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The Chicken

April 27th, 2009

favela2In the 1990s I was working in a favela in Baixada Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. The streets in the area were all estradas de terror and the drains ran open on either side of the “road”. This particular day I had to catch a bus in to the city. As I waited at the bus stop, I watched the chickens running in and out of the open sewers, occasionally pecking at something in the dark, smelly liquid. I watched them for a while and thought “I wouldn’t like to have to eat one of those, skinny as they were”. I ruminated on the point that some people don’t have that luxury, thinking about what the eggs would taste like etc when the bus turned up.

That evening, when I got back home, I noted that the familiar rice, beans and sausage were conspicuous by their absence. “You’re going out tonight” said Mamae, a family from the Church had invited us to their home for dinner. I scrub up pretty well and soon we were all off to the house along with my new Swiss, German and Italian friends (another story).

As we wended our way through the tumbledown buildings of the favela, things became ominously familiar especially as the road widened out up to the bus stop. We went through a broken gate next to the bus stop, the very one I had patronised earlier in the day. We went up some steep clay steps cut into the side of the hill and into a little house where we all huddled round a rickety table in the middle of the room.

Small talk and pleasantries abounded including the legendary “ele fala muito bem” until a fanfare of ohhs and ahhs introduced a pair of steaming, skinny chickens, freshly killed, especially for us, their guests.

As I put the first piece of chicken into my mouth, the thoughts that had earlier crossed my mind at the bus stop came back to me. At about the same time my mouth sort of dried up and the chicken had got stuck at the top of my throat. I didn’t want to offend anyone by vomiting or spitting out the chicken. To kill the chickens for us was a bit of a sacrifice. Everyone else was tucking in, but would this bit of chicken go down, absolutely not.skol

My plight was noted by the host as he cried out “beer” whilst running into the kitchen. He brought forth a frothing glass of Skol which effectively despatched the piece of chicken. I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” and got stuck in to the rest of it.

The next morning I felt fine. There were no after effects for me but I was very careful about how I thought about things after that. My friends, however, were ill, and kept well in range of the Loo.

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