Ever since I began thinking about living in my own place in Morocco I’ve had the crazy notion of having my own laying hens. I’m not quite sure of the origins of this thought except that I’m a bird-lover, egg-eater, and like to “grow” my own food. It only seems logical right?
The previous volunteer had a dog, and a doghouse that she would leave behind. I saw a potential chicken-coop. It wasn’t until the rains finally stopped a few weeks ago that I painted it with the help of Alex, a nearby volunteer, and Nadiya, my language tutor. Shortly there-after I went down behind the fish-market to women selling djaja bildeea (country hens…none of those ugly pale-white city chicks). I bought two girls who were close to egg-laying maturity but hadn’t started yet.
Long before I was ready to purchase chickens I had the name “Big Momma” picked out for one of them, I’m still not quite sure who said it, but why not? The other I decide should be called “Rafisa” which is a tasty chicken dish made with fenugreek, raslharnut, and harsha (delicious pan-fried semolina bread) served at special occasions such as weddings and births. Rafisa also sounds like a nice girl’s name so—perfect!
Big Momma and Rafisa are smarter than chickens are usually credited, and I have played many a game of “how did you get in the house this time?” with them. Just when I was eyeing those chicken legs for my next meal an egg appeared! I wasn’t sure who had laid it as neither was laying claim. It was small, oblong and looked as though it had been painfully borne. I almost ululated as a Moroccan mother would after her daughter gave birth to her first child.
Instead I ate it, fried in a little olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt. What satisfaction! I had earned that fresh egg.
Two days later, today in fact, I discovered who my first layer was—appropriately named Big Momma. She was acting rather motherly making herself a nest in the wood-shavings and laid her second egg right after I ate breakfast (bad timing on my part, I could have had a fresh egg instead of cereal with chunky milk). When I collected the egg I realized that it was still warm.
This experience so far has even more so than growing my own vegetables made me realize where my food is coming from and how the animal was fed and taken care of who gave me that food. It is nice to have a vegetable scrap-disposal in my courtyard, but I also go out of my way to make sure they are getting a balanced healthy chicken-diet. After all, what they eat will be processed and turned into what I eat. What better motivation to take care of something else when you realize it also becomes a part of you.
I am currently serving in Peace Corps, Morocco, as a small business developer working with artisans since September 2008. I have a Master of Fine Art, in studio art from Washington University in St. Louis.