While living in within the compound of a secondary boarding school in Jos Nigeria in 2005, I had discovered a nest of owls living in the roof of our apartment. The discovery was not really by chance since from the first night spent in the bungalow, we knew that something bigger than a large rat was living in the roof, and they would always make loud noise with their steps especially in the middle of the night. The ladies in the apartment freaked out immediately they found out that what lived there was not a large rat as they had previously thought, but (not one, not two) about three or more large owls. A few days after, we caught one of them by spreading a mosquito net at the opening of the roof through where they had always got in while someone went into the house to hit on the ceiling. After a few knocks that disturbed its sleep, the bird flew out right into the net, and we caught and took him down. Napoleon – a fellow resident of the apartment, and a fellow Youth Corp* member – did most of the job of plucking the most prominent of the bird’s wing feathers, and let him go into the living room. Not being able to fly anymore, he just stood there and stared at everyone suspiciously.
By the next morning, news had spread all around the school and neighbourhood that we had caught an “evil bird” and were keeping it right in our apartment. By evening, it was not the Riyom women alone who were throwing tantrums at our “audacity” and “foolishness”, but the residents of the apartment themselves. The two young women (also in the NYSC programme) who lived in the building with us would not understand nor stand the logic of bringing a scary looking “evil” bird into the house at all where it was bound to become a big physical daylight nightmare. In addition to making sure that their rooms were locked at all times from then on, and they began to whisper “the blood of Jesus” every time they inevitably had to come into the living room, right before they go back into their rooms screaming for us to get the “evil looking thing” out into the woods where it belonged. The bird read the mood of the house and refused to eat any of the rodents we brought for it, or do anything else other than just stare sheepishly. After a few days of immense internal and external pressure, not helped by the bird itself which had started looking weak and tired from non-flying, non-eating and too much daylight, and we had to let it go after a while. It took a few slow steps into the woods behind the apartment and went out of sight as fast as possible. I went online to read about them and found that they were called the African Barn Owl, or TytoAlba – very cool, adorable animals of night. Apparently, not everyone was comfortable with having them near. I confess that at times even I also felt a little chilly when I looked into their large dark eyes.
Yesterday at midnight, while taking a walk back from campus where I’d gone to see a free show of the movie The Ugly Truth, I found an owl perched on a wire mesh around the Cougar Village tennis court. It was a little larger than the tyto alba but not any less adorable. Luckily I was able to take two shots before it flew away into the woods, which was just as well, since it was perched so high and far beyond the reach of my hands anyway, and the lighting was not good enough to give me a better shot of it.
* The Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a community service cum paramilitary service mandatory for every fresh university graduate below the age of thirty. It takes each fresh graduate out of their home environment into somewhere else – mostly a farther town within the country, for the period of a year to learn new things, and to serve the community, while living on stipends from the federal government.