Friday, October 22, 2010

The Unluckiest Chicken

"Sometimes I wonder why God put me in Africa."
--Felix, my Ghanaian friend and current footballer

It's funny how some things work out. I arrived with no contacts, no hotel, and no French in a country that is exclusively Francophone. At the Cote d'Ivoire border, the Ghanaian sitting next to me asked me for $3 to buy a vaccination card that he didn’t have but needed to buy in order to cross the border. I gave it to him, only half expecting to get my money back as he promised.

Walter, which was his name, turned out to be a great help and even better friend. After I got into the capital Abidjan, he and his cousin Felix helped me get settled into a cheap hotel for the night. Hours into a new country, I wandered around that night for food, eventually using more body language than a mime to order the dish, which was an amazing braised fish covered in a pile of stuff (I love any food covered in "stuff").

The next morning, Walter and Felix (in pic 1, Walter onthe right, Felix on the left) directed me over to their neighborhood, Yopougon, one of the rougher slum areas but definitely the liveliest. They helped me settle into an $8 "hotel", which was basically a bed with a sheet (that I declined to use), a bucket of water, and a fan.

It was right around the corner from their home, so they basically looked after me for the week while I lived in Yopougon. They invited me to meals, which were mostly Ghanaian, cooked by Joyce, Walter's mother (pic 2) and her sisters living there. It was basically a bunch of Ghanaian sisters who had come to Cote d'Ivoire to trade. Really nice people.

Outside of them often forcing me to eat at their house (I didn’t want to impose), Felix invited me his “academy” – not a soccer club buta bunch of soccer players who are looking to get managers and find a club. Felix sees soccer as his gateway to prosperity – he has the skills “but if only I could get a club”, then it would be easy, according to him. He decided to pursue soccer rather than college, and while I admire his ambition, I wonder how much better his situation will be five years from now.

As a token of appreciation, I purchased a chicken for the family, under the condition that I would be able to kill it. Killing a chicken in the slums or the bush with a local family, as savage as it sounds, became a fellowship goal somewhere around the mid-way mark. Of course, I had to go shirtless and with a headband in order to set the scene, which gave a kickto the family and half the neighborhood’s population. That wasn’t the only comedy – apparently my skill set extends to Microsoft Excel and data analysis but not beyond to killing a live chicken with a rusty old knife. As I was trying and failing miserably to kill it, I could almost hear the chicken insulting me for cutting with the dexterity of a four-year-old wearing oven mitts. Felix’s mom claimed I was trying to cut it too close to the head, but I maintain it was the extremely dull knife, which I saw just minutes before it was given to me being sharpened by Felix on door frame.

Just as I finally thought the bird was mercifully dead, and posing for a picture with it, its bloody half-dead body flapped out of my hands. I argue that it would’ve died anyway, so I chalk it up a victory.

Felix, Walter and I also spent time watching movies, chatting about and watching soccer, and helping me to find a translator. Things move slow in the slums. We’d lose power, and you’d basically have nothing to do, at least until it came back, which would elicit thunderous cheers in the streets.I also helped get Walter set up on email – not only had he never used email, he’d never used a computer. I had to teach him how to click a mouse. This is not like working in a low-income school in the US, like I did at Vanderbilt. This is a whole new level.

What finally did me in was the food. Fighting sickness I had to move out and into a nicer apartment with a really cool Ivoirian named Erikson. Not that the food was bad tasting, but rather just a tad unsanitary (That last picture is black eyed peas, random item #1, onion, random animal meat, noodles, and no, that’s not sour cream but mayonnaise – I had to try the dish). You tend to get that feeling when your beans and rice crunch with grit.

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