Monday, September 15, 2014

EID in Botswana

 “A treat,” Tunda said, “this is a great treat. A friend of Peace Corps has invited us all for a barbeque. He has a big patio. It will be a great treat.”
            We had visions of a Southern California patio, steaks on the grill. What to wear? It was the last weekend of our training. Most of our host families, including mine, had plans for a special dinner. My family was disappointed when I told them I was going to a barbecue. They knew who it was. Rra Kahn they said. Did I detect distaste inside the disappointment? “Important man” they said. I decided to wear a nice skirt and top. We were to meet at the training center and be bussed up to Mr. Kahn’s place overlooking the town. Shannon and I met at the gas station bottle store for a beer and cider before the bus picked us up.
            Information and directions were, as usual, sporadic. Some people arrived in shorts and T shirts, others in dresses. I should have smelled something then. The bus dropped us in front of a closed general store. We wandered up and down the street looking for a fancy house with a patio that certainly should be overlooking the dramatic sunset. Finally a volunteer who lived in the neighborhood came up the hill and pointed to a gate beside the general dealer. Inside were flagstones leading between buildings. I glimpsed women in black robes watching from a window.
            Children came running around the corner of a building. Not black, not white. Brown children. Laughing and running. I tripped on one of the flagstones and caught myself before falling on a child, then turned the corner into what must be Tunda’s patio—a yard completely covered in concrete.
            “Welcome! Welcome! It is my pleasure.” Mr Kahn stood before us, in a long white tunic, a pillbox on his head. “Very happy, Very happy,” he said.
            “Muslim,” Shannon muttered. “No alcohol. Damn” Apparently no mothers or women to watch the children either. A few Batswana women appeared, nodding at us and averting their eyes as they carried soda and crackers and salads to tables set up on one side of the concrete yard.  Off to the right a few cattle were hanging over a fence watching us.
            “Sit, Sit” Mr. Kahn said. No one introduced us. Peace Corps staff were oddly absent. We had no sense of why we were there other than for a ‘big treat.’ We sat awkwardly on ubiquitous white plastic garden chairs and watched as Mr. Kahn directed a man with a sharp knife to the corner of the yard. The man stepped into a three-sided structure and two other men opened a gate and led a cow before him. The men tied the cow’s front and back leg together and with a superhuman shove, knocked the beast on its side. The man with the short sword leaned down and whispered in the animal’s ear, then stepped back to let a river of blood flow down the concrete to a now visible drain.
            We watched speechless as the cow’s neck pumped hard, as if it were clearing its throat, which I suppose one could say, it was. The two men behind the cow then pulled on a rope, lifting the animal by its hind legs. Three other men appeared and proceeded to slice through what five minutes before had been a large curious bovine watching us mill about.
            Nobody moved. Nobody spoke, as the cow was disassembled, loaded on a wagon and trundled off to a building behind us.
            This was Eid. A muslim holiday in which Mr. Kahn slaughters six cows and gives them away for free. Apparently we had won the Eid lottery. The cows did not seem to have caught on. They watched from the side of the pen, calmly waiting as one by one, each of them was dispensed. Some volunteers went for walk, some turned to talk with their backs to the abbatoir. I walked up closer and listened as Mr. Kahn explained that they prayed as they sliced the animal’s throat. Maybe prayer makes a difference. Not one of the animals struggled as it was walked to its death. Not even when their legs were roped.
            The sun had set and the temperature was dropping when the final wagon wheeled past us. A few of the men began filling cut-in-half oil drums with wood and charcoal and the fires began. I turned my head when I saw the goats.
            “Yes,” Corey said. “Chicken, goat and beef. A real feast.” Corey was an ex-Marine. He could eat anything.
            We found ourselves huddled in a corner near the fires, waiting for something—Peace Corps staff to arrive with a bus? Some indication of what was next? Conversation was stilted. This would be the only sober gathering we would have in the two years we were in country. At some point fresh meat was laid on grills over the fire and hunger opened our mouths.
            “Here,” Mr. Kahn called to me, “Here Mother—you are first.” I was insulted. Who was he calling Mother? I looked askance at him, then saw Shannon shake her head. I picked up my plate and stood mute as the beast of benediction was offered to me.

            It was delicious.

1 comment: