It's time for another goodbye. The six weeks spent in Cape Town, and more specifically at SANCCOB with our penguin friends, have sped by.
Only six weeks ago we arrived back at our guest house after the first day of work, convinced that we were in for a long, dragging time. The birds were terrifying, and the work was exhausting. I couldn't believe how much laundry these birds produced, and the thought of pushing a meal of whole fish down the throat of a struggling bird wedged between my knees -- it was overwhelming. The first two days we counted the hours and minutes until lunch, and then we counted down to the end of the day.
Then we started to see the birds' personalities. We knew which ones were docile and sweet (relatively), and we knew which ones were positively evil. We watched them float in the pool, flipping from side to side. We herded their waddling, wiggling butts in and out of their fenced pens as we chased them, and we learned how to catch them without drawing (our) blood. At first it was a thrill -- dodging the mayhem of 30 penguin beaks reaching for your hand was an adrenaline rush unlike anything ever experienced. It was like... Fear Factor. The cuts and bruises we garnered became like war wounds, things to be displayed proudly to anyone who showed an interest.
Yesterday I sat next to my penguins and washed their feathers after a particularly messy feed. I sprayed them with the hose, lightly, and they stretched their necks high and fluttered their flippers. Their bodies plumped out as they ruffled their feathers and preened, and they wiggled their little tails as the droplets of water fell on their little torpedo bodies. I was hit with the realization that I was sitting next to a bunch of penguins. I was washing penguins, and for the past six weeks I'd been part of a team that's responsible for rehabilitating them and returning them to the wild. I realized how lucky we were to have had this experience, and how precious an experience it really was, how rare.
In our time at SANCCOB we've helped wash oiled penguins. We've helped penguins with crooked beaks, huge bite wounds, only one eye, and we've watched as penguins with missing or amputated feet have found a way to stand, walk, and run (waddle) again. We've seen skinny, weak babies leave a few weeks after admission as fat, vicious juveniles, and though they nip at our knees and bite our fingers, we cheer them on as they gain strength and vigour with every fish we give them. These penguins can't thank us, but we feel a sense of satisfaction in working here, because every bird that has left SANCCOB a healthy and strong is one more African penguin in this big, dangerous world, and that's a beautiful thing.