Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Red Hot Chilli Pepper or the Ballad of the Flaming Owl

‘The owl is on fire!’

The Chilli-Elephant man has returned from an overseas business trip and been in bed on his chilli farm in Livingstone for a mere four hours. The phone has rung and now he is trying to make some sense of the farm manager’s frantic shouting.


‘Mr. M! Mr. M! Come quickly! . The owl is on fire!!’

So begins the tale told by the red hot Chilli-Elephant man one steamy and sticky night in Livingstone town last week. Chilli-Elephant man is telling the story to myself and two very gorgeous dear single woman friends of mine. We are eating Indian food at a restaurant called, bizarrely, ‘Armadillo’. All of us ladies are slightly agog, a little breathless and a tad giddy because Chilli-Elephant man is not only breast-achingly handsome but courteous, seemingly exceedingly intelligent, thoughtful and what tops it for me..bloody funny.

Chilli-Elephant man is one of the Executive directors of the Elephant Pepper Development trust. Basically they figured out a way to bring an end to the endless conflict between marauding elephants and rural farmers in Southern and Eastern Africa whilst bolstering local economies, fighting poverty and teaching conservation. Not bad eh?
The solution? Capsicum! The very versatile hot pepper.
Elephants hate chilli. Grow it. smear it on fences, or wear it around your neck and you are pretty much guaranteed an elephant free lifestyle. Combine this with the fact that chill pepper can be grown under difficult circumstances and in harsh environments and then sold as a cash crop and ....da daaaa. Yep..everyone wins. Okay I have simplified this but have a quick shifty at the websites http://www.elephantpepper.com and http://www.elephantpepper.org and you’ll get the picture.
(Note you can also donate directly to the project or sideways by buying endless supplies of exquisite hot sauces!)

Anyway back to supper and the Chilli-Elephant man’s story...

‘Mr M, hurry, hurry the owl is on fire!’ Blearily and presuming he has completely misheard his farm manager, Chilli-Elephant man heaves himself out of bed and heads outside where, indeed, the owl is on fire,

It is a very large and once distinguished barn owl that has sadly tried to roost on the top of an electric pylon. This being a Zambian electricity company pylon however the poor beast has been whammed with 1000s of volts of electricity causing it to instantly and most dramatically, ignite. It is stuck, feathers flaming, at the very top of the wooden pylon.

The fire service is called. They arrive eventually crammed into the back of what looks like a taxi, gripping a few rusty hand pumps. Unable to do much given the bird is flaming over 20 feet up, they shrug and end up standing next to the Chilli-Elephant man and the entranced farm staff all scratching their heads and watching the fire with its gouts of black smoke and sparks or electricity getting gradually bigger and more threatening.
(Owls are associated in Zambia with death and witchcraft and there is much stroking of chins, eloquent nodding and nervous tutting.)
Police too join the crowd, notebooks in hand, gazing up at the flames.

At last to the firemen’s delight and Chilli-Elephant man’s horror the entire pylon crashes to the ground. Several small fires start up on the ground and electric pylons spark and flash in the now very dark night. (The electricity is..well down). The firemen however are thrilled and leap into action finally able to use their hand pumps.

Chilli-Elephant man is stumbling around trying to make sense of it all, jet lag blurring his vision. He notices that the police are solemnly picking out the remnants of the owl (who unlike the phoenix is never emerging from these ashes). A large bag is bought forward and delicately opened and the smouldering bones are carefully slid inside. The bag is marked…and here Chilli-Elephant man pauses for emphasis…the bag is marked ‘Culprit.’

At this point I slide off my chair in hysterical giggles. It is such a truly surreal yet gorgeous Zambian story. …though you should really have heard it from the marvellous man himself....ahh,girly sigh. How did he win the hearts of three women in one evening? I am beginning to think he has invented some kind of chilli elephant aphrodisiac aftershave. Now THAT would sell!

And so and so….I arrived back in UK yesterday. No chillies here folks. No flaming owls or monstrous, heavenly, stormy skies but plans afoot to find a way to return. More stories soon..and thank you so much to Val from Monkeys on the Roof for my new blog award. I have to nominate five others and so will make my pick for next post when I have finally (and grumpily) unpacked.

8 comments:

nmj said...

You are right, this is a gorgeous story. Poor owl, though!

family affairs said...

Great story and welcome home....I know the feeling - I got back yesterday and don't want to be home yet or unpack Lx

Susan said...

Chili elephants and electrocuted owls: you certainly know how to tell a story! LOL And I thought our fire service was a bit 'vintage'...wow.

Nao said...

I think you do this story justice my dear! You are a great teller of tales.
Welcome home.

Val said...

omg the poor owl!!! going out in a blaze of glory...even as a culprit. Great story and i love the fire brigade - as long as i am not waiting for them to stop my house burning down ...
will check out their website. I did hear of this theory. so does it really work then? will be fabulous if so
Love your blog :-)

Suzie said...

I too feel sorry for the owl. Welcome back

Chimera said...

Thanks everyone..and yes..poor old owl. However he did go out in a blaze of glory..quite literally.
T xx

Miranda said...

haha! Great story!! We did a play in Mfuwe for that very project...