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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Flea Market Pup - Page 3

Written by Kip Sikora
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I had decided against going to Cuenca, but then Vince told me he had just arranged a ride with his neighbor, Oswaldo, in the back of a vegetable truck leaving Saraguro at 4 AM the next day. He was heading there in search of a turkey chick, and had plans to fatten that bird for a home-style feast come Thanksgiving in the jungle. Turkeys are somewhat rare in Ecuador, but Oswaldo was bound for one of the larger markets in Cuenca, and it had been reported anything could be found there, save the homemade shotguns sold much further north in Saquisili.

The dawn was a bluegrass shade of gray when we parted ways with Oswaldo. Cuenca sits in a slightly depressed valley, and the day was warming as we entered the market. It was an interesting time to be there because everybody was setting up shop. Movement. Men, women, little old ladies, even children were unloading trucks, heaving crates and large sacks of fruits and vegetables onto their shoulders, and hauling them off into the maze like interior of the market. We asked around where one might find turkey chicks and were led by a small, confident child into the maze of vendors.

The morning air smelled of dank, musty earth. It was the organic aroma of agricultural commerce, rich with reflection of the farming life. A life concerned not with things, but the cultivation of the earth. A life in which means to an end is not hours spent in a cubicle for the glory of glamorous status symbols, but seeds, soil and toil to ensure a good harvest to feed the mouths of family.

Crisscrossing the narrow walkways lined with vendors, we passed through the butcher market. Raw and uncensored, the immediacy of it grabbed me and I stopped to check out one of the many stalls. Blood and flesh scented the air. The slaughterhouse and the point of sale were one in the same; gone were the North American layers of insulation that sanitize and diffuse the grim aesthetic reality of what it means to be a carnivore.

meatIt was the smell of fresh death and it took me back to a day several months earlier during Peace Corps training when, for the first time in my life, I took an active part in the kill. I reasoned that, if I was going to eat meat, I had to participate in the entire process, not just the enjoyment of its cooked flavor. In one hand I took hold of a chicken by its neck and sawed across its tough throat with a serrated blade in the other. The bird gurgled and writhed. Blood flowed into an orange bucket on the ground. It dripped from the grooves of the blade, covering my hands. I had consciously taken a life. Although I did my best to give thanks for it and for the meat I would later eat, my mind darted from the blood, to the large dog standing near the bucket, anxiously awaiting its contents, to wondering what it would be like to die in such a manner. How pure was my gratitude if it was tarnished by lack of focus? I can't say for sure. What I do know is that the decision to slaughter my own meat that day was more symbolic than anything else, because although I have eaten animal flesh regularly since, I have not made it a point to slaughter my own. Not because killing was too much to handle, but because it is easier to buy meat wrapped neatly in plastic covered Styrofoam. Such are the walls of my own glass palace.

The breeze shifted direction, carrying the scent of blood, and my flashback, away with it, reinstating me in what was the moment. Working behind the counter were two men and a woman who, with a massive hatchet in her thick arms, butchered recently slaughtered livestock. A severed pig head sat on the counter next to a hanging scale, and next to that, was a small tail, apparently for sale. There is very little waste. Livestock represent a significant investment, and I really respected how people used the entire animal. I asked one of the guys how the curly appendage would be used and how much it cost. As he smiled, revealing a mouth full of jagged, brown teeth, a chunk of gristle fell from his cheek and into a small puddle of blood on the counter top. Soup, he said. 25 cents.

(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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