to be given a reward, which frankly was the last thing on my mind, but it was a very pleasant outcome after some strenuous work

When you have a goal, and a strongly defined purpose, many of the initial challenges disappear. Without an agenda nothing is going to get done as you sit on the sidelines working out what to do, or waiting for someone else to make the first move or do the work for you.

Resilience is built by having an agenda which steers us towards the goal, helping us override the obstacles and doubt, keeping us on the straight and narrow.

Clearing three chicken sheds was a daunting task but when that fist shovel load was taken the process started and momentum built. It helped that the three of us shared the same approach – we were not volunteering to be picky about the work, we were there to help in any way we could even if we were knee deep in muck. 

When we are clear about what has to be done we know it intuitively – we don’t need to look for permission from ourselves or anyone else, we don’t need to have the process worked over by our ego or intellect. Just reach out for the shovel and get to work.

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Anthony Thompson  |  Contribution: 1,540