I consider myself to be an open-minded traveller. Well, so I would like to believe. Take me along on any trip and I would be at ease in any situation. You want to wander through the streets of Chinatown on a hunt for bootleg Ray Bans? You got it! You want to wait on line for almost 45 minutes for a ride on the London Eye? I’m game. You say, on the spur of the moment, that you want to ride a tandem bike? I’m down. Travel fosters ones ability to develop a more lax and carefree approach to life. I, however, thought that I could brag about my adventurous spirit until I saw the chicken. Let me explain.
My first visit to motherland was life changing for me. As soon as I walked out of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, I made it point to touch the ground to salute my symbolic return home. A little overwhelmed by the controlled chaos outside of the airport, I quickly adapted by zoning in on my New York City street smarts. Shocked by the multitude of kissing sounds coming from random men and women, I was soon informed that this was the Nigerian way of calling attention to something. Interesting! Couldn’t find that in a guidebook! I was soon to discover Cubans did this as well.
I digress. Well, on to the chicken.
We ate well. Some meals, such as egusi stew and moin moin, required a little a little explanation from our hosts. Treats like suya and puff puff were easy due to the fact that we found equivalents such as kabobs and zeppolis. Everything was tasty. I have to admit, when we came across Nigerian fast food chains like Tantalizers, it was a joy to dine on familiar food items like chips (French fries y’all) and sandwiches.
While involved in working on a project and without transportation to go back to our lodging, we were asked if we were hungry and wanted a quick meal in the evening hours. With breakfast served at the crack of dawn earlier in the day, we let out an enthusiastic, YES! Forgive me, but when I think of a quick meal, I think of sandwiches. Yes. Scold me right now. Now when our host said that they were making fried chicken, I did the cabbage patch. Long live the 80s!
I’m not sure if it is safe to blame Rafiah for losing details in translation or my incessantly growling stomach, but what came to our table was an unexpected sight. Unexpected for me. Right, Rafiah? Let me explain. What was piled up on the plate was a fried chicken. No, not fried chicken, but a fried chicken. Every part of the chicken piled up with the chicken’s head strategically placed on the top. Its gaping beak pointed directly towards me. To avoid attention to my changed demeanor and sullen face, I reached for a napkin and grabbed a piece of bread. It didn’t take long for someone to ask why I didn’t take a piece of chicken. Nigerians are great hosts and keen observers. Darn it. I said that I was not as hungry as I thought and only wanted bread. No one believed me. Rafiah, having the uncanny ability to read my mind smiled. I guess it is the American in me that wants to be far removed from the fact that my food, specifically meat, was once part of a living creature. I’m embarrassed of this fact about me. I even scorn the fact that many of the fish dishes that I love keep the fish’s head intact. I’m still working up the courage to eat shrimp with the heads still on. Don’t judge me. I ended up eating a piece of chicken that night. It took some effort searching for a part that had mostly white meat.
This experience is a perfect example of stepping outside of a self-prescribed comfort zone. This gathering, with our gracious hosts, allowed me to remember the effort that is involved in bringing our food to our plates. As Americans, we put great emphasis on educating our public about the importance of organic meats and produce, yet many of us are not fully aware of the farm to table process. No need for a label, a book, or a documentary. All I needed was a chicken head.