“Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.” –Brendan Gill
He was coming towards me, the chicken flapping frantically in his hands. He put it down in front of me. “Um pé aqui,” he said, holding the feet together against the ground—one foot here. He bent the wings back in on themselves, pinning them behind the chicken “o outro aqui.” I cringed as I put my food down on the already broken wings of the chicken. He handed me the head, pinching it by the upper neck. I could feel the blood pulsing through the neck of our lunch; feel every muscle straining in its body to get out of my grasp. I had just seen Dione kill a chicken. It couldn’t be too hard, could it? I hesitated, mentally preparing myself, and suddenly was told to move so that somebody who wanted to kill it could.
When we put chicken on our shopping list for our cross-cultural cooking day last Tuesday, we made sure to specify “frango murete,” or dead chicken, only to be told that it was not possible. We would get a live chicken and deal with it. My mãe was really excited. She wanted to see me kill the chicken (both of her former volunteers “chickened out,” no pun intended). We were making two dishes: Tacos and Crepes (my influence haha). When we wrote out our recipes in Portuguese the day before, our first step was “Mate o frango,” or “kill the chicken.” It isn’t part of the average American chicken taco, but it was definitely a part of the cross-cultural exchange that is so important to the PC training experience. Not only were we getting a chance to share our American culture, but we were learning about Mozambiquan culture as well. While I wasn’t actually able to cut off the chicken’s head, I did get the chance to pluck and gut the chicken.
An interesting thing about being in Mozambique (and I imagine, being in a developing country in general), is that the people don’t waste if they can help it. They used every part of the chicken, including the water we boiled it in. When I first began gutting the chicken, I made to throw out the intestines and liver of the chicken. Our mães stopped me, making sure I saved everything except the bile. They even saved the chicken heads and the feet (though we dug out the eyeballs and cut off the nails). All of those innards were stewed in a separate pot with some vegetables and served first to the men (as is tradition), and then to the professoras. It didn’t make it to us, but we were pretty ok with that.
We had a blast while we were cooking. We definitely showed our mães that we aren’t completely clueless when it comes to cooking, and it was great to see them interacting amongst themselves, as well as for them to see us interacting. I think we show a different side of ourselves with our own language and culture, and it nice to see a new side of our personalities. Our mães taught us how to gut a chicken, cook beans, light a charcoal stove, grate a coconut with a ralator, and cook using limited ingredients and resources. All of our food was made outside over charcoal stoves and took about 6 hours start to finish. Our mães made us [very fresh] chicken, xima (corn flour and water), couve, and rice. It was good. As an American food, we made tacos with homemade tortillas, chicken, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, and crepes with bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, and sugar. They were delicious!
Xima, Chicken, Rice, and Cove
Our cooking time was also focused in learning more about the other culture. For example, we learned that it is unacceptable for a woman to cook if she is not wearing a capulana, the traditional Mozambiquan cloth that is tied around the waist. It is also an insult to sniff food, as we found out when we were trying to complement our mães. Apparently it means that you don’t trust them to have good food. Asking people if they have diarrhea, however, is completely normal and just a topic of conversation. It is also normal for women to have their breasts out while they cannot be showing their knees, stomach, or shoulders. In Mozambique, people don’t have pets, really, they just have guard dogs or cats to catch rats. They found it so strange that Dione has a pet snake at home. They also thought it was weird that men wash dishes and help out around the house. It is just a foreign concept to them, which is, in turn, interesting to me.
Me and Erin wearing Capulanas
Tuesday was a lot of fun, not just for the cultural exchange and the food, but also because of the dynamics of the group of people present. We had people from our families and from the Peace Corps wandering in and out of our group all morning. We were laughing and having fun, poking fun at our teachers, and we even taught our mães the Chicken Dance. It doesn’t translate as well in Portuguese: “Não quero ser frango, Não quero ser pato…” I’m definitely learning a lot here, and it’s hard for me to believe I’ve only been in Mozambique for 3 weeks. I’m so excited for what is to come, and one of these days I will kill that chicken!
Portuguese word of the day: Galinha (free range chicken) and Frango (chicken bred specifically for eating). In the dictionary they both mean chicken, so the words confused us for ages…
French word of the day: Poulet (that’s right—this one means chicken too!)