Chickens are omnipresent on the Caribbean coast. People who don’t have a lot of anything at least have a chicken or two; to have chickens is to have dignity and something for the future. I sat next to women carrying chickens on buses and participated in chicken raising projects. It is impossible to have a meeting without a chicken meandering through or taking a nap under a chair. Chickens run everywhere throughout the streets, pecking at rocks and bits of dirt and grass. The best gift of all is a still warm egg, handed over with love to be carefully hatched or scrambled with tomatoes and onions.
Toss some old rice out the backdoor, and the chickens will be back over and over again, hoping again hope. My home was built on the chicken path. This caused no end of confusion, as instead of going around the house, the chickens tried to go through to get fed. Every time the front door was open, there was a mad rush in, and then a subsequent mad rush out as I chased them around with a broom. The night the chicken slept under my bed was fun for everyone in the community, expect for maybe myself and the chicken. The moral of the story: hope comes home to roost, no matter what.
Hope also roosts on high. Every night, chickens hop from limb to limb until they are safely settled in their trees. To be awakened in the morning by a rooster is both the most infuriating and the most hopeful thing in the world. It is a new day and nobody ate the chickens during the night. They are still alive and so am I.
But just as a rooster’s wake-up call is harsh, hope is irrationally aggravating. I was sitting in an outdoor kitchen drinking panela water, my heels covered in blisters from marching. Small chickens appeared from nowhere and pecked at my open wounds, hope nipping at my heels. It hurt, but it is consoling to know that hope is a chicken, not a turkey. That would leave a scar.
Mampujan vibrated with excitement the day the chicken lottery came to town. A man walked from house to house, carrying a brown paper bag and a cardboard box full of chicks dyed Easter pastels. For ten cents, everybody could draw a slip of paper from the bag. If it had a coloured dot on it, the winner could pick the chick of their choice. They were everybody’s pets and my friend Lucho shared his pillow with his winning:an especially vibrant green baby bird. For the next month, rainbow chicks wandered the community, sprouting white feathers that appeared strangely out of place with their brightly coloured down.
Chickens don’t have much of a brain. Apparently, they are the closest descendants to dinosaurs that we know of today. Despite their small brain size, something must be working right as they existed before we did. Although chickens fulfill the description of feather brained they are destined to outlive us all. Even when roosters are cruelly pitted against each other in cock fights, hope still lives, even if it is just the sense of pride of the little boys who run around to catch the fighters, hoping for something bigger than themselves.
Of course, the purpose of chickens on the coast is not to fill hearts with warm thoughts, but bellies with good soup. In Spanish, butchering is called a sacrificio (sacrifice) and perhaps this is the most bittersweet paradox of all: in order for hope to give life, sometimes it seems like all is lost. Yet even in the cooking pot, chickens provide us with the stamina to move forward and to celebrate life with those we love.
I haven’t quite figured out what hope looks like in the city, although it probably has something to do with pigeons. However, I’m not finished with chickens yet. I was walking down the street to a meeting, when something dark and lumpish caught my eye. There was a fully feathered chicken lying on the corner of the sidewalk. I’m assuming it was dead, but I don’t know for sure. Hope never really dies, even in the city. I believe in resurrection.