Friday, September 5, 2008

To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fat Hen

When you see a woman in nice business clothes holding live chickens upside-down, one in each hand, then you know you're in Africa.

Yesterday, Dr. Y, the lady of the house, and I went to Wuse market.  And we headed straight to the chickens.  Underneath a tin roofed shelter, rows and rows of chicken wire crates were stacked on top of each other, filled with, what else, chickens!  Several men jumped forward when we approached, each offering a different type of chicken.  The lady of the house picked the white fluffy chickens and proceeded to select the ones she wanted by holding them upside-down by their feet.  She would raise her arms a bit, lift each one up and down and then hand it back to switch chickens and repeat.  After a few combinations of chickens, and a lot of Pidgin that I couldn't understand, she handed all the chickens back to the men and we left.

Our next stop was the goats.  They were already dead.  Rows and rows of meat, lying out in the open.  The buzzing flies reminded me of a story I had heard once about how West African meat sellers in tourist heavy areas will spray their meat with bug spray because tourists won't buy the meat if there are flies on it.  Obviously, the bug spray is much more dangerous than the flies.  Apparently this market doesn't get many tourists, flies were plenty.  On one table, a whole goat lay on it's back, throat slit with the head thrown back, tongue hanging out, rigamortis legs bent up in the air.  At another table, a very buff butcher in a muscle shirt slammed his meat cleaver down repeatedly, skillfully trimming away bone, fat and a kidney.  "That's why they're called kidney beans!"  It looked just the same.

As we continued to wander around the market, I noticed that every time the lady of the house bought something, she gave it to some boys and they carried it away.  "Ah, maybe that's what happened to the chickens," I thought.  In and out of aisles, around piles of dried crayfish, over puddles, between bags of rice, we gathered everything on the lady of the house's shopping list.  I thought I heard her tell one of the boys following us 'go and collect my chickens," but I wasn't sure.  Guards walked up and down blowing loud whistles, singling the close of the market.

We headed back to the SUV.  A wheelbarrow sat behind it, overflowing with all the purchases.  Into the car they went, bags of potatoes, sacks of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, ground pumpkin seeds, giant tubers, plastic packs of every color bulging with hidden goodies.  As we drove away I noticed, "no squawking; guess she didn't get the chickens."

Back home, the gate men, the maid, the sister-law and the other guy that lives here helped carry everything into the kitchen.  Fruits were unpacked from the plastic and wrapped in newspaper.  Potatoes were sorted into wire racks.  Bad tomatoes were pulled from the good and thrown away.  I went over near the sink to rinse a plate, and that's when I saw it.  A tiny little chicken toe, with a tiny little chicken claw, resting on the edge of the sink.  I looked up; the lady of the house was holding chicken feet again, but this time, they weren't attached to any squawking birds.  Guess she got the chickens after all.


Anonymous said...

do they eat chicken feet over there?

MaryRuth said...

My guess is the men cleaned the chickens while you shopped. What a fascinating story. I'm really enjoying this armchair-travelogue. The bug spray story is awesome!
Americans are so removed from where their food comes from. I would probably be vegetarian if I had to do all that. There is a place in LA that sells live chickens.
Actually chicken feet make an excellent addition to chicken a lot of gelatin (body) to it.

goldenrail said...

^>^: I'm sure some people here do, but I don't think these folks are part of that group.
MR: Your guess sounds right to me. Going to the market always makes me glad I am a vegetarian.