by Sr. Mary Casey MMM (1926-2014) Ireland 03.01.2023
Bring a torch if you come to visit us in Tanzania. You’ll need it if you go strolling at night, unless of course you don’t mind snakes.
Snake slaying is a skill I have not yet acquired. Strike hard, they tell you, with stone or stick presumably where you think his vital centres are. One day at language school, returning to my room after dark I saw one. Of course, I did the very thing I should not have done, I ran for help. The veterans say, “never take your eyes off a snake, shout for help”. We got back to where I saw the snake only in time to see him disappearing into a shore.
A Franciscan Missionary from Holland, Sr. Monique, responded to my alarmed reaction by relating another ‘snake story’. At a mission north of us, Brother Paul, who is also Dutch, took a keen interest in poultry. Sr. Monique brought him some turkey eggs. A most welcome gift, as a nice piece of roast turkey on Christmas Day can help considerably to promote the spiritual joy of the great feast, in a country where delicacies are not too plentiful. Two hens were given the task of hatching the precious eggs.
Brother Paul always looked in on his hens before retiring. One night he forgot his torch and in its absence he put his hand into the box. Immediately he sensed trouble. Yes, you have guessed. Still panting from the race to fetch the torch, in horror his breathing quickened. Flashing the light, he saw a large reptile, a dead hen, and no sign of the eggs. Now, if you think that was the end of the turkey-to-be, you are wrong. Brother Paul thought fast, and quick action on his part saved the day. The thief must not be allowed to escape so on the box went a heavy lid. In a twinkle he was back from the hospital, armed with a vial of Ethyl Chloride. For those who do not know, Ethyl Chloride is an anaesthetic vapour, contained in a glass vial and used as a spray.
Now something everybody knows is that an anaesthetic should never be administered on a full stomach and for obvious reasons. The rule holds for snakes too. The likely effect of the drug was just the one needed here. On with the spray! No sooner had the “patient” gone under when vomiting commenced and one…two…three…until not an egg remained inside. Another hen bravely took on the task which her ill-fated sister began. Shortly afterwards, to the great delight and surprise of all at the Mission, nine beautiful turkey chicks saw the light of day.
And the snake? Well, he didn’t recover from the anaesthetic.
First published in 1981, MMM Magazine