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An alarm clock that crows!

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The road to my uncle's village in Malipati in southern Zimbabwe is so dusty and bumpy that only one bus travels the route. Most of the villagers, like my uncle Machaka, rely on donkey-drawn carts to go from one village to another.

I recently visited my uncle and spent a couple of days with his family. The night before I was to leave, I worried about missing the only bus. It passes through my uncle's village at about 5:30 in the morning--just before sunrise.

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Before I went to bed in the hut, I told Ranga, my young cousin, to wake me before 5:00 A.M. I was not used to getting up so early, so I gave Ranga my watch so that he could check the time regularly and wake me up.

"Don't worry, Cecil," he assured me. "I will make sure I wake you up in time for the bus."

To my surprise, Ranga said he did not need the watch. He preferred to rely on his rooster's crow as the wake-up alarm. Ranga's rooster is named Baker because he is fond of scraps of bread.

In the countryside, many villagers keep roosters among other livestock. During the day, the chickens roam around the villages feeding on grains, insects, and pieces of food. At night they are locked in fenced wooden shelters, or fowl runs.

I would have to spend another day at the village if I missed the bus. I insisted that Ranga use the watch, not the rooster's crow, to tell the time.

It was dark inside the hut. There are no windows, only a small opening near the thatched roof where little rays of light are allowed in.

Before long Ranga was snoring. I wondered if he was really going to wake up in time.

What if the rooster forgets to crow at the right time?

I wished I had brought an alarm clock. I was so worried that I couldn't fall asleep. But finally I began to doze.

The first time I woke up I got out of the blankets to check the watch on Ranga's wrist. It was not even midnight. The second time I checked, it was almost midnight. The third time, it was only a few minutes after midnight.

And every time I checked, Ranga could not even hear me.

If he could not feel me touching his hand, how could he hear Baker outside the hut?

Sleep finally caught up with me, too.

It wasn't long before my sleep was disturbed by a hand shaking my shoulders. "Listen! Listen!" Ranga was shouting.

"Listen to what?" I asked with a sleepy voice.

Ranga put a finger on my mouth, telling me to keep quiet. The rooster was crowing.

I could hear the moos of the cattle being driven out of the kraals (wooden pens). Some villagers were preparing to go to the fields. It seemed as though Baker had awakened the whole village.

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Ranga was excited by the rooster's crowing. It had proven his point. He removed my watch and put it right in front of me to see the time. "Coo-cokri-coo-o!" he crowed, just as Baker had done.

When Uncle Machaka came to the hut, he was surprised to see me already dressed. I told him I had awakened thanks to the rooster's crow.

"I am lucky to have a rooster that still crows in time," he said. "In other villages they no longer listen to their roosters."

There are a lot of reasons why many roosters no longer crow in the morning as they used to. Richard Charisa, a bird expert formerly with the Zimbabwe department of wildlife, believes exposure to light from lamps or towers may cause this.

In Zimbabwe, many people put lamps in the fowl runs to make the roosters feed at night and grow faster. In the countryside, people sometimes put lights near the chicken shelters to safeguard the roosters from thieves and predators like jackals.

"Artificial light disorients the roosters' sense of time linked to the natural sunlight," Charisa said. "You must remember that roosters were once wild birds."

On our way to the bus stop, Ranga explained how he relies on his rooster to wake him up for school. He said that Baker's early morning crow is long and stretched out. But Ranga also admitted that his rooster sometimes misses the mark.

"One rainy day I was late for school because Baker crowed after seven in the morning."

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Two weeks after I arrived back home, I received a letter from Ranga. He drew a picture of a rooster and wrote, "Greetings from Baker." When I replied, I also drew a picture of a rooster and wrote, "If you don't want to be late for school, keep Baker away from artificial light."

Art by Phyllis Hornung Peacock
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Author:Dzwowa, Cecil
Publication:Highlights for Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:812
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