Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bird Scare

By the end of this month I will have spent a year in Uganda. I would like to be able to say that life here has made me tougher. Sigh…

I’m still afraid to touch a chicken—I mean, a live one with red eyes and dirty feathers. That’s the sort of thing most Americans would never give a thought to, whether or not they fear live fowl. Most of our encounters with poultry occur when it’s de-boned and wrapped in Styrofoam and cellophane in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. But in Uganda, if you want to cook chicken, you go to the market, find the vendor who has three stacks of caged chickens, and pick one out. Then the vendor binds up the bird’s feet and ties a plastic bag around its rump. You pay him 8,000 Ugandan shillings ($3.50), and take your dinner home where you’ll kill it, clean it, and cook it.

I bragged about killing a chicken once. It happened back in April. I wasn’t lying, but the part I left out in that Facebook post was that my friend Alex plucked its neck for me and held it while I did the slaughtering. I was very careful not to let my hand touch its body as I sawed through its neck with my Pampered Chef boning knife, screaming the entire time. The head wouldn’t come off easily, and blood was splattering on my feet, so I jumped out of the way with a girly squeal and let my friend finish the job.

Birds are terrifying. They have a wild look to their fiery eyes, monstrous claws that are waiting to scratch you, and sharp beaks that are waiting to peck you. Plus, they’re filthy. At least, that’s the opinion of this pampered American.

So imagine my chagrin when I’m up in the village this December visiting one of Mercy Uganda’s sponsored girls, and little Olivia (age 8) kneels down with a shy smile offering me a Christmas present—a chicken. It’s flapping. And she expects me to take it. With my hands. I’m hoping she can’t see the panic in my eyes because I know, I know, I know I can’t touch that thing! I’ve got only a few seconds to do something before I hurt this child’s feelings. I’m trying to make my hands reach for the bird, but I’m frozen. And then, a hero comes along. THANK GOD for Martin. He’s my guide who showed me to Olivia’s home. He steps in with an amused look on his face and takes Gertrude (that’s what Leslie decided to name it) for me.

Chicken is a luxury for most Ugandans. People look forward to eating it on special occasions (chances are, Olivia’s family offered me their Christmas bird). It was an incredibly generous gift. Thank you Olivia. Leslie and I ate Gertrude on Christmas Eve. I cut her up and grilled her over charcoal in a clay pot. She was delicious.

(And NO, I did NOT kill the bird this time. A little tip that my Ugandan friends never gave me with the last bird was that for 500UGS ($0.20) I can have the man in the market kill it and clean it for me!)


  1. I'm really hungry for another Gertrude, she was soooo tastey and tender. Since you did all the work, I guess I'll have to settle for vegetables.

  2. i bet that's the best 20 cents you've ever spent! :) so glad you're blogging! i'll try to keep up.