Thursday, January 14, 2010
HAIR, HATS AND HEADS
Everywhere I look, there is a remarkable and beautiful hair style (braiding is in!), a jaunty tilt of a hat, an unselfconscious use of available materials for head coverings, or a gorgeous smile. These photos were all taken around my village area or at the taxi rank in Maseru. The baboon was a unique surprise as these animals are not found in Lesotho. The baboon is about 9 months old and is living with a local villager who wanted to sell it to me for $4ooo.
In an attempt to support my Alter Boys and their Peace Corps
chicken project, I decided that I needed to purchase one of their chickens. In the spirit of living closer to the earth and fully feeling the impact of my choices, I wanted to participate in the full process of bringing that hen to my dinner table. So Alter Boy, Gabriel, agreed to bring one of the hens to my home today with knife in hand.
As I saw him marching up the road with a soft blue bag under his arm, I felt my heart jump a little. This would be my first execution of anything beyond a wood-tick or a spider. I peaked into the bag and there sat the fluffy white hen, seemingly quite undisturbed by her journey through the village. Gabrielle set the bag down and we greeted each other. I looked over and the hen had disengaged herself from the bag and was standing on her two large feet (and I mean large), looking quite content and in no hurry for anything. In this attempt to be more authentic, more accountable, more conscious, I bent down to look into the eyes of the hen. Big Mistake! I now knew that very shortly she, this hen, this harmless innocent being, was going to die because I requested it. Guilt and angst! I checked Gabrielle’s knife which suddenly seemed far too dull. As I rubbed my finger across it, I imagined him sawing and hacking at this lovely hen’s neck, and her suffering a gruesome long agonizing beheading. So, in a guilt-ridden attempt to rescue the hen from such a death, I insisted that we needed to find a better sharper knife. Gabriel looked a little puzzled and deflated as I rushed next door to my Basotho family to get the perfect guillotine-type instrument. By the time I was knocking on the family door I was in tears. I entered into a roomful of friends and colleagues, all friendly faces. As I tried to ask for a sharp knife, tears were streaming down my face and I could only choke out, “Chicken waiting for me. ... need knife, sob, sharp, garble, weep.” They were all speechless, looking at me gravely, avoiding eye contact, not knowing what to say. I desperately wanted to laugh, wanted someone to kid me out of this over-the-top emotionality, wanted someone to smile and chuckle at me. But instead, I left the room with a knife sharpener and others wondering if I was homesick or if they’d said something wrong.
Returning to Gabriel with the knife sharpener, it was now very clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to be a witness to Miss Hen’s murder. I was chickening out! (Where does this saying come from, anyway?) I thought I could do it, I thought I could face reality- but I was wrong. I went into my house, closed the door and sort of peered through the gauzy curtains now and again (the same way, years ago, I watched the movie The Alien through my sweater). I could hear the clucking death throes of Miss Hen, I could watch from a distance the death vibrations after the beheading, and could finally stand next to the body after she was bled-out and still.
By this time, Gabriel was thinking that HE had done something wrong, as I tried to talk to him, sniffling and puffy-eyed. “What does one do with the head?” I ask (She still had a lovely red comb on the forehead). “People eat it”, he says “all except for the eyes.” I am trying to grasp this, but give up…wondering what could possibly be tasty about the beak and skull. I am already familiar with the popularity of the feet as they are grilled and sold on the streets. (Miss Hen’s gigantic feet are quite a prize.) I pay Gabriel his well-earned money and release him to his heavenly duties as Alter boy, hoping he will put the execution of the day behind him. (Actually, hoping that I can put the execution of the day behind me!)
By now, I have pretty much given-up my good intentions of being a “full participant” in bringing Miss Hen to my dinner table. I recruit the two young men across the way – one to plunge and pluck the hen and the other to skin and carve. In the end, all I did to participate was to offer cutting boards and buckets for the process.
Since my recovery, (and a lovely dinner of chicken breast), I have been able to return to my still puzzled family and tell them what I was upset about. Finally, we are all having the good laugh I so wanted.