Stories From My Peace Corps Diary from Benin

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, July 02, 2001 - 12:26 pm: Edit Post

The One Week Death Defying Chicken by RPCV Chris Starace

The One Week Death Defying Chicken

Stories From My Peace Corps Diary:

The One Week Death Defying Chicken

by Chris Starace

The only way you can buy them in my town is live. Dead meat is hard to find. Because almost no one can afford a refrigerator, and most people donít even have electricity, everyone cooks and eats their food the same day. There are bush rat sellers on the side of the road in the center of town who sell cooked bush rat, but I must admit Iím not to crazy about it. There is a guy who slaughters a pig a few times a week, but he does it on random days and only in the morning. . Often by the time I get there, it is gone. I did see a guy selling beef in the Allada market that takes place every four days for a while, but he has not been showing up for a long time now. I can get cooked meat in the sauces that the women prepare and sell on the side of the road in town, but it often is full of gristle and bone fragments since they usually chop meat haphazardly with a machete. They serve the sauces and stewed meat chunks with rice and beans, or with pate (corn flour paste). Usually itís not bad, but this time I want to cook my own meat, and my only option is to buy it is live. Chicken is my only option because Iím cooking for only myself, and it is relatively inexpensive.

The last time I bought a live chicken my neighbors made fun of me because they said it was small and skinny and I paid too much for it. Being an outsider and being white, sellers in the market usually mark up their prices. Being over charged is unfair, and I always try to bargain hard to get near the ďrealĒ price (i.e. that which a local person would pay). It is exhausting and frustrating when you have to buy 10 items and have to bargain aggressively for each. In order to avoid the usual price discrimination and haggling, I ask my neighbor, Bernadette, to buy the next chicken for me. The only place where I know to get a chicken is in the market, and it wonít happen for another 4 days. Bernadette walks to nearby villages every day to buy and sell goods to make money so she can get me a chicken sooner. I give Bernadette 500 F ($1) to buy me a live chicken in a near by village which is the going rate for an African chicken (Iíll explain what an ďAfrican ChickenĒ is later). Today is Friday, and said Iíd like to have the chicken for Sunday. She agrees to help me and said it wonít be a problem.

That evening while Iím in their housing compound socializing with them, they tell me that Bernadette bought the chicken today, and since Iím not going to kill it for two more days, she had to let it run free to find food. That is how the Beninese raise chickens, goats and pigs. I never understood how they donít get lost or run away, but they donít. I suppose the owners create enough compost and food scraps from dish water to keep them around since very few people actually feed their animals. They usually run free and forage for whatever they can find. Sometimes animals get stolen, but they rarely run away. Iím not too concerned for the chicken since it is so commonplace to let the animals run free.

Sunday rolls around, and I'm ready to cook! I go over to Bernadetteís to house asking if she can give me my chicken. ďNo, Iím sorry. I donít know where your chicken is. Itís running around somewhere, but weíll find it for you by tomorrow,Ē she tells me. A little disappointed, I go home and cook something else. Monday night- I again ask for the chicken. They tell me that they havenít been able to catch it yet, but they know that itís sleeping in the tree next to Antoineís hut, so not to worry. ďCome back tomorrow and youíll have your chicken,Ē they assure me. No wonder I donít eat meat very often! Tuesday- Hopeful this time that Iíll finally have this blasted chicken, I go back to claim it, but find out that they still havenít caught it! They can see that Iím getting impatient so they get some corn and throw it on the ground below the tree where the chicken is sleeping to entice it to come down. It didnít work. It must not be hungry. I canít believe this! I insist that they do something to catch it because this is getting ridiculous! Tineto gets his homemade cross bow, aims at the chicken sleeping in the tree, and shoots it right out of the tree! Finally- Iíll have chicken for dinner! Ö But the bird just runs into the thick brush. It appears that he hit the bird in the leg and only wounded it. We rummage through the bush for at least a half hour but to no avail. Damn it! Wednesday- (Day 5) I return to claim the death defying chicken. Tinto and his son Nestor rummage through the bush across from their hut and after 20 minutes, they catch the elusive bird. Finally! Hurray!

Nestor and I bring the bird to my house to kill it. I want to chop its head off so it will die quickly and wonít suffer, but the Beninese wonít hear anything of it. According to their tradition, animals must be bled to death by cutting their necks after giving them some water to drink. I ask him, ďdonít you want the animal to suffer the least?Ē ďYesĒ he replies. ďWell then, which way do you think it will suffer the least? If you let it die slowly by letting it bleed to death or by making it die quickly by chopping its head off?Ē I ask him. ďBy chopping itís head off,Ē he replies. ďOk then,Ē I say, ďlet me chop itís head off.Ē ďNo,Ē he says, ďour ancestors didnít do it that way. We must cut its neck.Ē I give in and do it his way. He pulls the birdís neck back, and I saw it with a machete. A few minutes later after it has expired, Nestor helps me pluck and gut the bird. We soak it in boiling water to loosen the feathers and then we pluck it. He cuts it open and guts it, which takes at least a half hour and makes quite a mess. Once all the feathers are removed Iím shocked at how scrawny and bony it is. All that grief for a skinny bag of bones!? I give the head, feet and organs to Nestor for helping me pluck it, after all, they feel the head is the most delectable part! By now it is late, and Iím too tired to cook it for dinner so I end up making spaghetti. Luckily I have a Peace Corps issued refrigerator that I can keep it in.

On Thursday I finally cook it, and eat the whole thing in one sitting because it is so tiny. On top of that, the meat is tough, rubbery, and not very flavorful. I dream of eating a fat and tender American chicken, where a single leg is almost enough for a whole meal. The problem here is that the chickens arenít bread and arenít even fed! The villagers canít afford chicken feed so they let the birds rummage for food. Needless to say, after this incident, I wonít be buying very many chickens. When I do, I will buy it myself, kill it the same day so I will certainly not let it run free.

Rich and Famous on $6.00 a Day

by Chris Starace

Being rich and famous while earning only $6.00 a day seems like a fantasy doesnít it? For me itís a reality. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin, West Africa I earn just that, and I am rich and famous. I experience here a lot of the same advantages, disadvantages, and situations that a rich and famous person does living in the U.S. as I have learned from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who is a wealthy investment banker who retired at an early age. From what he tells me about being wealthy in the US sounds very familiar to what I experience here.

In Benin government employees earn on average the equivalent of $120 a month, or $4.00 a day, and they are the middle class! The average hired farm or store help earns only the equivalent of one dollar a day! By American standards Iím a volunteer because Iím not paid a ďrealĒ salary, yet I make more than most government employees so Iíve got to be careful to not offend anyone when I explain what it means to be a ďvolunteer.Ē The government employees often have large families of five to ten kids, sometimes with more than one wife, and they are able to feed and clothe them mostly on their salary.

I on the other hand, make more than them and have limited living expenses with only myself and my dog to feed. The cost of living here is very low. For example, my rent is only $12 a month, but it is paid by the community. I can get a huge meal on the side of the road in town of rice, beans, and pasta for only fifty cents! After the basic necessities I usually have enough money left over to take short week end trips, to visit other volunteers in Benin and to buy expensive imported French food like cheese, butter and chocolate once in a while when I go to the capital city. People here can rarely afford such luxuries.

The unique concept behind Peace Corps is to live near the same economic level of the local people so the volunteer can better understand the culture and lives of the people theyíre trying to help. I live in a small three-room cement house with a tin roof, which is down a long narrow dirt path on the outskirts of town. Iíve have electricity and a fan (thank the Lord) but no running water. I pay my neighbor to fetch me water every day out of the cistern in front of my house. I take refreshingly cool bucket showers and do my business in a pit latrine in my front yard. I donít have a TV or phone, and I get news from short wave radio. My sole means of transportation is my Peace Corps issued Trek mountain bike, which I use for short trips, and I must take bush taxis for out of town trips. These are very austere living conditions by American standards, but Iíve adapted to them out of necessity. Iíve made myself very comfortable and want for nothing except American junk food and pizza!

Most readers are probably asking themselves, "How can he feel rich without a car? without a TV?, without a phone? without running water? or without a computer? on only $6.00 a day!?Ē Being here has made me realize how materialistic we Americans are and how much we base, or try to base, our happiness on material objects. ďIíve discovered that being rich is nothing more than a state of mind. Itís a matter of having enough money to take care of oneís basic needs and then some. Itís also a relative state in which you have more than most everyone else around you, and itís when there arenít many things available that you donít already have or want. All of these conditions apply to my situation. I donít have many things but then again, there arenít many goods and services available here in my little town. There are no restaurants, no concerts, no computer stores or supermarkets selling expensive gourmet ice cream and 50 different varieties of breakfast cereal. Iíve realized that what one wants is a function of exposure to marketing and seeing others with enviable goods. Here there is not only a lack of products, but there is practically no marketing what so ever. There are very few people with enough wealth to buy luxury items so Iím not pressured to feel that I need anything I donít already have. Here stores donít have sales nor is there a ďkeeping up with the Jonesí sĒ mentality, nor is there planned obsoletion of products to entice people to always want more and more better and better.

I feel rich here in Benin because people perceive me as such, and they always ask me for money. If I had a penny for every time someone asked me for money or a ďcadeauĒ (gift) Iíd be a millionaire! My wealthy Peace Corps Volunteer friend said charities, strangers and others often asked him for donations in the US too. People here equate white skin with money and handouts because they were colonized by the French for 60 years ending only 37 years ago. Strangers, kids, adults, women, men, old and young, educated, and uneducated, all walks of life arenít too proud to ask the Yovo (whitey) for a cadeau at any moment. Often as Iím riding my bike down the dirt roads I hear kids yelling out ď Whitey, give me money!Ē or ďWhitey, give me a gift!Ē I refuse to give gifts to strangers without a second thought unless they are crippled or missing a limb. Itís more difficult to refuse my neighbors who are my friends and whom I care about. They often ask for gifts and loans, and itís especially difficult when they come to me for money because theyíre sick or need money to pay their school fees so as not to be kicked out. I sometimes hesitate to help them because there are 40 of them, and Iím afraid that if I show too much generosity, Iíll be besieged with requests and will perpetuate their dependence on outsiderís charity as colonization did. When I do give them handouts, I make them promise to keep it quiet. I came to teach people how to help themselves, and to be independent. I didnít come to give handouts. None the less I often I feel like a walking dollar sign which can be very unnerving at times.

Buying things is always an ordeal because sellers double their prices when they see white skin. They believe that those who have more should pay more. Itís a tax on being rich. Being rich and from the developed world makes it difficult to have real friends because itís so hard to tell who really wants to be my friend for who I am and who wants to be my friend for a chance at monetary gain or a free trip to the US.

I am famous here not because of my money, but because my white skin makes me stand out, because Iím different, and because Iím from a far away exotic land. Coming here from lily-white town in CT was a real eye opener. The fact that Iím one of five white people living in a town of 10, 000 gets me a lot of attention. People are curious and always want to talk to the Yovo. No matter where I go I can never go unnoticed. Iím used to always getting stared at, talked about, and singled out in a crowd which Peace Corps refers to as ďliving in a fish bowlĒ (Iím the fish). At times itís flattering to get so much attention, but often itís annoying to never be left alone and to never fit in. I remember when I was living in a small village during training, and I hadnít seen a fellow white person in several days. I had to remind myself that it was normal to be white in some parts of the world, and that I wasnít the freak of nature that the people were making me out to be.

Because Iím different and interesting, everyone knows me, and I know relatively few. When I ride my bike home through town and down the dirt path leading to my house, many people call out my name. I often wave without even looking to see who it is because I rarely know the person. I either talked to them briefly at one time or forgot who they were, or they learned my name by word of mouth. Often people are disappointed when I canít remember their name, but thatís what happens when you are a celebrity. I know people will remember me and talk about me for many years after I leave because I still hear things about the other Peace Corps ďYovosĒ who were here before me. I talked to a Peace Corps Volunteer who after finishing her service, returned to her village in Benin several years later. She was shocked to learn that the current Peace Corps volunteer living in her old village knew so much about her, but they had never met each other before!

In Benin, white people are subjected to reverse racism, which is at times flattering, but itís not healthy for their self-esteem and national pride. Many people look up to me and give me special treatment because Iím white. They often feel inferior to whites because they know that western nations are wealthier, more educated, and more powerful than their small and impoverished country. In conversation Iíve heard them say that they believe whites are more intelligent than Africans. Their inferiority complex stems from being colonized by the French and seeing many manufactured products they buy come from western nations. Sometimes I get better service at the post office or bank than other Beninese because they perceive me as being more important. Iíve gone to the King of Alladaís public ceremonies without an invitation and found myself sitting next to other regional kings, government ministers, and local dignitaries because my presence was an endorsement for the ceremony seeing that I was the only white person there. Whenever I go to public gatherings I am often given the best seat without even asking. People believe that sitting in the front passenger seat of a taxi is more comfortable than the back and often the driver asks a passenger sitting there to move to the back to let me sit up front just because Iím white.

I love Benin. I love being rich, and I often enjoy getting special attention and privileges because Iím white. I surely wonít miss constantly being singled out, stared at, being called ďYovo,Ē always being hounded for money and getting ripped off whenever I buy anything. On the other hand, when Iím finally back in the U.S., I wonít enjoy the feeling of being ďpoorĒ: that no matter how much material wealth I have, I still need more. By going back to the U.S. Iíll also lose my celebrity status which Iíll surely miss at times. Iíll certainly possess a newly found sensitivity towards minorities of any type, and Iíll do my best not to single them out now that I know what itís like to be noticed constantly only for the one aspect which makes me different from everyone else.

Fon Related Pages: Home About Fon Help on Listening to .WAV Files The Most Important Greetings Special Requests from Users Greetings that State the Obvious Basic Phrases Questions Grammar and Pronunciation Useful Vocabulary Fon for Peace Corps Volunteers Voodoo The Final Test

Non Fon Pages: My Pictures of Benin Benin Related Links Guest Book Maps Stories From My PC Diary Beninese Food Recipes New Content! Peace Corps Q & A Benin Books and Music

By omar ( - on Monday, December 12, 2005 - 2:53 pm: Edit Post

can u please tell me the procesure in prepare
chicken for market.
(1)step one how to kill it
(2)step two how to package it gone

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