Note: If you are a vegetarian, you might want to skip this post and go read about sloppy lentils or something.
My friend, who is a vegetarian, informed me that if I was going to eat meat, I should know where it comes from. I clarified that I am perfectly aware of where the meat I eat comes from; I just don’t want to be involved in the process of getting it to a cookable form. And while some people might find that hypocritical, I assured her that there are plenty of other things in life that I just want to enjoy the end results of without being involved in the process: I love a clean house, but I’d rather not have to clean it. I love baked goods, but I have little patience for cooking. I want Jovelle to have a clean diaper, but I would be happy to not be the one to change it….
But a couple weekends ago, I went with some friends to “the abattoir” here. Not because I wanted to be all pioneer-ish or was readying myself for Doomsday but because my friend had tempted me with visions of ham and bacon, and she was going to guide us in the making of it. Yes, this visit was merely a means to an end, not a path to self-discovery or independence. Quite frankly, I like my dependence on styrofoam meat trays in the States.
But on to the abattoir. Though an abattoir is a slaughterhouse in general, in Jos there is a fairly large slaughterhouse and meat market that is referred to just as “the abattoir.” There is a large building, and the animals are, um, put to rest inside this building, and outside there are stalls all around where the meat is sold. There is a beef section, a goat section and, only on Saturdays (the day we went), a pork section. (Though some of you may have read about recent lobbies for a dog section.) The beef and goat sections are in wooden stalls, but the pork section, presumably because it is only once a week, is just tables set up in the hot sun.
We went early in the morning (well, early for Jos market standards – a bit after 10 a.m.), having been warned that earlier is better if you want to avoid smells that only worsen as meat has been sitting in the sun all day, pools of animal blood on the ground (that one friend horridly recalls once slipping in and falling into) and general wahala (sheer craziness) as it gets busier and busier as the day goes on.
I was quite grateful for that advice since after we had been there a mere 45 minutes or so, the smell was already getting quite strong. I am pretty sensitive to smells (For those who know me, you may find that to be an understatement. :) ), but I was not too bothered by it, at least initially. In fact, the whole experience was not nearly as gruesome as some had forewarned it would be.
But maybe that’s because it was my friend who was the one all up in the meat while I mostly stood back and gaped. At several points during the morning I looked at her and said, “I am never coming to the abattoir without you.” Of course, she IS a science teacher, but I couldn’t help but be incredibly impressed as she pointed to parts of the (whole) pig, explained what parts she wanted for this and that in all very scientific and butcher-y terms and – and this is the part that left me amazed – practically caressed the meat as she determined which cuts would be best for making bacon, which parts for ham and which for Canadian bacon. (More on that process another time.) I tell you, she was the next best thing to a styrofoam tray.
So after she selected the pieces, told the sellers how she wanted them cut and negotiated the price (800 naira per kilogram for the ham and Canadian bacon – about $5.30 for a little over two pounds – and 750 naira for the American bacon), we waited while they cut the meat and deboned it. And profusely thanked her that she had the knowledge to have them take out the bones rather than have us do it at the house. Oh my goodness, what a process! Each bone was finely cut out, which meant that we waited quite a while. However, the men who have the stalls are like Japanese sous chefs with the knives! They chopped so fast that there were meat pieces and bones chips flying around us. (At one point, I was standing about 10 feet from a table with my back to it when a woman came up to me and said, “Sorry,” as she picked a chunk of meat from my back.)
While waiting we went over to the beef section, where we ordered some meat there and waited some more for that to be cut. Of course, we couldn’t help but noticing that some of the meat was actually still twitching, prompting me to rethink the freshness of the meat I get in that tray at Publix after all (though I doubt that the slogan we came up with – “If it ain’t twitchin’, it ain’t fresh” – would sell many steaks at home. I was personally rather grossed out when “The Chicken Man,” as he calls himself, recently delivered a chicken to my house (head, feet and all. But dead and void of feathers anyway.), and I discovered it was still freshly warm from its obviously very recent demise.)).
Another noticeable thing – and one thing I find humbling and admirable about Nigerian culture – is that nothing goes to waste. Nothing. The heads of the steer are sold, of course, but other not as obvious parts are as well. I was talking to one of the butchers as we waited for our meat to be cut and asking what some of the parts he was selling were and what they were used for.
Tail. For soup.
Stomach. For soup.
“For soup,” I smiled.
He laughed. Yes, for soup.
We went back to pay for our pork, and it did not escape my attention that the man who had been chopping and packing our raw meat and swatting the flies away one minute before was the same man who took our money and licked his fingers to unstick the bills as he counted them. Gratefully, we didn’t need change.
As we were leaving, I commented to my friends that the experience had actually not been as bad as I thought it would be – just as a taxi unloaded a very large, very loudly squealing pig protesting its captivity. I tried to ignore it, but it got louder and louder, and at this point there was little denying the destiny of Porky. I looked sadly at my friend and whispered, “Wilbur.”
But no Charlotte to save that one, so home again, home again, jiggity jig….