Monday, September 29, 2008

why having 2 kids is like killing a chicken

Fall, 1997. It's my junior year and I am spending it abroad. I choose to go to Zimbabwe - the program purports to teach you about working with grassroots organizations in rural Africa. This is a lie. The program is a fly-by-night operation set up to milk money from dumb rich American college kids. The janitor is our teacher, the "head" of the program a Mugabe lackey, there is a wart hog who runs through our dorm every afternoon between 4 and 4:30. In short, nothing is as promised.
The wart hog. Vicious little sucker.

Halfway through the semester we are supposed to spend some time in a rural area doing a home stay. I am dropped at the public bus stop in Bulawayo, told to watch my pockets and get on a bus to Niaje where there will be a family waiting for me. This sort of happens, if by happens you mean it takes 7 buses and 3 days, there is no family, and I see someone walking off with my backpack which I thought was tied to the top of the bus (rookie mistake, I know I know).

I do end up staying with a family for a few nights, although language was a problem (did I mention that I studied Ndebele, the dominate language in Southern Zimbabwe, but Niaje is in Northern Zim and everyone there speaks Shona?) The family was kind and I learned a lot.

My last night with the family they had a special dinner for me. Many people from the village came. Everyone was gesturing to me and to the door. I went outside. More gesturing. Towards the chicken coop. ....OK, yes, chickens (cool word in Ndebele, has 2 clicks in the middle, no idea what it is in Shona) and everyone is pointing at me because... Slowly it becomes clear. I am to catch the chicken.

At which point ensues an absolutely ridiculous scene wherein I am chasing three chickens around a very large pen. Don't know which one I am supposed to catch, doesn't much matter because there is no way I will catch any of them. Finally, a neighbor takes pity on me, saunters over to the chicken, grabs it by its feet, and hands it to me.

..Thanks. I am now standing with a chicken. More gesturing. I am handed a large cooking bowl. I am baffled - tin bowl in one hand, chicken in the other. So cut to the chase, I am to kill the chicken. It is a role for the honored guest (or they just wanted to have a good laugh). The bowl was to place on top of the chicken. You turn it upside down with the chicken underneath and then reach under and grab the head and bring it out. You step on the bowl with your foot (I can still hear the noise and feel the body flapping in the bowl under my foot), pull the head so the neck is taut, and begin to saw. Note I did not say hack - this would imply that (1) it was a quick process and (2) you had a sharp knife.

And this is like having two kids because:

1. You are always chasing someone you are never going to catch,

2. Whenever you're out in public you feel like people are watching you, judging you, or trying to tell you what to do and how to do it,

3. It can involve bodily fluids (hopefully the kids are less bloody than the chicken),

4. It leaves you stinky and feeling like you've lost a little piece of yourself you will never get back,

5. You can't be anywhere but where you are. This last one is the one I really like. It's why I used to love to travel - it's why I secretly loved the experience of killing the chicken.
With just Hayden, I always felt like I had to be doing something - like looking after one kid, especially as he got older, wasn't enough. Now that there are 2, I've given up. A few days a week we have our cooperative preschool, and that's it. In the morning, my goal is to get everyone dressed and fed. In the afternoon, my goal is to make sure we go outside. That's it. I feel present. I feel like I am enjoying my family. It's nice. It's also fleeting - as we get our routine down I can already feel myself starting mental lists, making too many playdates, trying to run too many errands. Those moments in life, when you are truly present, are as rare as they are addicting.


anymommy said...

Truth. Awesome story. Is this why you want chickens? For the record, I'm not willing to be an honored guest at your house once they arrive!

Anonymous said...

well said.
I can't believe you killed a chicken.

Anonymous said...

that was me.
aka anonymous

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed all your posts so far... thanks for sharing.
Look forward to more,


Mama Kalila said...

I love the comparison!

For some reason it made me think of hte last time I was in Africa & a friend of mine chased a chicken around. We took pictures & set it up to look like they'd fought & the chicken won...

Melissa said...

Very true. I especially like the line about how you can't be anywhere but where you are. I need to remember that more.

Found you through the awesome AM blog!

Christine said...

Kate from Little Ethiopia(n) led me to you and this great story and greater analogy. Kids do make you be more present, especially when they gang up on you.