Thursday, October 01, 2009
Goats and God(s)
No, I am not packing a GOAT!
As I was preparing and packing for my trip to Nepal, I came across a BBC headline “Nepal hit by severe goat shortage”. Already loaded up with my own bags and camera gear, and a 50 lb. bag of donated North Face gear which I agreed to transport to Nepal, I joked that I would not be forking out another airline baggage fee to bring a goat with me, especially considering the fate awaiting the beast.
I am arriving in Nepal during the 15 day festival of Dashain. (one moment please while I resource some local experts, wikipedia, and some other blogs). Basically, Dashain is a blend of Hindu worship to the goddess Durga and animistic harvest traditions, ultimately translating into the ritualistic sacrifice of animals, particularly goats.
This is hard to stomach for a vegetarian as myself. Our drive from the Kathmandu airport passed several roadside goat gatherings, where they are amassed and roped and living out their last few days before taking their turn at the makeshift guillotine for goats. I can’t imagine what goes through their minds, if anything, as they watch their goat brothers being slit and skinned and stretched and hung, blood everywhere. I would probably be freaking out. But the goats, they seem at peace with it all. Or just stupid. I prefer to think the former, because it takes in incredibly wise and evolved soul to transcend the impending mass slaughter that these earthly humans perform on them. Tell me again who is the more evolved species, in a spiritual sense? I often wonder…
Any other time of year would find Nepal an easy place to be a vegetarian. I can always fill my belly with the traditional staple meal of Daal Baat (rice and lentils). But Dashain marks the time when families gather and meals are all part of the celebration - so families will serve the very best meat they have available, and that varies somewhat depending on the caste and wealth status. For most Nepali families, this is a goat. There are some who sacrifice a chicken, while a very few of only the very wealthiest families will slaughter a water buffalo (I’m not certain how that creature is all that different than the sacred cow, but they’ll kill, cook and eat it while the cows and bulls are left to roam free on the streets).
I observe, and I question; and when necessary I put the lens between me and what I am watching to lessen the impact on my conscience. Such was the case when we wandered past a courtyard where a young boy sat dangling his little legs off a wall as he watched his father and uncle prepping the goats. The heads of the goats sat nearby in puddles of blood, their eyes facing away, as their bodies were pulled from a tub and scraped of hair. (Just telling it like it is, folks).
I learned that not all goats are sacrificed – only the castrated males (BBC didn’t mention this). So nearby, just around the corner in fact, a couple of female goats hung out by some motorcycles and nibbled posters off walls. They weren’t the least bit concerned with the puddles and rivers of blood trickling past, it was ladies night out for all they cared.
Then dinner. Apparently the Ama Ghar Orphanage where we were invited to dinner was amongst higher status – water buffalo was served and shared with everyone from a high ranking Nepali police official to the 8 or 9 kids we brought from the Loving Arms Orphanage to the guests from America whose knees crackled as they sat awkwardly and struggled with scooping food in their right hands.
The dining room floor was only so big, so we ate in shifts of 15 at a time. I lost track of how many kids there were around, and how quickly they ate and ran off together to various other rooms to play as one big giant family.
Family. [Allow me a digression. My husband and I made a conscious choice to have only one child. But that does not make us a small family. In fact, I am an auntie, a great auntie, and an auntie to children all over the world. Come to think of it, I first became an auntie when I was only 4 months old. Here in Kathmandu, I have been introduced to a family of Nepali orphaned children as “Auntie Kymri”. I have always adored being called “Auntie Kymri” by my sister’s children, who are now grown adults, and who still affectionately call me Auntie, probably because they get a kick out of watching me become overwhelmed with nostalgic pride. Now I have this big beautiful family of children at the Loving Arms Mission who call me Auntie, and I am overwhelmed with pride, not for nostalgia, but for what is to come for this world, and the hope and inspiration these children have to share. The youngest, at just over 2 years, little “Babu”, called me “Auntie New” the first afternoon until my name had been repeated to him enough to learn. (Which he did much faster than many adults do!). To be the auntie of these amazing children who have endured a childhood that no child should ever have to live through, well, I am utterly humbled, and honored, to be their auntie. All the more family to be proud of!]
So what does this all have to do with goats? Nothing really, except their fate. You see, my nieces and nephews all share their home at Loving Arms Mission, where parents Kent and Shovah raise 12 kids in one home, and Nadine and Rajindra raise another 10 or so in their home. (Their stories are another article unto itself, and film in fact, stay tuned!). Because neither sets of parents were too keen on the idea of getting a goat and slaughtering it with all the kids, they began a tradition several years ago.
Kent came up with the idea of a piñata. A goat piñata. Every week of Dashain, Nadine gathers materials (cardboard boxes, tubes, paper) and builds a goat, filling it’s middle with treats and sweets.
When the day of celebration and sacrifice arrives, the family and friends gather in the garden and the piñata is hung from a basketball hoop for all the kids take their hand at slaughtering the beast. Blindfolded, the kids make strikes, as Kent raises and lowers the goat’s “noose” until the beast is dismembered limb by limb and blood pours in chocolates and candies.
Eventually, Auntie Happy came in for the kill!
On the road outside, an endless stream of goats makes their way through the village to meet their gods, their heads held high, crowned in pink tikka. Happy Dashain.