A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to kill a chicken during my time here. For my fellow Albanian friends, this was a run of the mill, every day type of thing. The fact that I was an American, planning out every detail of killing a chicken, made them laugh quite a bit. Not to mention, that it was my main topic of conversation for a couple of weeks before the actual event.
One afternoon, I started talking to my coworkers husband about where I should find a chicken. Gjergji immediately called over a younger Albanian that was having coffee in the corner. He told the boy that I would like to buy a chicken and started talking about prices. I realized that they were discussing an already butchered chicken so I had to interrupt. I told him that I wanted the chicken alive so that I could kill it and eat it. I threw in the knife slitting its throat action to make sure there was no confusion. Gjergji burst out laughing and was no help for the remainder of the conversation. The boy just stood there awkwardly stuttering about prices to this excited, and I’m sure in his mind: crazy, American girl. We decided that I would get a hold of him once I figured out the date for my chicken feast. I left the cafe feeling proud now that I had a chicken guy.
A few weeks later, we had decided on a date for our chicken slaughtering and feast. A group of volunteers were visiting Permet for the first time. One of the volunteers had experience killing birds and he was going to show us how to skin and clean it so we could prepare it. Gjergji, my coworkers husband, had told me that he would get a few chickens for us from a neighboring village. Some cities in Albania, have a weekly farmers market where veggies, clothes and animals can be bought. Permet however, doesn’t have one of these so I had to reach out to the villagers. Gjergji had the connections to do so and was excited about helping me become a little more Albanian. The week leading up to our chicken killing, I visited Gjergji’s cafe on a few different occasions. With the language barrier, you can never be 100% sure that you are being understood. We discussed the details of how many chickens, if he would cook them for us, what time we would kill them and so forth. Feeling confident that all was correct, I kept busy until Saturday rolled around.
On Saturday, the other volunteers and I headed to the cafe to figure out what time we should pick up the chickens. I walked in and started talking to Gjergji about how his day was and how I was excited for our chicken feast. He had this goofy smile on his face when I told him we would come back to get them in a few hours. He proceeded to lead me into his kitchen, and opened his oven. Inside, I saw two chickens, nestled in between veggies and broth, cooking away. I asked him why on earth were they already dead?! He knew we wanted to kill them. He knew that we had planned this entire weekend around our chicken slaughtering. He just shook his head and told me that the chickens were making too much noise in his kitchen. As I stood there, more than a little agitated, he made loud chicken noises to prove his point. As I just stared, unsure what to say to him, he started laughing and kept telling me this wasn’t a problem. I guess I had tried, and coincidentally failed at killing my first chicken. You can plan and plan and plan here, but things tend to fall through the cracks for one reason or another. As a volunteer, I have gotten used to this and found myself hoping I had better luck next time.
Turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long. The following weekend, a group of volunteers and I headed up north. Things seem to be more rugged and conservative up north and there is a running joke that only mountain men live up there. What better place to kill a chicken?!
When we arrived in Kukes, we ended up going on a run to see more of the city. We will ignore the fact that I felt as though I was going to die and didn’t enjoy much of the scenery. The staring and hollering that we got from the boys in Kukes edged onto the ridiculous side. Two girls running, obviously foreign, ate up the attention of every single male in the city. One thing I have noticed since arriving in Albania, is that I am getting very good at ignoring stares and unwanted attention. Of course, I still have my moments that I would like nothing more than to yell back every obscene word I know. Thus far, I have refrained, which is usually followed by marching to a store and purchasing a chocolate bar.
After our run we were more than warmed up to say goodbye to our chickens and hello to dinner.
Emily, another volunteer, and I cut the heads off the chickens and put them in a bucket to bleed out. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to cut through and we literally had to put our body weight into it. A sharper knife would have made the whole experience much less traumatizing for the killers and the chickens.
We also learned how to skin and clean our chickens. The apartment we were at was on a water schedule so we had to clean them with buckets of water that we had gotten earlier.
Our chickens went into a soup with other fresh veggies and cooked for the afternoon. It was the first meal that I had made from literal start to finish and it was delicious! It did turn out to be a little more work than I had expected but definitely worth it. After returning to Permet, I was able to tell my Albanian friends about my weekend. I earned more street cred from the kids in my neighborhood for spending the weekend with the rugged people of the north. Likewise, I earned a note of respect with the farmers for slowly becoming more “Shqiptar!”