Kouri was getting tired while she was window shopping and sludging through the snow on her return to Hostel Mostel in Sophia, Bulgaria. She stopped in a secondhand store, scanned the shelves and bought a video of the movie Wild with Reese Witherspoon. It was in English with subtitles.
She continued walking and when she crossed the street someone raced by on a bicycle and bumped her. When she reached for her purse, that she thought was on her shoulder, it was gone! “Oh my God. Where's my purse?” She panic and ran back to the store, “My purse—did I leave it here?"
"The man shook his head. "No."
She slowly returned to her hostel in a state of shock. Everything was gone . . . her money, her credit cards, her check book, and even her cell phone. At least she had paid for two nights at the hostel.
When she arrived at the guest house she was in tears. She walked up to the young woman at the check- in counter.
"What's the matter?"
"I've been robbed. Someone passed me on a bicycle when I was crossing the street and pulled my purse right off of my shoulder."
"I'm so sorry. Did you have a room with us?"
"Yea. I paid for two nights. I just went out to change money and buy a few things. They got it all . . . my credit cards, my cash, my cell. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's going to take months to replace all of that."
"What kind of work have you done?"
"Well, before the recession hit and I began traveling and working on organic farms, I was a sales person. Then my company moved me to human resources."
"A lot of us are volunteers at Hostel Mostel. We get a bed to sleep in and eight Lei ($2.00) a day to help with food. I'll ask the manager. Maybe he'll take you on."
"That would be great. It would really help." Kouri walked to her room in a daze. She slept for twelve hours. In the morning she talked to the manager who agreed to give her work and a bed for a month.
Kouri stopped into the Joy Day Health Food Store headquarters where she’d applied for work. "I'm sorry Kouri, there aren't any openings yet. We've got your CV on file and will give you a call as soon as something is available in one of our stores. You're still at the hostel, aren't you?"
"Yes, and if I'm not in, you can leave a message. And thank you—I look forward to hearing from you."
Kouri decided to stop into visit her friend Riva who worked at one of the Joy Day stores and who had given her a recommended. "Hey, Kouri, anything come up yet?"
"No, and I've only get a few more days until my stay at Hostel Mostel is finished. I’ve been trying to get my finances straightened out, but it’s going to take more time. I don't know what I'll do. The manager had book another volunteer for May before I applied."
"Well, I've heard of something. It's my brother—he needs help. Now don't laugh. He's a shepherd. He raises sheep and goats in the mountains next to a national park. He's traveling to Greece for a month to visit our uncle and needs someone to cover for him.
"It's easy work . . . I've done it myself. You just herd the animals along to pastures with fresh grass. The sheep wear bells, so if they wander off, you know where they are. The bells sound like wind chimes. Calix has a cabin on the hillside, so you'd have a place to stay. I'd recommend it. Then, perhaps in a month, Joy Day could take you on. You know, it's spring and the wildflowers are in bloom and it's warm and pleasant out. And you've got lots of time to think when you're meandering through the mountains. I wish I were there right now, instead of trying to survive in this ancient, dirty city of Sophia, Bulgaria."
“I guess I'd better consider it. Being a shepherdess could be fun. I've always wondered what it would be like. Could I meet your brother and take a look at the cabin and the sheep?"
"Well, that's another problem. It's kind of far away."
“It's in Macedonia, about eight hours drive from here."
“Macedonia, that's where I grew up. It was part of Greece in ancient times.”
"Greece, I've been wanting to visit the country for the longest time."
"You'll love it. Look, I text my brother. He says he's interested in you. He hasn't been able to find anyone to cover for him for the short term.”
Calix met Kouri at the bus station, “You must be Kouri, welcome to Orhid, Macedonia."
"And you're Calix, nice meeting you." They shook hands.
He was about twenty years old with short, light brown, curly hair, narrow hips, and wore a tee shirt and shorts which displayed his strong tanned legs. He said in broken English, "I'm not really an uneducated peasant destined to be a shepherd all my life. I graduated high school and studied English and history. I hope to go to the university next year when I'll have enough money saved for tuition. One of the things I'm going to talk to my uncle about when I visit Greece is money.
"Sheep and goats and farming are our family business. Riva probably told you we've all done stint as shepherds. Next year my younger brother will graduate from high school, so he'll take over shepherding while I study.”
* * *
The mountains were covered with pine groves and low lying shrubs with berries and needles like you'd see on fir trees. It was a strenuous climb up the meandering trail, however, not too challenging for Kouri who was use to walking the hills of her home town of San Francisco.
The view was magnificent. You could see Orhid in the foreground nestled along the crescent of a bay on the lake. After about thirty minutes, they came over a rise and into a small bowl. Built up against the precipitous slope sat the cabin. Calix walked over to a barrel and filled a cup with water. He handed it to Kouri, “I'll bet you’re thirsty after that climb."
"Thanks. This cabin is wonderful."
"Well, it's a place to sleep and cook basic meals, anyway. This time of year you'll stay warm under a blanket or two. And you can always light the stove, if a storm comes in and it gets cold."
"Where are the sheep?"
"I've left them feeding in a pasture further up the mountain. When you're rested, I'll give you the tour."
"So what are you going to do when you leave your "kids" and go off to the university?"
“I'm going to be an archaeologist. You can imagine why . . . man has occupied these mountains and Macedonia for over 7000 years, since 5000 BC. I find artifacts up here all the time, usually from Neolithic man. I'll show you some of them.
“In the 4th Century BC, King Phillip II built Macedon into a strong state. Then his son Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world. His strongest skills were not fighting—they were diplomacy—he was able to negotiate well with the conquered people.
“In the 11th Century Macedonia became its own country and then it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. It eventually became part of Yugoslavia in the Balkans before it regained its independence in 1991. Anyway, I’m talking about my own country and getting off the subject.”
They trekked diagonally up the face of the rise. Kouri could see snow covered peaks in the distance. Then they came to a pasture. "Here are my babies. This flock has 53 sheep and twelve goats. The goats are usually kept on the farm at the base of the mountain. I take a few with me every day to give them exercise and a variation in their diet."
The sheep were feeding on a gentle incline in a circular area enclosed with bushes and dead branches. And they wore bells. For a minute Kouri felt as if she were in church listening to an organ or carillon.
Calix shouted, "Feda."
"What did you tell them."
"I called Feda, our sheep dog. He'll be along in a minute. He'll do most of the work for you."
A short dog with a long brown and white coat burst through the flock.
Calix bellowed out a series of whistles.
"What are the whistles for?"
“I'm telling Feda to spread the sheep around the field. I’ve got over eighty verbal and whistle commands.”
The dog made a dash through the center of the pack and the sheep ran towards the edges of the pasture. Calix whistled again and Feda sprinted towards him, climbed through some branches, and then sat panting on the ground nearby. Calix gave one more whistle and Feda came over to Kouri, raised his paw and she shook it.
"How cute." She rubbed the dogs ears and coat.
“In addition to moving the sheep around, you've got to keep an eye on the animals—they have poor depth perception and can fall off a cliff or into a gully.
If one gets hurt or sick, leave the flock in the pen, and then take it down to the farm. If she's hurt and can't walk, you'll need to tell my mother Helvena and she'll send up help."
"What kind of predators will I face?"
"This area is well settled; farms and ranches are scattered across the mountains. Consequently, the wolves have been driven into more remote areas. Coyotes and foxes are the primary concern. Don't worry . . . they don't attack humans. If they find a sheep off on its own, a pack of coyotes or a lone fox will stock it and take it down."
“I'll keep a sharp eye out—I wouldn't want to see an animal get eaten. Oh, look at that sun setting over the lake and the distant mountains. It’s magnificent."
“That's the best part about working up here—the country and the scenery. I can never get enough of it."
“I know I'll love it too."
"Ready to meet the family?"
"Sure. It's getting kind of late; are we going to be able to make it up here again after dark?"
"Well have dinner on the farm and then, for the first night, I'll let you stay in the house with us. The girls have a spare bed in their room. I'll send my younger brother Hela up here to tend the flock tonight. Then tomorrow night you'll be on your own."
"I'm looking forward to it."
They entered the farm yard, making their way through a flock of chickens, roosters, dogs, and cats and then past a barn with a handful of goats chomping away. Then they walked into the front door of the house.
"Momma, meet Kouri. You can call her Helvena . . . she's fifty-eight years old. We can never pull a fast one on her because she's just as sharp as a tack."
Helvena walked over, held Kouri by the hands, looked her in the eyes, and smiled. She then spoke to Kouri in Macedonian.
“She says she feels like she's known you for years since both of her children have given her a full description of you.”
She then returned to the sink and preparing dinner. Through Calix she said, "Dinner's almost ready. Would Kouri like some fresh goat’s milk or hot tea?"
"How about both. I'd like something hot to revive me after the long day on the mountain."
The children crowded around Kouri and Calix while they talked. There were two young girls seven and eleven years old, a boy sixteen, and then two more teenage girls. They looked just like Riva, Kouri's friend at Joy Day. The second oldest boy was spending the night at a friend’s house.
Kouri spoke with Lida, the younger teenage girl, "So how long has your family been living here?"
"Four generations. My father's family moved to Macedonia during a Greek famine in the 19th Century and leased the land to start a farm. They were hard workers and did well. They fed the sheep and goats on the hillside and prospered. Then the owner died and his son offered to sell the land to my grandfather. At one time our family owned a good portion of the valley.
“Most of the farms have been sold and now only a hand full of them remain. You can see that the land has been converted into residential homes. We're the last enclave of agricultural enterprises on this side of the valley."
"What do you and your brothers and sisters want to do. Are you going to continue farming?"
"The older sister Nida answered," Oh, no. Those days are over. We're going to go to the university like Reva and Calix. I want to become a nurse."
Lida, the younger teenager said, and I'm going to be a doctor."
“Those are fine professions, I encourage you to work hard to achieve your dreams.”
* * *
In the morning, after washing up and helping with the dishes, Calix and Kouri climbed the mountain. It was another magnificent day. The air was cool and clear with a mist settling over the lake. Kouri took in the snow covered mountains, the forest, the lake, and the town. She was going to like it up here.
When they reached the pen near the cabin where the sheep and goats spent the night, the sun was just coming up over the horizon. Calix removed some branches from the enclosure, so the sheep could be led out and then whistled to Feda.
"You told him to move the sheep to the center of the pen."
"Excellent. You're learning your lessons.
“That sheep is the leader. The others will follow her. You can get a bucket and fill it with her favorite food and use it to lead her and the flock along to the pastures.
"Do you notice how that ewe stays away from the flock? She's pregnant and about to go into labor. You can tell because her teats and vulva are swollen and extended. Usually the ewes give birth on their own without the help of the shepherd. Sometimes, though, there's a problem and the shepherd needs to help her."
"You're kidding. You don't mean that I need to have veterinary skills do you?"
"No, it's easy. The difficult part is knowing when to assist the ewe and when to call for help. If she's been struggling for over an hour with no results, she needs assistance. If we're lucky, she'll give birth today and you can experience the process."
"Another magnificent view of the lake and the city. I may not want to leave when you return . . . and I really like your family."
"They like you, too. We may not want to let you go. Any time you need a break or someone to talk to, just walk down the mountain and visit the farm. They'll always be available."
"See that sheep wondering off towards the rise? There's a sheer slope on the others side that could give it trouble.”
"Look, the pregnant ewe is lying down."
"It's nearly her time." Calix whistled and Feda herded the sheep away from the cliff and then nipped at the heels of the pregnant ewe to get her on her feet again."
They walked towards the cabin and in another fifteen minutes, they had the sheep and goats in the main pen. Calix placed the pregnant ewe on a bed of straw on the south side of the building.- They went into the cottage and Calix lit the stove and put water on to boil.
"Ever assisted at a birth?"
"Only kittens. Our family's calico cat had a new batch of babies every year."
"Then you know what to expect."
They could hear the ewe panting. "Is she in pain?"
"Like any birth, it's a painful process. Let's go see how she's doing."
When they reached the sheep, she was breathing fast with her head facing towards the sky.
Kouri said, "Here comes here water."
"It will break in a few minutes and then, if things are normal, we'll see the lamb's nose. Most birthing problems are caused by too large of a lamb or too small of a pelvic opening. Sometimes the legs get crossed, so then you have to push the lamb back in, uncross the legs, and then pull it out.
“The other major challenge is a breached birth—when the lamb is in backwards and the tail is visible. In that case, you have to align the legs and pull the lamb out quickly because the cord will break and the lamb will need to start breathing."
They continued to watch her. After a half hour Calix said, "She's struggling. Come on, I'm going to give you some firsthand experience in birthing a lamb. We'll wash our hands and arms in hot soapy water. Be sure to take off your rings and jewelry because they can get caught on the mother when you're pulling out a lamb. Then we'll put on gloves."
When they returned to the ewe Calix said, "Are you ready?"
"I'll give it a try. I've never done this before."
"It's a good experience and it will prepare you for when you’re on your own. Now, cup your fingers into a cone shape like this and then push them inside of her. Good."
I can feel its nose."
"How about the feet?"
"I don't feel them."
Kouri reached her arm further into the ewe. “I found one of them. It's off to the right."
"Use your other hand to push the lamb back inside and then pull the foot forward.
Good. Now you'll need to find the other foot."
After several minutes, Kouri said, "I've got both feet."
“Excellent. Hold onto the feet and gently pull. That's it . . . it’s coming out . . . keep pulling."
"Hey look at that, I did it."
"Nice work, Kouri. You've passed your final exam. You’re a shepherdess! The after birth will come out within an hour and the lamb usually eats it. Then you have to make sure she "owns" her lamb or lambs. She does that when she feeds them. When you've done that, the process is completed."
"Lambs . . . how many do they usually have?"
"Today it was only one, but it’s often two or three.
“Kouri. I'm going to leave you on your own tonight and then I'll be back to check on you in the morning. Then at noon, I’ll catch my bus to Athens.”
"Calix, you're here. Feda woke me early, so I decided to visit this side of the mountain and then explore the pastures further up this afternoon."
"How did it go last night?"
"To be honest, I slept right through it. I was exhausted."
"You'll get used to the life up here. Eventually, you'll be aware of the sheep in your sleep. The slightest noise or disturbance will cause you to awaken."
“Feda is following my whistle commands. I think it will go just fine."
"I'm glad. Well, I'm off to Greece. Kouri. I want to thank you again for covering for me. You've made this trip possible. And I've enjoyed our conversation and the chance to get to know you."
"I have, too. I think I'm going to love this job. You might not get it back when you return."
With a smile, Calix said, "In that case, I'll need to make other arrangements.”
* * *
Kouri lit the lamp, washed up, and put on water to boil for tea. She then sat down to eat and read. Feda scratched at the door, so she let him in. He came over and sat down at her feet. She scratched his ears, “Thanks for your help today, Feda. We're going to work well together.” She brought down his bowl, filled it with dog food, and then added a few special treats.
Finally, she collected her dishes, filled a bowl with water, and went outside to wash them. She was uncomfortable . . . afraid . . . being outside all alone on a mountainside in the dark, far from other people.
She completed the task quickly, and then returned to the cabin and locked the door. She let Feda out and in a few minutes, she was asleep.
At some point during the night, she woke up. She could hear the sheep moving around and some were "baahing". She opened the door and whistled to Feda, telling him to, "Round up the sheep into the center of the pen.” She heard barking and growling. She got the lantern and then with fear coursing through her veins, walked outside towards the pen. The sheep were all cluster on the cabin side of the pasture. When she walked towards the barking, she saw Feda snarling at several sets of dots of light in the distance. Eyes of Coyotes! She walked towards them and shouted, "Get out of here.” She hissed and growled and shouted,
She tried everything she could think of to scare off the predators, “Go on . . . get out of here.” She picked up some large rocks and threw them at the interlopers. "Go on get out of here. Go on, you're not wanted here. You're not going to get one of my sheep." She moved closer and continued to throw stones. Finally, the animals were gone and Feda herded the flock together.
Still shaking with fear, she walked into the cabin and sat down with the lantern lit. She realized that if the coyotes had attacked a sheep, there wasn't much else she could have done. She'd just have to run back to the cabin, lock the door, and pray that the predators would leave her alone.
* * *
The days of tending the flock blended from one into another. Kouri easily fell into the pattern of moving the sheep from pasture to pasture, keeping an eye on the strays, and filling the long hours with reading, thinking, napping, and enjoying the countryside.
After taking an afternoon off to explore Orhid, visit the health food market, and have dinner with Calix’s family, Kouri returned to the cabin. "Thank you Hela for walking me up here in the dark. Would you like a handful of organic cashews? I purchased them when I was in Orhid today."
"Yes, I'd love some."
She unpacked her purchases and puttered around the cabin putting things away. She went into her backpack to look for the plastic bag where she kept her books, address and telephone numbers, and other important items. She took out her favorite packet of tea, boiled some water, and made a cup. Then she slept long and deep, dreaming of the sheep, the pastures, and beautiful Lake Orhid.
This story is an excerpt from my book African Safari Bootcamp for Women. It was Kouri's Dream. It is as published in A Great Escape: Short Stories for Travelers. They available, along with my three other books, at www.amazon.com.
And for a limited time only, you can buy these books through Payhip for only $.99 at https://payhip.com/b/RESS and https://payhip.com/b/jykz. Thank you for reading these stories.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Ken Wasil.
Published on e-Stories.org on 13.11.2017.