Meet Charlie, a very calm local Chicken from the town of Mzimba, in Mzimba district.
I bought Charlie in the market one afternoon with the intention of bringing her home to my village host family as a gift. I was just staying with the family for a week while shadowing another EWB worker (Alyssa Lindsay)where she’s been living for the past 6 months. A chicken seemed like a great gift idea for a rural family that could rarely afford to eat meat. They had shown me such wonderful hospitality, despite me not understanding 99 percent of what they said in their language.
Alyssa and I were directed to a spot in the market where we could buy a chicken after a day of work at the District Water Office. As soon as we approached the chicken stall, chickens were immediately pulled out of cramped wooden cages and thrust towards us. It was pretty confusing because three different people, right beside each other in the same stall, were each offering a different chicken at a different price. I made a feeble attempt at trying to feel which chicken was the fattest, and decided to chose the middle one for the middle price. I guess I was working on the combined assumption that quality was proportional to price, and that the most expensive one was probably just overpriced. An extremely typical decision making mindset. I wonder if the chicken vendor knew about the marketing principle that guided my choice, and if he was taking advantage of it. Who knows if my choice was the best one, most likely not, but the difference (equivalent to less than a dollar) wasn’t worth any further consideration. I ended up paying 800 Malawian Kwacha, about $5.33 US.
And so, I proudly carried Charlie back to the village. As you can see, it’s customary to hold chickens by their wings and have their feet tied together with a plastic bag. She was so incredibly calm and docile as we walked. I guessed that she had either resigned herself to her fate, was completely oblivious, or in complete denial. What do you think?
Alyssa was surprised that the reaction wasn’t more enthusiastic as I presented the chicken saying, “Nagula nkuku” (I bought a chicken), but I was assured that the next day Charlie would be enjoyed as part of the evening meal…
Sure enough the next evening I found Charlie in a much altered state: on my plate.
Looking back at that meal, it seemed like all the best pieces of chicken were given to Alyssa and I. This makes me feel pretty bad. Although it was probably the toughest most stringy chicken I’ve ever had, I feel like my supposed gift was more of a burden for the family. I brought it home for them, but they ended up having to go through all the trouble to prepare the best of it for me. Maybe that explained the lack of enthusiastic reaction to me bringing it home.
What insights does this give into being a well wishing foreigner overseas? How could I have communicated my gift giving in a better way? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely something to consider if I make any future chicken purchases in Malawi.