Yesterday I was given the gift of a live chicken. It came in a woven plastic sack. I have never before owned my very own live chicken, so needless to say I was thrilled. When Maria, the mother of one of our scholarship students, handed me the sack and it wiggled a little I thought, ‘no… it cant be….’ And then he popped his little golden head out through the opening -it was love at first sight.
Without any hesitation, I named him Andi. My company here is Andean Collection, so it just seemed natural. The reason for such an unexpected gift was that Maria and her husband had come to ask me if i would be their “madrina” – sort of like the Godmother for their wedding. Despite the fact that they’ve been together long enough to have a 16 year old kid and are actually officially married, they were never married ‘por la iglesia’ (in the Catholic Church), so they’ve decided its finally time (mostly because the Church wont let their youngest kid take his first communion unless they can show an official church-sanctioned marriage certificate). All this is the back story leading up to my chicken, my Andi.
Kichiwa tradition here requires that in asking me to take on this role, they have to give me a gift. Turns out just one chicken is considered sort of skimpy gift- the other artisans told me to hold out for more, but being the naïve gringa I am – and really, I was so excited to get my first chicken – it didn’t matter. Further inquiry into my responsibilities turns up that in exchange for my $7 chicken, I’ll probably have to spend a couple hundred on wedding clothes for both the bride and groom. There really is no such thing as a free lunch….
But back to Andi. I think he’s beautiful. He has golden brown feathers. Strong feet. Dark eyes that peer directly into my soul. He’s a pollo campero that Maria raised herself from a little fluffy yellow baby chick. Back in the US we would say something fancy like ‘free-range, cage-free, all natural organic farm-raised poultry,’ but here he’s just a half-wild gallina that runs around the yard eating bugs and gross kitchen scraps while avoiding stray dogs. “You do know how to kill a chicken, right?” Maria asks me. Ha, anyone who knows me at all knows I’m even too grossed out by the bones in buffalo wings. I know it’s completely hypocritical, but I would probably have guilt of a murderer for the rest of my life if I personally had to kill a chicken.
After Maria leaves, we pull him out of the bag to be able to look at him properly and all my artisan coworkers are very impressed. He’s a good young chicken. Somehow they can immediately tell he’s a he, not a she and so is not going to lay eggs. There goes that little dream I had in my head. ‘Nothing else to do,’ they tell me, ‘but make caldo de gallina (chicken soup).’ I sort of laugh and tentatively agree. But then again, maybe, just maybe, I could take him back on the bus with me to Quito and maybe he could become my little pet. I mean, I’ve really been wanting a little pet. Something to love. We could hang out together. And then every time I travel back and forth to Otavalo on the bus, he can just come with me, right? Like some people carry around their little toy dogs in their purses. Except I’ll have a rooster. I’ll be the crazy gringa with the rooster in my handbag. Maybe I’m ok with that. Nothing wrong with being a little quirky, right?
I’m such a city girl that I don’t even know how to properly hold a chicken. Then, in direct contrast, the chicas find some string and tie this crazy special chicken knot to one of his feet to tether him up in the yard. They do it so quickly it almost feels like magic. And then something starts to happen in my head. Without realizing it, I grow attached. First we put out some water for him. And then some bread. And then I think, he looks too hot in the sun, so I make him a little house out of a box. Next thing I know I’m going out to check on Andi every five minutes to make sure he’s ok. I’m texting photos of him to my friends and joking about making him a tiny pair of sunglasses so he can come to the beach with me the following weekend….
Screams. Bloody murder screams of death. I run out and Lupita has MY chicken, my Andi. In her arms. And she’s literally wringing his neck. Sisa runs out with a knife. The chicas have decided that I was serious in my offer to turn him into soup and they can think of nothing else other than how delicious he will taste and have already planned out the entire meal – whos bringing the papas, who’s bringing the aji, ajo and cebolla. But Andi is a figher though, and doesn’t go down quickly. More miserable chicken screams. Then all is still. I was really, truly sad for a minute. However, to survive living in Latin American ive been forced to let go of certain cultural particularities and anthropomorphism is one of them.
Within ten minutes Andi has been stripped of all his feathers and now looks like any old chicken you would buy in the local market. Naked, ugly and gone that beautiful rooster I had loved.
Today a large caldron appears along with all the planned ingredients for an incredible and huge pot of soup. Lupita spoons it out to everyone along with
delicious slices of avocado and toasted corns. Everyone is quite pleased. And I have to say, it really was quite good soup. Although si, me daba cosas (yes, it did sketched me out) to eat my little Andi. But as the chicas said to comfort my distress: now he will be with me always; forever a part of me….