Today, I stripped the guts out of a few chickens. For real. I didn't kill the said birds, nor did I de-feather them. But I walked into the training center kitchen this afternoon, where staff were busy preparing for tomorrow's graduation. Which included the gutting of a half dozen chickens.
We're expecting 500 guests tomorrow for the SACDP graduation, and you don't send people home without feeding them. They will have traveled from far. The family & friends of the graduates (as well as any curious neighbors) will be fed rice and "soup" (sauce with perhaps a bit of meat in it, if you're lucky). The guests of honor (the chief of the village, the speaker for the event, the ELI Board and about 50 other very lucky people) will be fed rice pilaf, chicken, beef, and sodas.
So I found Miriam and friends gutting chickens. "May I join you?" I asked. There's nothing like bonding with Kenyans ladies in a kitchen.
"Have you ever slaughtered a chicken?" they wanted to know.
"Never! Will you teach me?"
Which they did. Miriam showed me how to cut open the backside ever so carefully. "Don't rupture anything! Now carefully cut the hole bigger and bigger so you can get your whole hand into the back end."
"Don't cut your finger!" Oops. Too late. The knife is terribly blunt for a job like this, and my knuckle is stinging. It's but a flesh wound, I console myself.
"Pole," they say. (Sorry.)
"Let's continue," and I do my best not to be a weakling. (Hours later, the cut on my thumb knuckle is bleeding and throbbing. But I'd never complain to my Kenyan neighbors about a triviality like that. It would only prove that we wazungu really are chickens.)
Next, you cut off the neck. "Don't rupture the crop. That will smell badly." Succeeding at the simple procedure of removing the crop (how on earth does one chicken eat so much corn?!) makes me feel like I've just mastered the art of kung-fu.
"Now, put your hand in the opening you had cut in the back. Just use two fingers. Release all the intestines. Be careful not to..." You know the schpiel by now. Don't rupture anything. But how on earth do you pry loose all the guts and not rupture something!
"Make sure you can see your fingers all the way at the neck, so you can pull out the esophagus." Done. The esophagus, heart, spleen, liver, stomach, the large and small intestines, the rectum all come out with a huge plomp! But they're still attached to the final exit.
"Now, you cut that out." No more warnings of rupturing anything!
The final steps are to clean the carcass by getting the lungs out. They sit like two little pink sponges, tucked in tightly in the rib cage. There are also little bubbly thingies stuck to the back bone. "What are those bubbles?"
They laugh at my ignorance. "Those are eggs. These used to be layers. But now they're old."
And dead, I think. But I don't say it, 'cause my sense of humor just doesn't translate. And then I get to fillet open the stomach ("That's the grinder," my friends inform me) and remove the contents and the inner lining.
I feel like an accomplished concert pianist, wanting to make a bow. But I don't. I realize that this is a simple procedure that my friends have performed since they were adolescents. I honestly don't mind that I've had to wait for today to do this and learn from my friends.
"Here's another one. See if you can do this on your own. This is your test." I'm glad to say I passed. With honors, they say. But I think they're just being polite.
Later, after preparing my own chicken for dinner (simple: take the thawed chicken out of the plastic bag, remove the plastic bag of gizzards and keep for my helper, and pop the chicken in the toaster oven), I go for a walk on the compound. I hear laughter from the kitchen. My new friends are sitting down, having a cup of chai. "Join us!" they invite me. Which I do. I try to follow the conversation in Swahili, and ask Miriam every so often what a word means. I'm learning, even though it's taking time.
Walking back to my home, I peek into my neighbor's home. "Rebecca, do you have dinner plans? Not yet? Join me. And bring anyone of your choice."
During dinner with Rebecca and Ruto, they ask about my music. "Where does it come from?" I introduce them to the strange world of an iPod. Conversation becomes more serious, and Ruto asks, "Aren't you lonely here?"
As singles, they, too, can understand some of the loneliness we all face. We end the evening by praying together. They had shared with me some of their burdens, and together, we take them before the throne of our God who knows our hearts, our struggles, our desires.
I didn't get all the tasks done on my list for today, but I thank God that the spontaneous events that did occur today (especially those that I don't get to write about here), ones that were obviously on his agenda for me today.
And I'm thankful that nothing ruptured. In fact, the opposite happened. My heart was connected with those of some of my neighbors through simple acts of community and friendship.
For that, I'm infinitely thankful. It was worth the cut on my thumb. In the process, my neighbors were reminded that when cut, we all bleed just the same.