The Christmas Chicken

at 11:35 PM
 (Hugh Biggar)

Among the mud mosques of Mali, my sister, brother and I once spent a week wondering if Santa Claus would find us.
 
For the Christmas holiday, our parents had decided to drive from our home in Accra, Ghana, north toward Timbuktu in Mali. Days later, fortified by warm soda and cold ravioli from cans, the dashboard in our car dislodged by the roads, we arrived just before Christmas in the town of Mopti at the edge of the Sahara.
 
In Mopti, each morning, a tired chicken would drag itself to the courtyard of our hotel and wake us with a feeble call. Exhausted, the chicken would then spend the day in the shade, while my family and I went sightseeing. We explored the markets of the mud-walled town and returned to the hotel in the evening to find the chicken panting in the shadows. As dusk set in, men in robes prayed toward Mecca, and the sky turned the same dark blue as the veiled faces of the local Tuareg.
 
Would Santa find us here on the edge of the Sahara, my siblings and I wondered? Would he use camels or reindeer?
 
On Christmas Eve, our mother unpacking a small plastic Christmas tree she had hidden in the car. Unfolded, the tree was as gaunt and bony as the courtyard chicken. The next morning, the chicken, for once, did not wake us. But it being Christmas, we woke early anyway, and Santa, with or without camels, had found us. We spent the morning unwrapping a few gifts and listening to Christmas music on a tape player.
 
At noon, the hotel staff tapped on the door. Although Muslim, they had prepared a special treat in honor of the Christmas holiday. We followed them to the dining room, which had one wall open to the street and doubled as a disco at night. After we sat down, a waiter brought out a covered tray and set it on the table. Proudly, with a flourish, he removed the cover, and there before us on a bed of rice, gaunt, bony, but still rising valiantly to the occasion-the chicken.

With a Perspective, I am Hugh Biggar.

High Biggar grew up in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. His is now a journalist living in Sacramento.

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