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Chicken back, rice and onion – ‘Remember the poor’


Thurs Mar 28, 2013

Editor: Seventeenth century English dramatist William Congreve is credited with coining the phrase: “liar of the first magnitude”. In the wake of the latest Vincy political drama, the Opposition Leader’s story told in New York recently, the airwaves have been swamped with all and sundry chiming in about whether or not it was a made-up story or whether or not something did in fact occur, but was exaggerated by the storyteller.{{more}} If, in fact, the story was a totally made-up one, then the storyteller would certainly make Baron Von Munchausen, German storyteller of tall tales, seem like a novice.

In this article, I am not addressing the issue from the perspective of whether or not the story is or is not a phantom, pathological pseudologue, or the storyteller, who is affectionately called “Mr Clean” by members of his party, an equivocating prevaricator or a congenital spinner of yarns. Simply put, if he is lying, he’d have to work that out with his conscience and his God.

Interestingly, as a preamble to the story, he did in fact give a caveat to the effect that he told the story before and that he is aware that his arch-rival, whose job he craves, would not like him telling the story again, but that he did not care. It was also implied that he is aware that some people scoff at the veracity of the story. Nonetheless, he was intent on telling it again. The newest version was missing at least one item – “a half of a cake of soap”. For the purpose of this article, incredulous as the story sounds, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. I am willing to do that, because as one caller to Star FM pointed out: “How does he know that that was all the lady was going to make for Sunday Lunch for ten persons?” In other words, it is entirely probable that she had more rice and other ingredients at home. For instance, she may have had chicken wings. Some persons make pelau with rice and chicken wings, but add a small portion of chicken “back’ n neck” to give it additional fat and flavour. I have heard folks say: “Pelau without chicken back, ain’t no pelau”.

That aside, as I said, I am going to look at it from the presumptive perspective that it did occur. We are supposedly a Christian society. Looking at it from a biblical and humanitarian point of view, I am taken to Proverbs 17:5 “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.” I can already hear the criticisms, that he was not mocking the poor. That he was only telling a story about what transpired. That may be so; however, what bothers me is that he allowed someone whom he perceived, and according to him, that perception was confirmed by the shopkeeper, to be destitute, to walk away from that shop with “a small onion, a half a pound of chicken back and a pound of rice” to feed eight children, her husband and herself, which she took on credit, without offering to supplement the meal by at least offering to pay for an extra pound of rice or an extra half of a pound of chicken back.

After all, he told another anecdote of another woman at a supermarket who did not have enough money to pay for her purchase and how he discreetly signaled to the cashier to indicate that he would pay and that all it cost him was six dollars. Adding an extra pound of rice and an extra half pound of chicken back would have cost only about half that much. Why did he not offer to help? As he said, it happened in his constituency. Was there a political consideration that figured into the equation? Just thinking out loud. For those who are reading this and their blood pressure is beginning to rise because they are angry at me for asking, I have a scripture text for you: 1 John 3:17 “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

He talked of someone in the diaspora who was touched by the story and sent two barrels for the woman and that he requested that the barrels be sent in his name because, allegedly, he knew that the woman would not be able to afford to clear them at customs, since they were not sent at Christmas season, when there is concession on barrels. Why did it take, conceivably, months later when someone else opened up their bowels of compassion for him to do anything about it? The initiative, according to him, was not his. Incidentally, concession on Christmas barrels is the initiative of the current holder of the office he is seeking; concessions he bluntly refused to give Vincentians when he was in government. Let us not forget that he is on record saying that he used the thousands of dollars per month that was ear-marked for his party’s research officer who was not appointed for about a year, to take care of his constituents. Also, supposedly, the additional monthly stipend, given him by the government for his constituency office. He does not have a separate constituency office, but operates out of his party headquarters; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that that money is also used to take care of his constituents; except apparently if you are one down and out and have eight children, and a husband to prepare a Sunday lunch for with only a small onion, a half a pound of chicken back and a pound of rice.

As for the authenticity of the story, a pound of rice, cooked fluffy, with some steamed veggies, provision, with a sautéed side of eggplant, pawpaw or squash, steamed in a separate pot with the half pound of chicken back, may in fact, feed a family of ten, if all you want from the chicken back is its fat and flavour. However, that is not what the storyteller implied; according to him, the onion, half pound of chicken back and a pound of rice were all the ingredients for the Sunday meal. The chicken back was steamed and the juice placed in a cloth and squeezed over the rice. So, what happened to the chicken back? Is it that it was kept for another meal to repeat the ritual until it had no more “juice” or substance?

Another thing, if the woman has eight children, it is reasonable to assume that at least six of them would be school-aged. During the lead up to the Referendum on the Constitution in 2009, the government gave two hundred dollars to every schoolchild; therefore, that woman would have collected at least twelve hundred dollars or possibly sixteen hundred, if all eight are or were in school at the time. With regard to the so-called alternative shifting of children by parents, because they cannot afford to send all of them every day, I can tell you that there are parents who make sure their children go to school, precisely because when they are in school, the parents don’t have to worry about providing lunch for them at home.

There are lessons to be learned from this most recent episode. After the new Pope was sworn in last week in explaining why he chose the name “Francis”, he said that during the conclave and the voting process, he was sitting next to another Cardinal from South America and that when it became apparent that he was going to get the votes necessary to become the next Pope, his fellow Cardinal turned to him and said: “Remember the poor!” He said that that statement kept echoing in his head and he decided to choose the name “Francis” in honour and remembrance of St Francis, the founder of the mendicant order, the Franciscans, known for their care for the poor. Messiah reminded us of the perpetuity of poverty, in Mark 14:7 and St John 12: 8, “For ye have the poor with you always…” Let us all strive to be our brothers’ keepers and remember that other persons’ plights ought not to be exploited for the purpose of political one-upmanship.

Benson Feddows