Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hot Pink Chicks

pink-chickens

via Business Insider

According to a 2015 report, poultry farming contributes around 1.3 % to Pakistan’s GDP annually since the advent of poultry farming in the 1960s. Chicken represents around 26.8% of meat production per annum. The industry employs around 1.5 million people across the country. In short, Pakistanis LOVE chicken!

Some chickens are bred for their meat, others for their eggs. For egg-laying chickens, the female ones are the ones which the industry prizes.

This leaves a problem. Million of fluffy little male chicks which are considered useless and destined for a quick death. The alternative presents itself in markets across Pakistan every spring – fluffy make chicks dyed hot pink, orange and green and sold as pets.

When I was little girl, you could either get natural yellow chicks or pink ones. Buying a few of these chicks each spring was a ritual for me and my sisters. We’d fuss over them and feed them grain, taking turns to watch over them when we’d let them out into the garden to forage for bugs.

As fun as it was, there was a lot of heartache involved. The chicks were not hardy. They’d start dying off for no reason. My vigils and prayers were useless. Crows would swoop down and snatch them from under our noses on their outings in the garden, or a cat would pounce during the few seconds we’d turned our backs.

It’s a short, sharp introduction to the circle of life for little children. I’ve shed countless tears and buried so many fluffy little chicks in my back garden, their little graves decorated with pistachio shells only to find a cat had turned up later and snatched the body. And yet, every spring we’d go back to the market for more chicks to do it all over again.

In all the years we did this, only one solitary chick every made it to adulthood. We coaxed him through colds and sniffles, warded off cats and crows and soon he grew into a fine rooster.

But raising him turned out to be a harsh lesson in parenting, because this rooster which we had all nurtured so lovingly into adulthood was the meanest, most vicious and completely ungrateful rooster I’d ever met. He was so diabolical that cats didn’t dare come near our yard because he’d attack them. We’d creep into the yard carrying a stick to ward him off when we had to go out to collect or put out laundry, because he’d attack our legs with such fury our shalwars would end up with holes. We’d all run screaming from him on more than one occasion. Eventually, we gave him away to a rooster fighter. I’m sure he had a dazzling career.

When we arrived in my village, I’d asked for a couple of those pink and orange chicks to be brought for my own kids to play with. And so it was as history repeated itself. Across 10 days, they fed them and played with them, collecting them back into their cage at night and watching them in the garden during the day. By the time we left them, their fluff had started to be replaced with proper wings. There were no assassinations by crows or cats. My kids got to live the glory of the hot pink chicks without the pain.

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Welcome to Pakistan

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It had been a very long day. Actually, it had been almost two days. I looked to my left and across the aisle I could see the twilight spreading across Multan below our airplane. It’s that hazy blue and orange, the light scattering from the dust in the air to create soft edges on everything, even the light itself. I don’t know if this dusk exists in other places too. I saw thousands of these dusks and never gave them a second thought until I couldn’t watch them on a whim any more.

An hour later, we’d arrived. The plane bumped onto the tarmac in the city where Alexander the Great is said to have met his fate with a poisoned arrow, and I turn to my kids who were prodding at the inflight entertainment screens and said “Welcome to Pakistan!”

The plan had come together spontaneously as most good plans do. I realised that my kids were now old enough for them to remember this trip, which happened at a time when I was getting really fed up with the kind of things I heard about Pakistan from the average Greek who had formed their opinions on the country based entirely on hysterical news reports and Europe’s growing Islamophobia.

Part of me wondered if it was me who was crazy and if I should go back and double check that the country really was so awful and I just didn’t know it. Faced with thoughtless comments about Pakistanis which were sometimes made in the presence of my children, I realised no matter what my own slightly confused relationship was with Pakistan, I alone was responsible for helping my children become acquainted with the other half of their heritage. “We’ll be gone for a couple of weeks,” I told my youngest son’s nursery teacher. “We’re going to Pakistan.”

She looked at me in alarm. Of course she would, Pakistan never makes it into Greek news unless something terrible happens there.

But she didn’t know about the winter evenings nestled under thick cotton blankets eating pine nuts still hot from the vendor’s cart, or the taste of sour village butter, or my hometown on the edge of a desert, the capital of a once-princely state ruled by nawabs, or the sticky, hot curls of jalebis that you couldn’t wait to taste as you peeled them off folds of newspaper.

It’s strange, because I’m not overly sentimental about the place I grew up. When my parents said we were moving to the UK, I was the only one of my sisters who was thrilled. I’ve moved countries twice now and don’t really feel like I belong anywhere, but having children and watching them reach an age where they ask their father about the places he went as a child and the things he did made me want to do the same. I found myself thinking of showing my own children the street where I used to play and the school I went to, so when the opportunity presented itself to take my kids to Pakistan, I took it.

What follows are some of the things we saw, experienced and tasted, because beyond the terrorism and the frightening geopolitics there is a country where people still live, where the people who knew me as a little girl now wait to see that little girl’s children, people who I remember as towering giants are now shorter than me. They clasp their hands and exclaim “Mashallah!” that the stubborn little girl who told everyone who would listen that she would become a journalist actually went through with her childhood plan, and is still just as stubborn.

A place where everything has changed and still nothing has changed. The hand-painted signs have been replaced with LED lights, but the hot jalebis still taste as good.

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