Chicken Lips

Stephanie Dunning - Ecuador


February 16, 2012

Caution to reader- could contain bothersome material.

It is Sunday and I finally got to sleep in,  8:30am is a heavenly time to wake up.  The extra hour and a half is good for the health.  It’s not even bad to wake up around 7am every day, but working with the kindergarten takes a lot of energy that I apparently don’t possess, so Sundays are my favorite.  This Sunday was particularly exciting- it was Elvís and Ruben’s First Communion down at the community center.  I woke up feeling great, straightened up my room and listened to some music before going down to the kitchen for some tea and bread.  Mama was heating some water over the fire when I got there, I thought it was for me to wash up before we left for the ceremony.

Boy, was I wrong!  She made sure the fire didn’t die down too far, and when she went out to do something, told me to do the same.

“There is a lot more steam coming off the water today than normal.  Maybe she’s making sure it’s warm enough because it’s a little chilly today.” I thought.

She walked back in, checked the fire, grabbed a knife, and walked back out.  I didn’t pay much attention to the chickens squaking until my nephew, Brayan, walked in and said something about something dying.

Oh…  She did take a knife with her when she left, didn’t she?

I listened, but the chicken was still flapping and squaking in the room next to me.  He must have been talking about something else. My sister, Brayan’s mom, walks in and sits across the fire from me.  I continue to nibble on my bread, tossing sticks into the fire.  I hear the boy’s bedroom door open and sense Mama at the door.  When I look, she sure enough has one of the roosters by the feet.  Bertha, my sister, got up and took it from her. Mama went to catch the other rooster, then as she sits down, Bertha plopped the entire chicken into the pot of water.

Nope, it definitely was not for me to wash up.

I lived on a farm for seven years, we had chickens and we ate our chickens.  I’ve never seen a chicken plucked-or cleaned, for that matter.  I just knew that the one that made the most noise one morning was the one we had for dinner that night.  Watching my sister cleanse not one, but two roosters of their feathers in this matter was really intriguing.  It didn’t bother me that I was still eating breakfast; when you grow up knowing which animals not to get attached to because eventually you’ll be eating them (and in my case, watching as they were being cleaned- I wanted to be a vet so it never bothered me to watch) strengthens your stomach a bit.  I was just surprised at how much more of it fit in the pot as she got rid of his feathers.

However, growing up on a farm, I grew up with the belief that for the most part, males are to be eaten, females are to be bred.  Pregnant females of any stock are watched closer, so as to assure the healthy arrival of their young and safe delivery so she may be bred again.  Goats, cows, llamas, pigs, rabbits- even dogs, the puppies of course could be sold or trained as herders or stock dogs- were treated as such.  Pregnant females were never intentionally killed. So, I was surprised when Mama walked back out of the kitchen with the fattest pregnant guinea pig in the bunch.

I must have been wrong when I made the assumption that she was pregnant.  Or even a female, for that matter.  It must just be a greedy breeder male.

As I washed my mug, my brothers caught a guinea pig to take to Mama.  I ran up to get my iPod (for the camera- shoot, I sound barbaric- but this was too good a photo-op to pass up).  By the time I got back, Mama was working on taking the fur off the … at this point I don’t know what to call it- pregnant cuy or fat old cuy? the same way Bertha was working on the chicken feathers- dunking it into the almost-boiling-not-bath-water and rubbing it off.

When they were done, they threw the four specimens into a five-gallon bucket and Ruben took them out to the washing stone/water reserve next to our bathroom.

I watched as Bertha cleaned the first chicken, helping by filling up the water pan so she didn’t get the faucet handle dirty, and taking note on how swiftly she did her work.  She almost got both of them completely cleaned, but we were running low on time before we needed to leave for the boys’ First Communion and she still had to get her and the two sons dressed, so Mama took over.  She finished what little was left of the second rooster, and picked up the fattest guinea pig.  Turns out it was a female.  And she was pregnant.  Four little guinea pigs were laid in a row when all was said and done.

Mama threw the chickens into a different pot of water with a couple of big spoonfulls of salt and placed some solid pieces of wood on the fire to make sure it stayed lit while we were gone; I washed up and helped my sister with the finishing touches of getting the boys ready to go, and off we went.

Although I only had a little bit of the cuy before I got sick (yet again), I actually liked it.  And the entire experience was definitely a new one.

Stephanie Dunning