Mind Whirring

Russell Bollag-Miller - Senegal


November 3, 2011

When I woke up this morning I made a promise to myself that I would contribute in some way and make someone’s day easier. I decided on this mission because for the few weeks that I’ve lived in Mberes, I have not been allowed to lift a finger. I can’t clean my own room, can’t sit on the ground with everyone else, sometimes I can’t even cut up my own food before I eat it. I am seemingly a damsel in perpetual distress. It’s been a struggle, but I’m definitely making some headway, especially after this.

Today I was allowed to help my friends Abu and Demba carry water jugs to Abu’s house. Once we finished, Abu beckoned for Demba and me to follow him. We entered a stable area with one huge white ram and a little goat. I knew that the ram was for the Senegalese holiday Tabaski and that eventually it would be killed along with four other “haar” (pronounce the ‘h’ with a hint of a Yiddish accent) and that I would have to watch. I wasn’t too worried because Tabaski isn’t for another week and I’ve been mentally preparing to view that.

We passed the ram and headed for the little goat. The second we entered the stable I knew what we were going to do, but my mind kept giving me alternatives. We’re going to take it to sell at the market. I’m just holding the legs so we can tie them so it won’t kick someone. That knife is just to clean his hooves…

Nope.

It was an incredibly bizarre experience. I expected myself to cry, or vomit, or at least look away. But for some reason I didn’t. I went into an entirely robotic state. I watched everything. I held the legs when its throat was cut. I helped remove the skin, limbs, and head. I watched all the organs separated. I witnessed the whole process until we had two piles of meat for two families’ dinner. (Admittedly, I ate very little for dinner that night.) 

I can only attribute my bizarre stoicism to the nature in which Abu and Demba went about “preparing” the goat. It was very respectful. The death was relatively quick. The butchering was methodical and rapid. And aside from the blood, it was a very clean operation. While we worked I couldn’t help but think of dissembling a Lego structure.

I have yet to work through what I should glean from this experience. I don’t know if I should view life in a new way, after observing and assisting in the end of one. All that I can be certain of is that what was a daily chore for Abu and Demba, has left my mind whirring.

Russell Bollag-Miller