A while ago my friend had offered to take me to the countryside to get a “gallina india”, one of those chickens that ranges about in the countryside, scratching for food and coming home sometimes to lay eggs. It is about as free-range and organic as you can get and I was determined to kill and prepare it myself, after all I firmly believe that everyone should know where and how their food is made.
So last sunday morning I rang my friend. “Hey Enrique,” I said, “about that chicken….”
“The road out to Ikalupe is red and dusty, covered on both sides with thin shrubbery that is waiting for the rain to start so that it can unfold the greenness it holds inside of it, transforming the barren landscape in front of us to a horizon of lush vegetation. Farmers sway lazily in their hammocks, boots unlaced, their machetes propped up against the post beside them. They too are waiting for the rain and have been since the beginning of May. Without rain there is little to do but to sit and wait, staring pensively into the distance. They remind me of a bear in hibernation- except that their bodies are lean and they are hibernating from the oppressive heat rather than the cold. As we drive by, kicking up dust and stones, I wonder if they even see us with those blank eyes?
We are not actually going to Ikalupe. Enrique can’t quite tell me where it is exactly that we are going, the place doesn’t have a name per say. It’s just a group of houses, somewhere on the road between Ikalupe and Cairo. My friend laughs when he tells me the name “No pyramids here,” he jokes. For all the heat and dust and lack of rain we may as well be in the desert, I think.
We stop at his Aunts house. She clearly dotes on her nephew, living out here so far from anybody I wonder how often she interacts with other people. We stop for no other reason than to say hi and so that my friend can ask if she needs anything and leave only after he promises we will return one day and stay for lunch. He is the link in many ways, the reason she doesn’t go hungry if the crops fail or the rains don’t come. He brings rice and beans and soap, she give him the abundance of what she harvests from her land – once the rains come. He doesn’t expect anything in return, he doesn’t have to; there is no question that when she can, she will give back. There is much to this family-ties-informing-gifting-network thing l that I have yet to understand, even though I too participate in it now, but I do understand enough to know it works, really well, and it works to provide people not only with necessities, but also to strengthen ties, family bonds, relationships. And it works especially well among Nicaraguans- some of the most generous people I have ever met.
I can tell we are in my friends territory now. Almost everybody that passes us on the road yells out a greeting and we stop often to inquire about somebodies health, somebodies death, and to comment on the lack of rain. My friend grew up here for most of his life, some 20km away from Somoto. Although it is such a short distance, the state of the roads means it takes us over an hour to actually get to our destination and as always, the campo– the countryside, is a world of difference from the city of Somoto. Time here slows down, retraces its steps a little bit, goes forward in lazy loops. People become friendlier and men don’t leer or catcall. It is not without it’s fair share of difficulties- both social and economic- but for the most part I always savour these excursions to the countryside, savour the stillness, the tranquility, the beauty.
We finally veer off the main dirt road, riding up a dried-up creek bed a few hundred meters until we reach his grandmother’s house. Here the road stops for motorized vehicles so we park the motorcycle and after a few greetings,start our hike towards his uncle’s house. There is a well-worn path that follows the creek bed. It is quiet here and hot, surrounded by dry vegetation. My friend, already not inclined to talk much, falls into a silence and so we walk the 15 minutes with only the crackling of twigs and the crickets to interrupt our thoughts.
Finally we arrive, a small house perched on the edge of the farmers fields. Two young girls peer at me shyly as we walk through the kitchen to the open veranda that functions as a sort of living room. Chickens wander through the veranda, scratching at the soil surrounding it. The father, relaxing in a hammock with his boots unlaced looks at me with an amused smile
“So, you’re the gringa that has come to kill the chicken?” I can tell this has been a topic of amusement since my friend informed them of my intentions a few weeks ago.
I nod and the family whole family laughs good-heartedly.
“Well,” the father says rising from his hammock and grabbing his machete in one swift movement, “we had better get started then,this could take a while”.
…..continued in Part 2.