i plucked a rooster

thanksgiving is just not the same away from home. the bordewieck family should patent our turkey day antics, make a parlour game out of it, or a recipe book with activities included. because i missed it this year, and because most of my readers have either been there or heard about it at length, and most of all because it makes me sad to think about it, i won’t go into the details in this entry. instead i’ll tell you about my african thanksgiving: i saw an ostrich (almost a turkey). i gave thanks for a beautiful sunset. i talked to a bunch of aunts and cousins and family over a shaky phone connection. i tried to impart the family tradition to a couple of german tourists who weren’t having it, over a meal of ugali and beans. kind of a downer in the end.

but. about two weeks ago i had a much better near-thanksgiving experience, which deserves recounting if only to distract myself from turkey blues. i rode the back of a bicycle (the pedal kind) over hills and through villages and banana plantations into the real sticks (look at the cheapskate mazungu on a bike) to visit a friend and his family for lunch. this is funny-man claude, a university student i met in musha when sara was visiting, and who accompanied me to gisenyi a few weeks back (and promptly left me there to cross the border into congo). anyway, when i arrived at his family’s house in rural northern musha district, he was wearing baby-blue women’s heels! after i finally stopped laughing and taking pictures, he brought out a bottle of banana wine, homemade. not the same as real wine, which i miss terribly, but interesting. we then went to the back of the house where i was introduced to his little brother, his three cows, his four rabbits, and his two roosters.

‘and this rooster, here, we are going to cook for dinner.’ i’ve never seen anyone kill an animal to eat, and i was curious, so i played spectator while claude held the bird down and a boy named happy cut off its head. after it stopped twitching and spurting, the two of them began plucking. i was watching wide-eyed, thinking i don’t know if i can eat this. i mean, aren’t you supposed to eat hens? this rooster was definitely free-range, probably too old to be useful anymore- gonna be really tough meat. regardless, he was walking and squawking two minutes ago and now his head’s in a pile for the goats.

‘here, help a minute.’ claude left for more banana wine. happy grinned at me with blood and feathers stuck to his hands, ripping at the headless rooster. what the hey. i rolled up my sleeves and joined the pillow fight. feathers everywhere. rooster still warm. ew. the deed done, claude returned and took over for me while he and happy cut the cock open and removed the organs. intestines, excretory bits, and testicles (!) for the goats. heart, stomach, liver – keep ‘em. shove a stick through him, roast him for a few minutes, then chop him into bits and throw him in the pot.

a few hours and bottles of banana wine later – a feast of rooster, bananas (green ones, stewed with tomatoes), rice and delicious sauce. we shared the meal with a friend of claude’s and marcelline, his aunt, a woman who’s astounding and who you’ll certainly hear about in the future. she’s started a nursery school in her house for the poor children in the area, with absolutely no funding – no pens or paper or even chairs. after we’d licked the last tastes of dinner from our fingers, four of marcelline’s students came to sing us songs with cute little hand motions – like the kinyarwanda versions of ‘if you’re happy and you know it’ and ‘ten little monkeys’.

and so ends my african thanksgiving dinner. even though it was rooster and not on the right day, it was the right feeling.

claude with dangling dinner rooster guts with feathers on banana leaf butcher’s chopping block happy with rooster on a stick
claude getting down heels happy with radio walking around to keep the signal


~ by aliciawolcott on November 25, 2007.

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