Before Senegal I didn’t know I could get an appetite from looking at a live animal. Then after I witnessed the sacrifice and preparation of a sheep my first time I realized this wasn’t so impossible. After all, it’s nice to know where exactly your food is coming from and prepare it from field to plate (or should I say community bowl?).
Since chicken is somewhat expensive we don’t get to eat it too often and unlike yapp there aren’t leftovers in the freezer for weeks. Unfortunately chicken is my favorite and I often dream about the availability of some chicken fingers (little bit of ketchup, little bit o’ honey mustard) back in the States. So when another holiday rolled around I was simply ecstatic that its traditional meal is chicken and couscous. I asked my mother if we were going to eat chicken for Tamkharite.
“If you want to eat chicken you have to catch ’em, kill ’em, pluck ’em, cook ’em.”
So off I went with my big brother to buy us some chickens. After visiting a few houses we found someone willing to sell us gneti(3) guinaar at a good price. I climbed into the pen with my brother and grabbed the closest chickens I could catch. Holding them by their wings, one in each hand, I stepped out, my feet absolutely covered in chicken poop.
We made our way back to the house but of course were stopped countless times. People that knew me stopped me to talk and laugh at me and my chickens while the others stared and laughed at a toubaab living a Senegalese lifestyle.
“Maay ma benn guinaar!! KHADIJA maay ma benn guinaar!!”
Give me a chicken! Children shouted, running behind me.
Deedeet! No way. Baay ma ak sama guinaar. Leave me and my chickens alone!
One of the things that have made all of the animal killing we have done at my house an easier task is the fact that all living animals that come into my house spend at least one night right next to the only window near my room. After being kept awake all night by both the noise and horrid scent I don’t feel so guilty killing them the next morning.
I got up early and ready to start cooking. My mom called me into the kitchen and started to order me to chop onions but I told her as accurately as I could (using a slitting-throat motion) that I wanted to take care of the chickens. She laughed but at this point is not suprised. She’s gotten used to my ridiculousness.
So I woke up my brother to get to work. I changed into some older, dirtier clothes and put the chickens in a bucket to bring to the ‘courtyard.’ At my house there is an enclosed space for a turkish toilet, water spout and doing the dishes and laundry. As well as sacrificing the chickens. Aliou shows me how it’s done. He takes the chicken, holds its feet down with his right foot, and stretches out its neck. He whispers a prayer into the knife and gently slits its throat and lets it bleed out into a sewer type hole. It is a simple process and he places the chicken back into the bucket.
The others have hopped out of the bucket so I go to grab one and put it under my foot like he had done.
Looy def? What are you doing?
I gave him a blank stare. He then tells me I can’t kill the chicken because I’m a woman and it’s for a Muslim holiday. Its forbidden for a woman to execute the killing of the meal.
10 minutes go by. I am arguing that I, however am not Muslim. I am killing the chicken merely to eat, not for a sacrifice to God. And I have been looking forward to killing it since the day before.
My brother is also used to this type of behavior coming from me. Tetue he calls me. Stubborn.
So I win him over and carefully mimick exactly what he’s shown me. I repeat the prayer slowly after him, and the chicken swiftly goes. I ask Dieu to forgive me.
After he killed the third I took a large pot filled with water and placed it on our tiny gas burner. Always a balancing act. Once it was hot I poured it over the dead chickens and got to work plucking. The hot water sanitizes and also makes it easier to pluck out the feathers. The wing feathers are especially hard.
Tetue, I say.
When they were finished I brought them to the kitchen and helped my older sister Awa cook them, along with the rest of the meal.
With everything finished I put it all in the community bowl and brought it to the floor. Everyone sat around ready to eat.
Tamkharite marks the tenth day of the Muslim new year. It is the day to commemorate the passing of Mohammed’s grandson and some Muslims fast during the day.