Monday, 17 March 2014

Meat at the Market

The market in Santo Antonio, Príncipe, is the bustling heart of town where it all happens, where business is made, and where you can buy each of those five or six vegetables available on the island. The structure is a small warehouse half full of very loud and argumentative women all selling the same minimalistic selection of expensive vegetables. Other goods available are: a staggering variety of plastic flip-flops and the little fish that fishermen didn’t manage to sell on the way from the port.
But today something different was happening. The excitement was tangible. Word had spread that today there was beef available in the market, a true rarity and an event itself.
It’s not that cattle are rare, but there seems to be an inexplicable resistance by the local people to actually kill them and sell the meat. And they are definitely not raising them for milk, or as pets.
Lured by the novelty, I too decide to try my chance and go to buy some meat to spice up my fish-and-rice-only diet.
Once I managed to penetrate the noisy crowd I reached the object of the general desire, but if I was expecting some more or less neatly arranged stacks of meat cuts, I was soon disappointed…

The market in Santo Antonio, Príncipe (Photo: Nuno Barros)

There, on one of the market’s concrete slabs, lay a full cow. The body had been disassembled into five or six recognizable pieces, which now lay in a heap under the attentive eyes of the potential buyers. To one side the head of the poor animal seemed to be observing with glassy eyes the customers buying its body. Potential buyers argued cuts and prices amongst the general confusion, then, once the deal had been settled, the seller selected a piece of the cow, laid it on a wooden block and with a blunt machete hacked meat and bones alike till the desired portion of meat had been parted from the rest. People around seemed hypnotised by the scene, so much so that they didn’t notice the squirts of blood and pieces of meat landing all over them. The same can’t be said about the pack of excited stray dogs that mobbed the scene, licking blood from the floor, catching flex of meat in mid-air and continuously risking decapitation to steal bits of gristle from the block. Once in a while someone remembered to chase them away, but they were never gone for long. More difficult was the titanic battle against the swarms of flies which kept on landing on the meat, totally unfazed by the helpless attempts to brush them away.

I'm not a squeamish person and living in the tropics has taught me to lower my expectations on hygienic standards, nonetheless today the whole “pulp film” scene convinced me to stick to my fish-and-rice-only diet for a little longer…after all it is very healthy.

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