The MSF farm

The rules say you aren’t supposed to have any pets in the expat house so that there’s no problem with allergies or fleas. But rules were meant to be broken.

Our compound has: one dog, one cat, one hen with three Guinea fowl chicks as big as it, another hen with 9 chicks, 2 roosters (well, on Saturday we had two, read on to find out their fate), and two goats (like the roosters, this statistic is now out of date). In case someone from headquarters in Geneva is reading this, I would hasten to add that these are not pets but “program resources for maintenance of employee morale”. Are the bean-counters gone yet? OK, I can tell you about all our pets then…

The hands down favorite of all the pets is Quiplu the dog. Quiplu means “civilized white person” in Mano, the local language. As in the rest of Africa, when any child sees you they shout “white man” in their language at the top of their lungs. Here, that means we hear “quiplu” a lot. I make self deprecating jokes about quiplus with my staff, and they seem to like it a lot. Our dog, like virtually every other dog in the developing world, is yellow with a white belly. I don’t know the story about why he’s our dog; this is one of the mysteries that comes about from having expats change every 6 months (I also have no idea where the spare keys are to the store rooms, but when we lose those keys, we’ll just hack off the padlocks and replace them. They are imported from China at 20 cents a piece and resold in the local market for 1 dollar). Quiplu owns the territory inside our compound, and some of the road outside. He gets a little less bold when I try to take him on walks to the city, where there are other dogs. He spends most nights with the watchmen, and twice has barked fiercely at me in the night before he realized that I live here with him. Then he sort of tries to make it up to me by coming over to get petted. He was introduced to me as “the best dog in the world”, and it’s pretty much true. He’s totally cool with the frequent coming and goings of quiplu in his domain. His favorite place to hang out in the heat of the day is in the interior concrete hallway, which stays cool. He can often be found begging in the kitchen. Though I haven’t seen her doing it, I assume this is his favorite begging location because the cook probably gives in to his wile from time to time. Quiplu is a bit of a man of mystery, though. He can crawl under the fence anytime he feels like it, so sometimes he’s gone for a few days. We assume he is making the rounds visiting his girlfriends and making more little Quiplus. We haven’t noticed any of the condoms from the condom basket getting used, so perhaps we need to have a talk with Quiplu about safe sex.

I was actually a cat person before a certain dog won my heart earlier this year. So it pains me to admit this, but Dude the cat is hands down the worst cat in the world. Well, he’s not violent or destructive, but he’s got this really annoying meow, and he insists on begging when he’s not wanted. He is also lazy as hell: we have never seen him so much as twitch his tail when he sees a nice juicy cockroach or moth. This place ought to be a wonderland for a cat, with big crunchy things and plenty of things that scurry of the warm- and cold-blooded variety. But Dude just sits and begs, unsuccessfully. In addition to his vocal talents to annoy, he is gross. He was bitten by a snake a while ago and developed these sores on each side of his mouth. Being compassionate medical people, MSFers have apparently tried everything (including heisting antibiotics from the expat pharmacy box) to try to clear up the sores, but nothing works. We’ve given up and assume they are the mark of the devil.

The story about the Guinea fowl is interesting. Someone, I guess a watchman, brought 6 Guinea fowl eggs to our compound and put them under our hen after she laid some chicken eggs. She didn’t know about the switch and while we were eating freshly laid chicken eggs for breakfast, she was incubating Guinea fowl. At first, it was no big deal. But after about a month, she’s beginning to catch on that there’s something wrong with her chicks. They have grown up to be bigger and faster than her. So now, when she’s lucky, they just run ahead of her getting all the good bugs and worms and stuff. When they are feeling nasty, they fly up to her and chase her down. We really feel bad for her. At least there are only 3 now, as the person who brought the eggs split them with us. A few weeks ago they took their three fowl, and left our three as payment for using our chicken and our yard to feed them. I’m planning to serve the three Guinea fowl for Thanksgiving, which we’ll hold on November 1st in honor of our field coordinator, a Canadian.

The two roosters and two goats came home from Lepula this weekend. Jerome and I attended the opening ceremony for the health post. As a thank you for the big new health post, MSF was given these animals. We brought them home and had to decide what to do with them. We knew the roosters were dead meat; the team had a rooster a while ago and it was too annoying to have in the compound due to noise, bullying the cat, etc. The goats required more finesse. We also know that having a goat in the compound is not a good idea. For a long time MSF had a goat named Norman. It eventually got donated to an orphanage when it started climbing onto the dinner table. Goats also make a lot of noise, which is annoying. So we knew the goats had to go. But two goats is a lot of meat. The goats were also quite small, really just big kids. Showing my typical quiplu farm knowledge, I told the cook I wanted to find someplace else to let the goats grow up, and pay the person to hold the goats. She laughed and said that we could eat them now. But our freezer is only about one goat big… there’s a capacity measurement written in the manual in litres, but as I am now not only a logistician but a goat farmer, I prefer to think about freezer capacity in the units of milliGoats, and our freezer is only 1000 milliGoats.

So we came up with this complicated plan to have Mary hire a guy for a half day to slaughter the goat and butcher the goat meat, then take the other goat to a friend of hers to grow up a little. We slaughtered the big goat (which was named Jerome) on Monday and enjoyed incredible roast goat pieces that night. We have the rest of Jerome in the freezer for later. The other goat, who is named Jeff, was supposed to go to the deluxe goat ranch in the next town (i.e. be tied up next to the garbage pile behind a hut). But somehow it’s now the second night that Jeff the goat is here, and my team members are making dark comments about “slaughtering Jeff”, so I think that I should look into why the goat is still here tomorrow, if not to save his hide, to save mine.

On Saturday, we got help from one of the watchmen to slaughter, pluck, and butcher one of our roosters. We have to cook for ourselves on Sunday, so I had bragged to my teammates about how they ought to let the American cook them Southern-style fried chicken. Jerome got excited about the prospect of adding “slaughtered a chicken” to his resume and got involved, though somehow he was absent for most of the plucking and all of the butchering. Jerome’s more into the bloody part; he’s not so much into cooking. The watchman taught me how to pluck the bird. Liberians often don’t give instructions in complete form, instead they tell you one step and then look frustrated and confused when you get the second step wrong (which they haven’t told you all the way yet). This led to a lot of confusion and laughing, as I was trying to pluck the chicken the Liberian way, but basically was just the punch line in all the jokes about the clueless quiplu. To be fair, I did understand the concept (dunk it in boiling water), I just didn’t understand how to implement it gracefully with the stuff we had on hand. Now I know that you pour the water into the bucket with the chicken, which lets the chicken get covered, then you pour the chicken and the water into the big washtub to do the actual plucking.

Making the fried chicken was easy, after all I saw it once on Good Eats and figured I probably remembered enough from seeing my Mom do it a few times. At home, I cook only vegetarian food (and, to be crystal clear: I also do not normally slaughter chickens) so frying chicken was a first for me. I put ground chili pepper into the flour, and lots of salt and pepper. It’s a good thing that I lavished plenty of effort on the crispy part because as soon as my teammates and I bit into the chicken we figured out why Liberians stew their chicken instead of frying it: Liberian roosters are the toughest meat you can imagine. Everyone agreed that the crispy coating on the skin was yummy, but the fried chicken itself was a bit of a disaster. Now I know why the American poultry industry is so far removed from farm-raised food… because farm raised food sucks. As a thank you for putting up with my clueless attempts to pluck the rooster, I gave the watchman the other rooster. OK, so I also gave it to him because the first one was so terrible I didn’t want to even try to cook the second one.

So, now you know the rest of the lyrics to “MSFers had a farm, E I E I O. And on this farm they had…”

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