Alex Wagner is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in La Guajira, Colombia.
I don’t have much experience with home-made slingshots, but this one seems to be coming together quite nicely. After finding a sturdy Y-shaped branch and whittling it down to fit in the hand, we tie on stretchy plastic tubes to both sides at the top of the fork. The tubes are connected at the other end by a small piece of leather cut out from the tongue of a shoe. After giving the improvised pocket a few practice tugs, we’re satisfied with our work. This will be our weapon of choice in the long battle with our mortal enemy: a common egret.
Why is this docile, three foot tall bird our target? Well you see, Yarido and I have a pond full of 3,000 young tilapia to protect from its hungry beak. After we fed the fish and made sure the motor was properly feeding water into the pond, it came gliding ever so casually into the branches of a nearby tree. It seems clear that it has made a habit of feeding here. What could be better than a small pond full of thousands of fish, ripe for the taking?
Thankfully, Yarido is not only the president of the municipality’s cacao association, but also an expert fish-guardian. And today he has no plans to host the egret’s leisure lunch. With our newly constructed slingshot in hand, we gather an arsenal of small rocks to launch. Unfortunately, after a few practice shots we realize that our tool of destruction doesn’t have nearly the range we were hoping for. By the time we can get within a good striking distance, our target can easily fly to another nearby tree. He does this a dozen times seemingly without effort. I, meanwhile, am beginning to work up a serious sweat and sunburn as we do laps around the pond. Yarido inexplicably doesn’t seem any worse for wear.
I should make it clear that we’re not actually trying to hit this poor bird. Doing that would get us in trouble with the police, Yarido warns me. Something about protecting the wildlife he says…Besides, I would have some reservations about hurting a wild animal that is clearly just trying to chow down. So we settle with simply scaring the bird away, which we seem to be doing more effectively with our feet than with the slingshot.
After no less than an hour of constant vigilance and plenty of hurried walking, we finally win the war of attrition. The bird takes off from his tree for the last time and begins a lazy arc away from the pond. We watch in silence as his figure shrinks to a dot in the distance. He seems to have given up the hunt for our fish – for now at least.
I credit the victory to our tireless work effort, but Yarido jokes that the real reason he got discouraged was because of my scary gringo face. I find that highly unlikely.
As we sit in the shade on a pair of big rocks basking in our victory, I can’t stop a smile from spreading across my face. I feel so grateful for a job that lets me spend my days chasing birds around a pond like a madman. While mornings like this one don’t contain any activities that fit under the realm of standard “work,” I have a feeling they are going to stick with me more than anything else.