Once upon a time, in a Honduran village far far away, two chicks hatched. My very generous host mom named each chick. The first was mine; she was named Karen. The second was my site-mates'; she was named Jason. My host mom took care of these chicks, feeding them along with all the others. She told me that when our chicks grew up they would ultimately become ours. And the eggs they would go on to lay would be ours as well. It was a really sweet sentiment, while also saving us from having to purchase eggs, an integral part of our daily diet.
As Karen and Jason grew they became teenagers. Then they became full fledged hens. Jason hardly ever lay eggs, while Karen, on the other hand, laid her fair share of eggs. She was just very particular regarding her egg laying habits. She would lay eggs only deep within the grass. She would leave the confines of my host mother's yard and lay her eggs in the grass across the street. She was particular in this respect. But I received her bounty every week. And she continued to lay eggs. Until one day she didn't.
It quickly became apparent that Karen had just stopped laying eggs. There didn't appear to be anything wrong with her; it was as if her eggs had run out. So the question was raised as to what would become of Karen. Because my host mom continued feeding her (at a cost) and no one was reaping the benefits of having a hen, I went back to spending my money on store bought eggs. Keeping Karen around no longer seemed like a benefit; she was now simply a cost.
Meanwhile Jason, the human Jason, was in the middle of a crisis of conscience. He had just announced that he would no longer eat meat, unless he killed the animal himself. While I'm a fan of knowing where your food comes from (that's farm to table, right?), I thought his rantings a bit extreme. However, it gave me an idea. I would kill Karen myself. Then I would cook her up. I know it seems morbid, but it's the circle of life. I realized that I too shouldn't eat any animal I wouldn't be willing to kill myself.
Well, willing is one thing. Actually doing is another. But, I thought now might be my one and only chance to learn how to kill chickens as my neighbors did. It would be cultural bonding at its best. I felt like a true Peace Corps volunteer.
My host godmother, Marleni, prepares to teach me how to kill my chicken
So I took Karen (the chicken) over to my host-godmother's home. She would show me the ropes. The first step? To wring Karen's neck. How was I supposed to do this? I wasn't exactly sure. I do recall taking the neck and wringing it, waiting for it to snap. But it didn't work; there was no snap. And I couldn't tell if Karen was dead or not. So I was worried. I didn't want to her suffer. If she did suffer, I didn't think I could eat her. And then I would have killed my namesake for nothing.
So my host godmother, Marleni, quickly grabbed a bucket. She laid the chicken on the ground, turned the bucket over with the rim of the bucket crossing the chicken's neck and stomped down. Hard. I heard the crunch. Karen was dead. And I was horrified. Marleni had just completed one of the dirtiest chicken killings I could imagine possible. It was gruesome. Poor Karen.
How could I explain to Marleni and her family how horrified I was? Her family had to eat. I felt that I had no choice but to pick up Karen, pluck her feathers and cut her up. Marleni needed to make her in to tamales for her entire family's dinner.
That's when I learned yet another Honduran custom. Not the one about using every part of the animal. I had seen that before. But the part where my host family argued over who would get to eat the tamale with the huevos in it. Even though Karen had long ago ceased to put out eggs, she still had her own ovaries. And apparently they, along with the rest of her internal organs, were considered delicacies. I then watched my godmother stealthily set the eggs aside and make herself a special tamale. I could barely stand as I watched her feast on Karen, huevos and all. But she had done the dirty work. She deserved the caviar of chicken parts in her tamale.
Yum, nacatamales de Karen
At that point, I had to get out of the kitchen for a few minutes. And in the end I didn't eat a Karen tamale. I'm not really a fan of nacatamales, a traditional Honduran food. Plus, Karen's death had been a bit too horrific for me. But she was enjoyed by all. And I suppose that's what really matters.