Memory and Chickens

Memory is, by its very nature, flawed. We filter our past through the prism of our own feelings and experiences, making our memories unreliable. For years I thought that my memory was more unreliable than other people’s. As a creative type, I’m more prone to reimaginings than the average person, but I’ve realised there is something else. I don’t always remember the same details as other people. I am more likely to recall a feeling or a colour than specifics. I see a picture in my head and remember a feeling, and then more often than not build a story around that picture.

For all these reasons, I am not sure whether the story I am about to tell you is real, imagined or somewhere in between. You remember last week I promised you chickens. As mentioned, I am following one of Jessica Schmeidler’s prompts, part of her October blog challenge on The Write Shadow.

I must have been about eleven years old when we went on holiday to Tanzania. My dad is born there and was excited to show off its delights to us. I remember flashes of that trip. First, the preparations that included getting jabs in our bottoms. My brother and I shrieked with laughter when we learned that mum and dad were to be humiliated in the same fashion we were. We travelled with another family. My mum has an uncle has children of a similar age, and so the eight of us spent part of this holiday together. We played barefoot in the sand, had roof-top barbecues and rode in open-backed trucks while drinking coconut juice straight from the shell. It was wonderful.

My aunt’s sister lived in Dar es Salaam and we spent a lot of time in and around her house. She had a live-in cook and a cleaner, who were patient and kind despite having four children underfoot. We felt free. We played on the street and in the yard, and the adults didn’t seem to pay much attention to what we were up to. We made friends with the chickens. They weren’t penned up and at first I was fearful of being pecked. I squealed if they got too close but after a few days it seemed normal to sit in the dust with the chickens passing close by. Each of us had a favourite one. The years have passed and I am no longer sure why I picked mine. Maybe she had intelligent eyes or was more beautiful than the others. Or maybe she seemed to like me more than the other children.

I’m not going to paint this picture too clearly for you. I am sure that by now you know what happened. There are not many reasons why people keep chickens. Later that week, we sat to eat a delicious meal together. The cook had made curry with fresh rotis. There must have been a dozen of us around the table. I can see a colourful table-cloth and at the head of the table the corpulent body of the lady of the house. She is throwing back her head and laughing. I am tired after a day in the sun and so are the other children. We take our leave quickly to go to bed, and I am already looking forward to seeing the chickens the next day.

It didn’t happen of course. In the morning I was sad that my favourite chicken wasn’t there. My aunt laughed as she explained we had eaten it the night before.  That day some of my childhood innocence was washed away.  My trust was broken. I’ve toyed with being a vegetarian on and off ever since. Logically, I know that the integrity of our food choices is tied to knowing where the food on our plate comes from. Still, even today I have an emotional connection to food, and I shut off certain parts of my brain when eating certain things.

As for the family we holidayed with, it was the beginning of a downward spiral.  In the years that followed, time and again I have been reminded of the dark and macabre in my interactions with them. One day maybe I’ll work those thoughts and experiences into a novel, and you’ll know that that novel was essentially borne of chickens.

Definitely time for me to end this post now, my husband is starting to make jokes about horses and lasagne…

Back to blog