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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View: There’s more rotten than just chicken

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

A week and a half ago, authorities poured a 40-foot container of rotten imported Brazilian chicken into Bormeh dump. According to local news, so many people were drawn to the dump to dig up the chicken that police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. Newspapers described people digging through trash to pull up pieces of muddy, rotten chicken to carry away. It’s already being sold in the Freetown market, and as Awoko reported, much of Freetown is now afraid to go near any dish made with chicken.
I was shocked to read about this incident. Frankly, I had no idea how bad things are for many Freetown residents. This is so far removed from the world I grew up in, where food is everywhere, whenever you want or need it.
My first thought was how disgusting and unsafe this is, and what a terrible idea to dig up the chicken. Why would anyone do this? My second thought was, seriously, what would it take for someone to dig through trash and mud for a rotten meal? The only thing appealing about this chicken was that it was free. I think that’s the more important question. And it’s more stomach turning than any amount of rotten, muddy chicken.
Yesterday I was walking with a local journalist when we happened to come near the dump site. According to the journalist, most of the people who dug up the chicken weren’t planning to eat it themselves. That would be more understandable to him. But no, mostly people wanted to sell the chicken. This was something he had little sympathy for.
It’s troubling to think that people would be willing to knowingly sell poisonous chicken to their fellow citizens. Maybe some of the sellers didn’t understand the risks of eating contaminated food, which is concerning in itself. But whether people were digging up the chicken to eat it or sell it, there’s obviously something very wrong. It’s a symptom of bigger problems.
Cocorioko.net quoted a woman named Madam Chadia Talib as saying, “Our people are losing their dignity…digging up Chicken from rubbish dumps tells me we have lost the humans in us….Scavengers dig up rotten food. Not Humans!”
People don’t usually give up their dignity if they have a choice. What’s really rotten seems to be the ability of the state to provide a social safety net. Why are there not better mechanism to make sure people are fed and have somewhere to live? As far as I understand, the barriers include lack of funding, lack of a well-developed social safety net, and overwhelming need. What’s the reason for all of these? The answers are complex and could run for pages. The solutions will probably be slow.
We shouldn’t blame the people compelled to dig through a dump for rotten chicken just because it’s free and was once some form of food. We should blame the system  or lack of system  that makes this seem like a good idea to them.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Friday August 05, 2016

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