Who is Babah Tarawally?
After fleeing Sierra Leone for the Netherlands 17 years ago and spending the first seven of those years filing an asylum application, Babah Tarawally began working for independent media outlets in Africa. Alongside this work, he contributes stories and columns to several newspapers. His novel De god met de blauwe ogen (‘The blue-eyed god’) was published in 2010 by KIT. Babah lives with his partner and two daughters in the Netherlands.
When I visited home recently, back in Sierra Leone, my mum asked me to prepare a chicken for dinner. I shivered at the thought of cutting off the animal’s neck with a knife, and I declined. My mum looked at me in amazement and asked, “What has happened to you?” It’s called Dutch fever, apparently, and I am suffering badly from it.
By Babah Tarawally
Many Dutch people turn their homes into a mini menagerie of trees and plants and pets. Don’t be surprised to find a small in-house pond with fish, or cages or crates full of hamsters, chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs. These creatures are absolutely not for consumption, even if the Dutch might be dying of hunger. This I cannot say about the part of the world where I came from.
I once met a Dutchman fishing in a river. He told me he had been standing there for almost the whole day. Suddenly, he hooked a big fish and quickly pulled it out of the water with his long rod. He smiled as though he owned the world. I wrongly assumed the fish would feed his family that night. Instead, he measured, weighed and photographed the fish before throwing it back into the river. He glanced at my quizzical expression and said with a smile, “Fishing is a hobby for me, and a way of life.” I was astounded by a man who could fish for fun.
I contrasted his leisurely pastime to the sweaty resolve of fishermen along the coastline of my country, drawing in their nets at sunset, praying for a combined catch of sustenance and profit. In Africa we don’t treat animals as companions; we rather consume them when hunger strikes or offer them to the gods so that nature will show us mercy. The Dutch may see our treatment of animals as cruel and barbarous, but we are connected to them and respect them in our own ways. This is how we have been living with our animals for ages.
During my time in the Netherlands, my affection for animals has grown in such a way that I often feel guilty about my carnivorous lifestyle. Though my head ponders becoming a vegetarian, my belly rumbles at the sight and smell of a perfectly grilled filet or a slab of ribs. What’s more, I promised my mum I would remain a carnivore, even if I can’t kill the animals I eat myself.
Read all the other columns in the series Africans going Dutch.