Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In which we slaughter a sheep and I drink half a bottle of vodka

June 8, 2013

WARNING: Some of the photos in this post clearly depict sheep-slaughtering.

Yesterday after breakfast, Rakhat informed me that we’d been invited to our neighbor’s in order to slaughter a sheep in celebration of the birth of his first grandchild (a granddaughter). The fellow across the street – a 77 year old man named Jumabek, or “George” as he told me to call him “but not Bush!” – is a distant cousin of Altynbek, and quite a jovial fellow. He seemed just as excited about the birth of his granddaughter as he was to be able to ask me questions about the US. (“Is it true that there are mostly black people living in Washington DC?” “Did you know that there are a lot of Kyrgyz living in Chicago?” “What is the weather like in Orlando?” etc.) He even pulled out an old encyclopedia so that he could locate Orlando on the map and so he could look up the entry on the city (which essentially said that we have citrus trees and Disney World – still fairly accurate, even if the encyclopedia was from the early 1980s).

The sheep slaughtering was a fairly quick process (although undoubtedly for the sheep not a painless one). First the sheep’s feet were tied. Then we stood in a line facing west and prayed ‘omin.’ Then the sheep’s head was held over a bowl and its throat was slit. Its head was held over the bowl until its heart stopped pumping and the blood flow ceased. Then I rinsed the open neck with water from a tea kettle.

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At that point the sheep was strung up and dressed in much the same fashion as I’ve seen hunters dress deer in the US. The one exception to this was that EVERY part of the sheep was kept to be used. This included the guts. While it was the men’s job to skin and butcher the sheep, it was Rakhat’s job to clean the stomach and intestines of the, well, shit. It was fascinating to watch the care with which everything was cleaned and preserved (including the heart and lungs, the head, the feet, etc.).

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Rakhat cleans intestines.

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Nursultan and the fresh cuts of meat

The complete set of photos from this and several other sheep slaughtering events can be seen HERE.

Once the entire sheep had been butchered and cleaned, Rakhat began cooking kurdak, a fried meat and potatoes dish – using the meat from the sheep, of course. The rest of us retired inside to watch TV. Oddly enough, we watched Francis Ford Coppola’s late-90s take on The Odyssey. (While it was apparently a mini-series, many – but obviously not all – of the episodes had been edited together into a movie for Kyrgyz television. Several key parts of the story had been left out, and the whole thing had been dubbed into Russian.)

Eventually the food was ready to eat. Now, I wholeheartedly believe in eating what you kill. (There’s a bit of a problem with hunters in my neck of the woods in the US who hunt for sport and just leave the carcasses behind to rot, and I thoroughly despise people who do this.) However, despite my desire to actually eat the sheep which we had just slaughtered, I was unable to eat much of the kurdak. There’s a certain method of cooking that is sometimes used here. I don’t know what that method is, but it makes the meat utterly unpalatable to me. Unfortunately, this was the method used to cook our sheep. Out of politeness – and to honor the sheep’s sacrifice – I forced myself to swallow several chunks of meat, after which I concentrated on the potatoes.

I really didn’t eat very much. This was rather unfortunate, as after we had finished eating lunch, Rakhat produced a bottle of vodka as a present for Jumabek. Now Rakhat and Altynbek don’t drink, which left only me and Jumabek to consume the entire bottle – sadly split fairly evenly between the two of us – as we drank toast after toast to his granddaughter, to me, to him to Rakhat and Altynbek, to my mother, to his children… (To those of you who have never been in a situation like this, let’s just say that being unconscious or claiming that you don’t drink at all due to religious beliefs are really the only ways to avoid shot after shot…)

When we returned home, my goal was to stagger up the stairs without falling and then to pass out. 

Unfortunately, in front of our gate were two local elderly women (one of whom I’d met before, although I can’t for the life of me remember where – At the school? One of the stores? At Rakhat and Altynbek’s?) and five students from the school! They weren’t any of my students – thank goodness – but they all see me around regularly, and had obviously come over for the express purpose of visiting me. I, meanwhile, was in absolutely no shape to socialize with anyone. It took all of my willpower to keep myself upright and my eyes open during the course of their 30 minute visit. I’m sure it was pretty obvious that I was a good twelve or so sheets to the wind. Sigh.

After they left, I stumbled upstairs and promptly passed out.

(I later learned that one of my good friends had given birth to her daughter at approximately the same time that Jumabek’s granddaughter was born. I count this as my celebration of the birth of my friend’s baby!)

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