Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Freezers

While I've only lived in Joburg for two years, some of the things that I used to find surprising I'm now getting used to. I still consider myself to be a fish out of water in this country but the water is becoming more and more familiar. Hosting visitors gives me the opportunity to see things through the eyes of people who are experiencing South Africa for the first time and their comments remind me of the time when I too was new here. 

Recently, I took my friends visiting from the U.S. to Soweto. Because they were on a tight schedule (of course they were) we planned a half day tour. Unfortunately our guide was on Africa time and was an hour late to meet us making the Soweto visit even shorter than planned. We ate lunch at Tintie's, a Soweto must as far as I'm concerned and after Tintie's we went to Kliptown. Kliptown is an informal settlement where people live in shacks with "borrowed" electricity. In Kliptown hundreds of people share one porta potty and residents collect water for washing and drinking in buckets from a central tap. If they need to heat the water they will likely heat it over a paraffin stove or an open fire. This was my third trip to Kliptown and I find it interesting each time I go. While sad, it's also uplifting because the tour includes a visit to a place called the Kliptown Youth Programme, which provides tutoring, sports, meals and more to hundreds of kids who live in Kliptown. 

Part of the tour of Kliptown includes going inside a shack and seeing the conditions in which people in Kliptown live.  It is a strange feeling to venture inside a shack while the residents are there watching you watch them while you look at their home. Each time, I wonder what the residents think. Are they proud of their shacks because they have worked hard to make them livable? Are they hoping if people from the outside see the conditions it will bring about change? Are they just too polite to say no to visitors? I'm not sure. 

Shacks in Kliptown, Soweto
Where people in Kliptown get their water.

Inside a shack with our tour guide from the Kliptown Youth Programme. A young boy is doing his homework in the background.
A tub for bathing and washing 
After we left Soweto, I drove my friends back to our house along a route that I drive almost daily. First, we drove past a Maserati dealership and then a few minutes later we passed a billboard for a company called Doggy Paddle, which offers hydrotherapy for pets. My friend remarked on both sightings saying "we just saw people living in shacks and meanwhile other people are buying Maseratis and sending pets for physical therapy?" And my answer was yes, that's South Africa.

Quick side note, I don't have a problem with pets. I also don't have a problem with people who love their pets and treat them like children or provide them with physical therapy. As you read on, you might think that I do, but I don't. 

The Maserati dealership and the pet hydrotherapy sign sightings reminded me of the freezers, which I have never written about. I live right near a very large Spar, a grocery store. When I tell people where I live they often say, "you live right near the best Spar" and it's true, I do, this Spar is the biggest and the best in Joburg. At the Spar, in the back corner where the meat section is there are two freezers. 

The first freezer, is nondescript. It doesn't have any signage or any markings on it. If I didn't see people crowding around it on a regular basis then I probably could visit the Spar for years without even noticing this freezer. It looks like a freezer that an American who likes to have a lot of frozen food on hand would keep in his basement only it's smaller than that and square shaped instead of rectangular but it does have a lid that opens from the top. 

There is no way to me to explain delicately what this freezer is so I will just tell you. It's the freezer where the poorest of poor shoppers buy their meat. The freezer is filled with clear plastic bags of what look like bones with maybe a tiny bit meat on them. You might be naively thinking that I could easily just open the freezer and take a look or maybe make some nice soup using the bones or at a minimum take a few photos of the freezer contents for the blog, but I can't. White people simply don't open that freezer.  I am too self conscious that if I open it both white people and black people are going to stare at me. I wouldn't be surprised if the minute I opened it a store employee came running over to ask me "ma'am do you need help" which translates into "you must be confused, your meat is over here."

Directly across the aisle from freezer A is freezer B. I have also never opened freezer B but not because I am self conscious, I just don't have a need to open it. Freezer B has clear signage and sells Bentley Natural Dog Food which contains "synthetic vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants." Their slogan, ironically, is "affordable gourmet dog food so good you can eat it too." The signage on freezer B goes on to state that this dog food is prepared in a kitchen specializing in gourmet human food and that it is balanced by leading pet food nutritionists. 

Freezer A with Freezer B (in green) in the background.
I haven't compared the prices of the contents of the two freezers because to do so, I'd have to open freezer A, which I'm not going to do. Maybe one day I'll work up the courage. 

Shoppers crowding around Freezer A

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Execution

On Sunday I saw a woman kill a chicken. She cut its head off. Depending on how you look at it I was either in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, it all started with Mr. T. Yes, the guy with the mohawk. 

Last week I found out that our friend Gift is a huge fan of Mr. T.  Gift was born in 1980 in Zimbabwe. He grew up in a poor family and he and his siblings did not have a TV in their home. According to Gift, there were only two homes in the neighborhood that had televisions and those were small black and white sets, not the huge furniture-like TVs that many of us remember from the 80's in America. Somehow, Gift, his siblings and the other kids in the neighborhood became fans of the show the A-Team starring Mr. T. In Zimbabwe, the show aired on Saturday and Gift and the other kids would show up at the home of a TV-owning neighbor in hopes of being allowed to watch the program. The TV-owning neighbor, as you might imagine, was less than thrilled to have tons of kids appearing at his house every week. The neighbor would yell at the kids for tracking dirt into the house but would sometimes relent and let the kids crowd into the doorway of the house and watch the television from there. 

Deny a kid anything and it only becomes more magical and so to this day Gift thinks Mr. T. is "a cool American Black actor." Because Gift hasn't seen many movies and he doesn't own a computer, he was not familiar with Mr. T's full body of dramatic work. He had never seen or heard of Rocky III. I felt that he should see Rocky III, Mr. T's breakout performance, even though Mr. Deep pointed out Mr. T's loses the fight with Rocky at the end which could be a major disappointment. Regardless, Mr. Deep and I invited Gift over for dinner and to watch Rocky III with us. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to successfully download or stream Rocky III (thanks a lot Netflix.) Mr. Deep suggested another movie, DC Cab, but we had the same problem so instead we watched the A-Team movie, which starts Quinton Jackson as B.A., the role made famous by Mr. T. Not a bad substitute. 

But back to the chicken. 

I went to Gift's house at 5:00 to pick him up to bring him to our house for the movie viewing and dinner. When I got there, Isaac, Gift's brother-in-law, had just returned home with a chicken. A live chicken. This situation was like hundreds of others that I've faced since coming to live in South Africa. It is a situation where something is entirely foreign yet entirely relatable all at the same time. 

It is foreign, at least for me, to bring home or have someone bring into my home a live chicken with the intention that we will kill it, prep it, cook it and eat it. What was relatable was that neither Isaac, Gift or Beatrice wanted any part in killing the chicken. I am assuming that each of them have probably killed a chicken at one time or another, but all of them said they were now too scared to do it. They asked me if I wanted to kill the chicken but I declined. Gift's youngest sister, Loice, did not have a problem with it. It seems as though Loice is the designated chicken killer of the family.  As the chicken sat quietly in the doorway of their home, Loice sharpened her knife and created a little hole in the dirt out back so that she could position the chicken properly when she cut it's head off. 

Meanwhile, I knew Mr. Deep was waiting for Gift and me to arrive back at home. He was preparing the mashed potatoes and gearing up for a fun night of A-Team watching. But, for a reason that I can't describe I wanted to watch Loice kill the chicken and so we stayed a bit longer and I watched her do it and I video'd it. I knew Mr. Deep would understand the reason for my delay.

I'm not going to post the video because I know there are a large percentage of you who would freak out. There might even be a few people who have already stopped reading because they can't bear to read about the demise of the chicken. But for those of you who are still with me, let me tell you what it was like. 

First, though the chicken sat relaxed in the doorway for a while, as soon as Loice picked it up, the chicken knew what was up and did not go quietly or without a fight. Second, it did not die right away. There is a reason for the phrase "chicken with it's head cut off." Third, Loice is a total badass. As she killed it, some blood dripped on her feet but she didn't let it bother her. She is a pro.

It's now been over 24 hours since I witnessed the killing. I have not become a vegetarian and I have not stopped eating chicken. In fact, I went to Nando's on Monday and ate some chicken without pause. But watching the chicken get killed did impact me.

First, some might chalk this experience up to hanging around with people who might be characterized as backward or third world. But I would disagree with that. I would argue that killing a chicken you are going to eat is actually more natural then going to the store to buy one. Just because most of us no longer have to kill our own chickens doesn't make it wrong if someone else finds it cheaper, fresher or tastier to do so. Just as we wouldn't think having a garden or going to a farmer's market to get the best and freshest produce is strange we should not be offended by or concerned with a person who chooses to kill his/her own chicken. I calculate that over the course of my life I've eaten chicken a minimum of 5,000 times and the number could be as high as 10,000. So how is it possible given my tremendous amount of chicken consumption that I've never seen a chicken die before? Isn't that a major disconnect? Obviously, I know that chickens and other animals are killed for food and if I see chicken on my plate I know intellectually that it was once alive, but now I really know. 

I have been trying for a while to be more conscious of not letting food go to waste. It seems like it should be easy...just don't buy it or don't order it if you are not going to eat it. However, most of us know it's not easy for those of us who have plenty of food not to waste it on occasion. Now, I really want to re-double my efforts on this and try to consume the food that I purchase so as to not let it go to waste. And if I can't use it, I will give it away. There is no shortage of people here to give it to. Don't worry, I am not going to start making chicken stock from all of my chicken bones or constructing pillows out of chicken feathers. I have not lost my mind.  But if an animal gives its life for us, we, at a minimum, should try not to waste it. And Netflix should do something about their severe lack of Mr. T movie streaming options.

The chicken after the fact.

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.