he was sensitive to my vegetarianism
and still-developing relationship to animal husbandry. But I didn’t want to bow
out. I wanted to jump in.
Cooper, Andy’s farming partner, led the
endeavor. As he and I made our way up the
hill toward the chicken pasture, I reflected
on the pair. Both had good hearts, but
Cooper stowed his tidily away in a chest
where he could keep tabs on it and ensure
that it was always in sound working order,
while Andy wore his melting o= his
sleeve, letting it stick a bit to everything
it touched. I would have been proud to
model myself after either, but for this task
I wanted to try on Cooper’s pragmatism.
Facts over poignancy, at least for now.
Pulling a pair of leather gloves from
his back pocket, Cooper explained the
best way to kill poultry that is intended
for human consumption: catch the chosen birds the day before and then confine them, with water but no food, so
that their insides will be cleaner when
you extract them. We’d use the potting
shed for this purpose, which in spring
is where seeds awake from dormancy to
greet the world with new life. The idea
that this modest outbuilding was actually a transit station between worlds
enchanted me, and I let it, briefly.
But before our friends could embark
on their journey, we had to catch them.
“Ten roosters,” Cooper said, as though
there had been any doubt, as though he
hadn’t counted them every day for the
past year. Barring escape, predation, and
spontaneous sex changes, we could be
pretty certain there were ten boys.
“Let’s get four,” he said, more to himself than to me.
I waited for what experience told me
would come next. Cooper would explain
the plan, with Cooper-esque thorough-
ness. There’d be diagrams and lots of
words, and frequent checks for compre-
hension. I steeled myself for the deluge
of directions. Then Cooper spoke:
“There! Grab that one.”
Really? “Grab that one” was the plan?
He hadn’t identified which hand I should
use, the angle from which I should
approach, or whether I should face into
the sun or away. This was not the strategy
I had anticipated. But I attempted to do
what Cooper said: I crouched down and
prepared to make a swipe at the nearest
rooster. The bird cocked his head to the
side and regarded me curiously for a min-
ute, then let out a conclusive little chortle
and trotted nonchalantly toward the cen-
ter of the sea of feathered bodies. Okay,
maybe not that one. Try again. I chose
another rooster and this time mentally
committed to catching him.
Something inside me clicked. I dis-
covered a sureness of motion that sur-
prised my usually awkward self. Some
part of me knew what to do, was able to
anticipate the rooster’s actions, to guide
my body fluidly through choreography
I’d never tried before. I emerged from it
with a pair of chicken legs in my hand, a
resigned bird suspended beneath them,
and very little idea as to how they got
there, but with a very clear sense that the
outcome was right. O
Anna Lee is a PhD candidate in the Emmett
Interdisciplinary Program in Environment
and Resources at Stanford University.
henry Munguía is wiry and tall, taller
than most Nicaraguans. He walks with
a loose swagger that’s confident but not
exaggerated, as if he has learned over
time to feel at home in his body.
For years, he worked as a waste
picker, using his long arms to snag recyclables from unloading dump trucks. In
dawn’s dusky glow, he would stride over
the marshland behind his one-room
sheet-metal house, past a shallow pond
spotted with white egrets and hook-billed ibises, then up through a shantytown of about fifty shacks perched over a
fetid lagoon of runo= and floating trash.
On the other side of the lagoon stretched
a plateau of uncovered garbage: Managua’s notorious dump, La Chureca.
In the Amer-Indian language Nahuatl,
La Chureca means “old rag.” When
Henry started working there, the dump
was about the size of fifty soccer fields
and received approximately seven hundred tons of waste a day—roughly the
weight of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the
Redeemer statue. On top of this heap,
more than a thousand waste pickers
wrested a living, part of an estimated 15
million people worldwide who recycle
and generate profits from trash where
governments fail to do so.
From Henry’s house a mile away,
La Chureca looked like a bare, slumping ridge with ants crawling over it all
day long. These ants were the waste
pickers — churequeros in local slang —
accompanied by their two-wheeled carts,
horses, and donkeys. Smoke from burning tires and mattresses and the spontaneous combustion of chemicals billowed
over them. During the dry season, dust
clouds thickened the smoke.
In the haze, black vultures formed
a living blanket over the waste. Occasionally, one of them fluttered up like
an overgrown butterfly. Flocks of white
egrets looked ridiculously pure in the
piles of plastic and rotting food. Methane and hydrogen sulfide filled the air
with the scent of rotten eggs mixed with
diesel fumes. A symphony of sounds
reverberated across the dump: men