Teaser 220: Chickens, Goats, Sheep, and Praise to Allah

We designed the chicken coops into four separate sections, each section lengthwise from the west fence east to the main pen fence. The three sections of the chicken coop nearest to the sheep pen were reserved for one rooster and its harem each. The last chicken coop, largest by far, was reserved for hens only for egg production. We had a considerable amount of fencing and coop structure to build for the chickens and the fences were far from complete. The sheep stalls would not be ready to start until the following day, but with two crews working on the fences, and setting the initial posts for all the structures inside the chicken coops, structures for sheep and chickens could be built simultaneously. Since we had electric to all the areas in this corner, Chuck and I both anticipated the sheep would have a permanent covered enclosure for rest and the hen coop could have residents early in the week—with each coop completely enclosed with chicken wire including a full roof—possibly before I had reached the end of my first week at the garden in Mali. My mouth was watering at the thought of eating fresh cooked eggs. I wasn't the only one. It would take longer to build the chicken coops because of the roof, since we would have to set posts in concrete at regular intervals to provide the structure to attach wire for the roof. You won't need a roof should your enclosure for chickens reach, say, thirty feet in height. Chickens can fly, though it's really more like hurtling, but they can hurtle an object five meters or more in height easily. There go your chickens. There were also predators in the area. The roof for the chickens was built more to keep predators out than to keep chickens in. Most chickens like their accommodations when reasonable, but once a chicken is spooked, one can never predict chicken behavior. Chickens will literally run straight into an ambush.

To celebrate our growing achievements N'golo and one of his men jumped in a truck and drove outside of Gossi to a small group of families who shared a herd of goats and produced goat milk and cheese sold locally. With our money they negotiated the sale of two goats and brought them back to the compound. We all knew what was coming next and, while I didn't demand anyone watch, I did wander around most of the groups in attendance. “If you've never witnessed a mammal slaughtered for your meal but you're going to eat with us tonight, I honestly don't know how you're going to swallow goat meat and not have it in your thoughts.” I didn't entertain discussion. There would be selections for supper entirely vegetarian and some had already stated their intent to eat those selections only, but universally everyone stood around, some far back, while N'golo and the other man separated the two goats so they could not see each other. I stood near N'golo. I could not help even though I would because only Muslims could touch the goat at this stage, but the goat and I exchanged looks and I smiled. N'golo soothed the goat and it raised no alarm at all. Calmly N'golo praised Allah for the sacrifice of the goat for our meal, something he had done many times and always seriously and respectfully for the animal concerned, then plunged his knife swiftly into the goat's chest, punctured its heart, and it died instantly. At about the same time the other goat was killed in the same manner. Believe it or not neither goat struggled nor bleated in fear at all. In seconds both were hanging from makeshift racks, throats cut and the blood draining in bowls. About a half-hour later they were skinned and the carcass delivered to the kitchen, where they were quartered first by the men, and the women finished the job. It was a solemn affair and few said anything, though many of the Muslims were loud, all vehemently praising Allah for our good fortune.

Once the ritual was complete all the crews got back to work and I drove over to the pens with Chuck and some of the others. Chuck asked me, softly, if I could ever slaughter an animal. “You know I wouldn't want to, Chuck, but if it meant having a hearty meal shared with others who deserve a meal like that, sharing our good fortune, I would do it. I would want someone with experience to go over it with me so I can end the animal's life quickly with no suffering or fear. I would steel myself, thank my something bigger, and plunge my knife straight through its heart, cut its throat and hang it to drain the blood. I would let others skin and butcher it. I will have had enough.” Chuck was quiet as we reached the pens. I noted he stared for a long time at the sheep sitting under the tarp we had setup for them so they had shade.

The only other curiosity came as we all sat to eat. The Muslims praised Allah several times, but that was not curious. They all did it for every meal. I noticed the many in the mess tent who were not Muslim, some following no professed faith at all, staring first at the meal on the table before them and closing their eyes. I saw some whose lips moved silently. I myself was beginning to develop a routine of clasping my hands together in greeting or when I praised those for their work and thoughts and ideas. Almost without thinking I did that, thanking my something bigger. With a tent full of close to a hundred humans it was eerily quiet as the clank of dishware began to overtake the silence. I shouted, “Praise be to Allah for bringing us N'golo and his brethren! May you always know peace, N'golo, you and all your brethren!” This brought a change in the proceedings as everyone spoke their thanks to our Muslim friends and all were smiling again.

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-SevenLost on the Dark Continent” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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