The Hen in the Crib

Sister Tammy Saberon SSC 

Columban Sister Tammy, from Molave, Zamboanga del Sur, shares another story from Myitkyina in the north of Myanmar.

In other countries, Christmas decorations are usually up long before Advent begins, especially in commercial centers. But for us here in Myitkyina, Myanmar, where 89 percent of the people are Buddhists, there are no Christmas decorations around except in churches, convents and priests’ houses. Christmas 2004 was the first time we, the Columban Sisters, celebrated Christmas as a community in Myitkyina. It happened that Sr Kathleen Geaney, our then Congregational Leader, was with us for Christmas.

In the morning of 24 December, Sister Kathleen said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a native crib in the house? Maybe you can do it.’ I was hesitant at the beginning because I did not know what to do and what materials to use to make a crib. Then I took her word seriously. Though I had nothing in mind as to how the crib might look, I began to gather sticks of bamboo, rice stalks, banana trunks and leaves, and so on. While I was preparing the crib, a hen and a cock kept coming into the house, heading for the rice stalks I had in the crib. I drove them out several times.

A few hours later, the crib came into shape and all the Sisters said that it was very nice. But some local people could not make out what it was for as they could not identify the figures in the crib. It was their first time to see this kind of crib. They have the usual figurines in all the cribs here so it was strange for them to see a crib like this.

Egg-citing surprise hen laid an egg

On Christmas Day one of the Sisters called me to come and see what was happening in the crib. The hen, which had roamed around the day before, had laid an egg. Day by day after that we saw the number of eggs increasing, more than one per day. We cooked some of them.

After the feast of the Three Kings we decided to take down the decorations and the crib as well. The hen had begun sitting on her eggs to hatch them. Sister Ashwena put the eggs and the hen into a box and placed them outside. In the end, she decided to put the box back in the corner where the crib used to be.

Hen-picked nests

One morning there was a tug-of-war between two hens. We did not know that another hen had laid eggs in the crib and when the crib was gone she also got into the box to lay them there. However, the hen that was already hatching would not let her in and would not give an inch of space for the other to do her job.

So a box was placed beside the other one, but the second hen would not sit in it. Out of frustration, she looked for another place to lay her eggs. She found a place on top of a tree in front of our house. We discovered this when we saw an egg that had fallen from the nest onto the ground and broke. Again, a box had to be placed in the tree so the eggs would be safe.

Certified mother hen

The nine eggs of the first hen eventually hatched. Since she was in the house for quite some time, she felt that the house was hers and so she often brought her chicks around the house, especially to the place where she had sat before.

One day, we found a hen that looked very sick, her legs paralyzed. We discovered that it was the hen that had eggs in the tree and we wondered who had taken the chicks down. By nature the chicks would jump down from the nest when they were ready and the mother-hen would call them.

The hen had sat on her eggs for weeks in the middle of winter. She must not have come down to eat so by the time she hatched her eggs, she had no more energy. She struggled for days and managed to hatch all her eggs. She just had enough energy to jump down to show her chicks to do the same. The chicks were all safe down on the ground but the hen was crippled.

At that time, the bird flu scare was rampant therefore we were careful that, if she had bird flu, she would not spread the disease. We kept the chicks away from the hen while the latter was placed in ‘intensive care’ under Sister Ashwena’s supervision and medical care. She was very patient in taking care of the hen, giving her medicines and massages everyday.

The hen was very weak and we thought she would die. Although she was weak, she still could hear her chicks and would turn her head in the direction where the sounds came from. Sister Ashwena thought of putting a chick with the hen to make her happy. It was so touching to see the hen weakly raise her head and pick a piece of rice to show her chick how to pick for her food. Then she would struggle to put her head back in a comfortable position. She repeated this caring act from time to time.

One day we happily found that the hen had become strong and later had fully recovered to take care of her chicks.

You may write Sister Tammy at: 
St Columban’s Church, Augnan 
Yeiktha, MYITKYINA, 
Kachin State, MYANMAR