09 December 2006

Why Green Chicken Diaries?

I once heard it said that anthropologists don't believe in Germ Theory, and my personal experience provides perfect example.

During my pilot research project in Mozambique in May - June 2004, my research team and I would often spend a few days at a time out in the Maputo Elephant Reserve conducting interviews. There is no electricity, so for foods that needed to remain cool, we'd pack a cooler with some ice and hope for the best. Despite it being winter, ice and cold do not last inside a Land Rover parked in scanty shade on the savanna.

It was our final night out, there was no other food -- except a chicken that had thawed and sat in the hot car for 5 DAYS. Odete (the other student) opened the container and called out to me, "What do you think? Should we cook it?"

I was sitting 10 feet away. The smell emanating from that container (on a day with no breeze) was akin to a gangrenous wound. It smelled like pus and rotting flesh. Which it was, technically. Having worked in a veterinary clinic as a teenager, I've smelled my fair share of pus-filled, gangreneous sores. "Umm... I'm not sure." I replied. The chicken flesh had green spots and other colors I've not seen since sharing a house with 3 men my senior year at university. Did you know dirty dishes turn orange, blue, red, and a clearish yellow if they sit in the sink for 3 weeks?

"Well we don't have anything else. It should be okay. We've got lots of garlic." Odete said, going for the garlic-kills-everything-style of cooking rotted food. I'm not sure if this happens in Mozambique a lot, but I did notice that people tend to let food cool for a few hours before serving it. They thought I was always in a rush to eat, but I was more worried about microbes.

So we boiled up the chicken with some garlic and rice. All together. In one pot. We all ate it and sadly gave a little to the man who's homestead we were camping on. Sorry Senhor Tilombane. I ate about 3 teaspoon sized bites of chicken and a half cup of the rice stuff. The chicken had a slightly off taste. Duh.

I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst case of the shits I have ever had - that's counting the stomach flu I had in high school and the amoebic dysentary I got in Cambodia. All I could think of was thank goodness I work in a sandbox (the savanna covers sand dunes adjacent to the Indian Ocean). Digging a cathole was really fast, I just needed to get far enough off the community path so that someone wouldn't accidently sink into my mess the next morning. Ick. I didn't even have time to worry about some rogue elephant stomping out of the bush and squashing me flat into my poo puddle.

I ended up making three runs from my tent to the bush under the full moon. On the last run I had to make a pit stop in the makeshift bathroom to clean myself up (and then clean up the bathroom). After that, my lower intestinal system shut down for 3 days.

I won't bore you with the details of the bumpy ride back to the main camp the next day. Everyone got the shits, but I suffered the worst. I stopped eating for 2 days. And my stomach/intestines swelled up making me look like one of those starving Ethiopian children from the Sally Strothers infomercials in the 1980s. My collegues got really worried. But in the end, it all came out right. ;-)

What did I learn?
1. Cipro is your friend.
2. Do not eat something that smells like an open and rotting wound.
3. It is better to starve for a day, than get laid up for two, not eat, and worry your friends (who also happen to be sick).
4. Horrific field stories provide endless fodder for friends and family.
5. Don't tell your mom that you have done something this stupid after she has repeatedly told you never to eat food off the floor.
6. Germ Theory is not a theory.

Did I mention that I was a vegetarian?

1 comment:

  1. Ick!! In a major way. Glad to see that you're still walking.