A few months have passed since I arrived here in Costa Rica and in that time I have done quite a few interesting things. Yesterday I got to do something I have looked forward to since I began thinking about entering Peace Corps.
One of Peace Corps goals is to share American culture with the people we come in contact with. As this past Thursday was Thanksgiving we decided to throw a Turkey day feast with all the fixings for our beloved family.
There are three of us in our community and we had to cook for 25 people but first we had to make sure that we had all the necessary foods.... mashed potatoes... check.... green bean casserole... check.... stuffing, scalloped potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie... all check. Unfortunately when we went to purchase a turkey, we were disappointed to find that the only turkey available was small and 85 dollars. Apparently they take advantage of our insatiable need for pavo this time of year. Clearly this wasn't a viable option, so we began exploring different possibilities.
Of course there is always chicken but that’s kinda boring, ham would be nice but we would be missing out on the whole Thanksgiving fowl theme. So there we were in quite the pickle. I relayed our predicament to my host family and my madre Miriam told us that there were some wild ducks that had taken up residence nearby. I got really excited, changed in to appropriate attire and began my search for an appropriate weapon. I chose a heavy stick for the job.
This was my time to tap into the barbaric instinct we all have to kill and eat. It’s an element of survival we as Americans generally aren't in touch with. First we had to ask the neighbors permission if we could duck hunt on their property. They said yes but the ducks that were there had since "flown the coop." Major bummer, she suggested that we try one of the other neighbors who owned some ducks. Off we went in a group of 10, 3 hunters and 7 children that wanted to witness the deed.
We arrived at the neighbor’s house and were greeted by the welcoming quacks of a flock of ducks. After the customary greetings and small talk we got down to business. We wanted 2 of the biggest ducks they had. We weren't so sure how much they would cost (a chicken typically cost $8.) So we were happy when we agreed upon the price of 8000 colones or $16 for both patos. We picked our ducks put them both in a sack and went off on our merry way.
It was decided that we would kill the ducks in the morning and eat them that night so they would be nice and fresh. I quickly volunteered to be one of the decapitators. Aside from bugs, a few large spiders since I have been here, a squirrel with my car, and a snake that I shot with a slingshot when I was a kid (after which I felt terrible) I haven’t really killed anything. Would I be able to go through with it? Would I freak out? Would it fight back?
There was only on way to find out. Killing should be a natural part of every human’s life, we are on top of the food chain. Hypothetically we should be able to kill and eat anything we like whether that be a deer, cow, bear or duck. Like most college aged Americans most of the meat I have eaten over the last few years has come frozen, pre-breaded and in a Tyson’s re-sealable bag.
I woke up that morning with one thing on my mind… death. Not for me but for the unfortunate duck that had the audacity to taste delicious, when baked in an oven and served with gravy. I went to our neighbors house were the victim had spent its last fateful night in a chicken coop.
How it would be done was the subject of some debate. I wanted to hold it across a log and do it quick with a machete. However I was quickly informed that they normally tie up its legs and cut saw off its head with a sharp knife. Being new to the whole process. I decided to listen to the pros and go with option two.
My buddy John went first. When he pulled his duck out of the coop it scratched the shit out of his forearms, really shredding him up. Needless to say he had no qualms about the beheading, a few weeks ago he killed a chicken, so he wasn’t quite as new to it as I was. Watching the process was quite the experience pretty gruesome and awesome in its own right, it definitely gave me an idea of what was about to come.
I was up next, the duck was tied up, I had the knife in one hand and its neck in the other. Yes I was nervous, excited, scared and anxious all at once. I delivered a one liner, I borrowed from Arnold Shwarzenager in Commando “Remember when I said I wouldn’t kill you?... I lied.” And then I started. Sawing and pulling as hard and as fast as I could (that’s what she said) but I was making little progress. I was cutting in the wrong spot, I had hit a vertebra, and the only thing to do was continue.
So on I went, for what seemed like an eternity. At one point I had to readjust my grip on its head during which it began flapping and I felt the sensation of warm blood oozing down my hand. And just when I thought it would never be over the head came free and the deed was done. It was all over, my heart was still racing and I was super pumped.
After the two minutes of involuntary movement from the carcass began the bad part… plucking. What you do is put the bird in boiling water for a little bit and then go at it… pulling out all the plumage. Unfortunately the ducks were in the process of growing new feathers so what is normally a ten minute process turned into an hour and a half of tedious plucking until we finally got them halfway looking like something you would buy at Food Lion.
If you haven’t already guessed it by now la matanza means the killing. The night was a great success; all of the food was amazing. We had more food than we could eat. As such my Tico family did what most Americans do on Thanksgiving… eat, get sleepy then eat some more. We also had a few mojitos, which may or may not have had something to do with it, but regardless it felt like a proper Thanksgiving. Which is a hard feeling to capture when it’s not cold outside and everyone is speaking Spanish. All in all, I felt good about that day. I felt connected to my family and connected to what I was eating. I felt like I deserved to eat that duck and given the chance I would do it again.
The funny thing is that while this may have been an epic moment in the life of Eric Mitchell there are millions and millions of people who do things like that each and every day and think nothing of it. It’s just how they go about living.