(Goat pun – clever).
Finally, here we have the long awaited blog post about Stanley.
Some of you already know Stanley’s true identity: he’s a goat. Or, to be grammatically correct, he was a goat. On Saturday, we ate Stanley, and he is now frolicking in the big goat garden in the sky, with all the other little headless beasts.
Let the following act as his biography as well as his obituary.
Three weekends ago, there was a knock at our compound door; it was very early for visitors (around 7am). When we opened the door, my host grandpa Mekonnen was standing in front of a contract bajaj. Inside the bajaj was a goat. The goat was handed over to my dad, Dawit, and Mekonnen returned to his own home. I later learned that Stanley originally entered the bajaj with one other goat, which we ate for lunch at my grandparent’s that very day.
I knew from the beginning that Stanley was only going to be a temporary guest in our home. I tried not to get attached to him. I tried to avoid mentally naming him. I promise. But I come from a culture where we anthropomorphise animals, give them personalities and voices, and I’m afraid that the ferenjii part of my brain won over the habesha part, and before you knew it, we had an athsmatic goat called Stanley.
That one came from the hacking cough that I would hear occasionally while eating lunch or drinking coffee. He was either athsmatic or smoking 40 a day – either way, the cough became part of his character.
I lived in morbid fascination of this goat and when he was going to die for the rest of the week. The atmosphere (in my head, at least), was electric. Every night I came home expecting to find him dead. This, however, did not come to pass for a long time.
Stanley survived Weekend 1: we ate his travelling partner instead.
Stanley survived Weekend 2: Dawit had business affairs to attend to, and wasn’t around long enough to help with the preparation.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be third time lucky.
At 6.45 on Saturday morning, my host mum, Mesai, burst into my bedroom and woke me with:
“Laaaaauuuurraaa! Come on outside! We are going to kill the goat!”
It’s not often that I get that kind of thing shouted at me.
Having never been to an execution before, I was unsure exactly what the protocol was in terms of dress. Everybody else was in their pyjamas. I decided to follow suit. However, it was incredibly important to me that before I went outside I should brush my teeth. I wanted to send Stanley off with fresh breath.
When I walked out of the house into the compound, Mesai’s brother, Kennedy, and Dawit were erecting gallows against one wall. Stanley was tied under a tree, having spent his last night as a free goat in the comfort and luxury of the dog house. I took my seat on a step opposite the noose and tried to be brave.
Dawit and Kennedy took Stanley from under the tree and laid him on his side. I saw Kennedy pick up the knife (I’d been listening to him sharpening it while brushing my teeth), and that’s when I turned away. I heard a gurgling scream, and then there was silence. When I looked around, the legs were kicking, but the lights were out.
Amazingly, Temar, my 4 year old sister, had managed to sleep through all of this noise and commotion. I say ‘amazingly’ because she had been very excited about killing the goat, and I was surprised that she missed it. The step I was sitting on belonged to the room that Temar was sleeping in, and at that moment, she was face-down starfished on a mattress, completely oblivious to what was going on outside.
Back to the scene of the crime: Kennedy had begun to very carefully remove the skin. It was mesmerising to watch him carefully peel it all off in one piece, without ever breaking the skin or puncturing the flesh. He then hung Stanley’s body upside down from the gallows and removed the entire hide, along with the head, which he wrapped in the skin and put to one side while he began working on the butchery.
This is when Temar woke up.
Still sitting on my step outside her bedroom, I was suddenly aware of a warm thing leaning on my back. I moved the warm thing onto my knee, and it put its arms around my neck and rested its cheek on mine.
‘Good morning dimbet.’
Dimbet, or ‘child of mouse’ is what we call Temar when she is in the state of all dreamers upon waking; somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, and reality and imagination. She was warm and soft and sleepy, and needed a hug to wake up properly.
Meanwhile, Kennedy was disembowling the goat. It was a contradiction of Roald Dahl proportions.
Out came the stomach. The liver. The kidneys. The intestines. All of them were thoroughly cleaned and put into a bowl to wait for their preparation in the kitchen. Kennedy removed the four legs, the ribs and the spine, and put these into a separate container. And it was done quietly, respectfully and without fuss. It was a noble end for an athsmatic goat.
Temar, meanwhile, had found the heart in the bowl of offal, and was running around the compound shrieking with glee and showing it to everyone. In about 10 minutes, she’d gone from a sleepy dimbet back to her usual self, and was enjoying being covered in goat blood and terrorising me with the heart of Stanley.
By 9.30, we were eating Stanley for breakfast. We made part of him into tibs, which are very small pieces of meat fried with onion, garlic and chillies and eaten with either bread or injera. I hate to admit it, but Stanley was a damn tasty goat.
Almost as soon as breakfast was over, we started preparing for lunch. We were serving Stanley Three Ways: roasted with onion, tomato and leeks; the offal cooked together with lemon and chilli; and for the Ethiopians only, the sirloin of the goat eaten raw with spices. I’ve never had stomach (a.k.a. tripe) before now, but cooked together with kidney and liver, it was actually really delicious. Mesai says the secret is to boil it with salt and lemon first, and cook it chopped into tiny pieces so it doesn’t go chewy.
Lunch came and went, and again, I felt guilty about how good the goat tasted.
It’s ridiculous that I feel bad about eating a goat, but I really do. And every time I open the fridge to get some water, there are the mortal remains of Stanley looking back at me. They are almost holy relics. This is what happens when you take someone who has never seen anyone kill an animal and drop them in a DIY culture. In some respects, the experience was far less shocking than I thought it would be. I had hyped the event up so much in my head that I was expecting Quentin Tarantino levels of blood, awful smells, and lots of tears. In reality, there was a swift death, controlled bleeding and hygienic disposal of unpleasantries. And although I am sad that Stanley had to die, I am glad to know that the end was so respectful. I’ve seen where my food comes from – literally – and it’s made me value it so much more. I’m going to stick to my moral-high-ground guns when I get home, and continue to support farmers who rear their animals well, and kill them humanely.
I’ve discovered that you can taste respect in food – and it’s delicious.
The next post will be my final entry from African soil. This week is my final one at placement, and next week is time for goodbyes, celebrations and lots of emotions. Thank you so much for following this little endeavour so far; all the comments and the readership stats (people are reading this in The Philippines and Malta?!) have encouraged me to keep plugging away at this project. I don’t claim that any of this is a great work of art (pfft – did you read this entry?), but I’m proud of how much I’ve learned, and that sometimes I am able to explain what I’m feeling in a way that contents me.
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Stanley the goat. You are forever in our hearts, while your heart is temporarily in my stomach.