I’ve had little trouble being a vegetarian during my various stints in African countries, mostly because there is such a variety of interesting vegetarian dishes -- full of interesting flavors and textures because it’s also the primary diet of local people here!
Funnily, though, in this more rural area, it’s been more difficult to be a vegetarian not because of the food available, but because of the proximity to Future Someone’s Dinner.
Animals here in Aketi are treated so callously, and I find myself often wincing at the cruelties they’re subjected to. Often we’ll hear screaming, shrill and awful, coming down the road and it is not a person being murdered (though it sounds like it) -- it is a pig strapped uncomfortably to the back of someone’s bike, bound and helpless and squirming and clearly unhappy!
Goats are transported the same way, and often two or three goats are bound together on the back of the bike, half hanging upside-down and panicking, rightly so.
When we arrived at the house here, in addition to a single Toupée Chicken, there were four Guinea Fowl, called kanga in Lingala. Guinea fowl are sort of like Forest Chickens. They’re not particularly smart, and sound like rusty bicycles when they wander around.
But, they’re considered a delicacy because they’re not as “common” as regular chickens. Because of this perceived “value” and their inability to stay in the yard, these four guinea fowl were locked inside a large room around the outside of our house.
If the window was cracked, they would jump through and go running through the yard. I’ve been one of the people trying to chase them back into the room, so I know how difficult it is. But every time I entered the room, I couldn’t help but feel horribly sorry for these fowl -- recoiling from the light that they so rarely saw, languishing in this horribly smelly, dark and dank room.
I pleaded with the man responsible for these chickens to let them run around once a day or every two or three days at least -- just watch them for a couple of hours, I begged.
“But then they’ll run away or someone will steal them!”
The logic that the chickens were being subjected to cruel conditions didn’t penetrate this man’s head. They were merely property, and had no feelings or needs. And that is hard, at least for me, to process.
I was half-tempted to “accidentally” leave the window open, but after our recent problems with their owner, the last thing I needed was accusations of Chicken Theft! And it’s not like I could blame it on the Chicken Liberation Front!
Thankfully, today the four of them were stuffed into a tiny bamboo basket for the 500km trip to Kisangani, to live in their owner’s yard and finally get to run around. Though their traveling accommodations were far from ideal, I do feel relieved that I will no longer have to worry about them!
I’m aware that I’m a sap -- I’ve named all of our chickens -- and I felt so sad when one of our baby chickens vanished in the night! When I came out in the morning and saw that Ruffles was gone, and only Runty and Little Toup were running around the yard, it was a terrible feeling!
So yes, now at the end of the day, Adam and I and two of our employees chase Mama Toupée and her two remaining infants into the chicken room to spend the night in safety! And it’s a lot harder than it sounds... but at least I know that they won’t be eaten by civets or snakes in the night!